Disney sues China firms for Cars 'knockoff'
WALT Disney has taken three Chinese firms to court over concerns local animation The Autobots copied elements from Disney's own hit movie Cars, as the US firm looks to protect its drive into the world's second-largest economy.
A court in Shanghai held a hearing on Tuesday, a Disney spokesman said.
The dispute was over "copyright infringement" and "unfair competition", according to a notice on the Shanghai Pudong New Area People's Court website.
Disney is making a major push into China with the recent opening of a US$5.5 billion (S$7.4 billion) theme park in Shanghai while its animated movies - including Zootopia and Big Hero 6 - have been big hits in the country.
The iconic US firm, however, faces tough competition from local theme-park developers, popular Chinese animations as well as counterfeits from merchandise to fake Disney hotels.
The Autobots drew ire from netizens in China when it was released last year, with some pointing out similarities with Disney's 2006 Cars and its sequel in 2011. Cars 3 is slated for release next year.
Zuo Jianlong, director of The Autobots for production company Blue MTV, said he was "relaxed" about a potential ruling.
"Lots of people online have talked about plagiarism but... if you put the two films side by side to compare them, then you will know they are completely different."
The Chinese film is about animated racing cars, including main heroes K1 and K2, while Disney's offering follows the story of legendary racing car Lightning McQueen.
The three Chinese firms in the suit are Blue MTV, media company Beijing G-Point and online content platform PPLive.
An official for Beijing G-Point said the firms had hoped to reach a settlement but Disney had been opposed to this.