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Roger Rabbit Creator Files Suit Against Disney

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Roger Rabbit’s creator sued Walt Disney Co., claiming the studio has been cheating him out of revenue from the hit movie and hare-related merchandise.

According to a lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Gary K. Wolf, who wrote the book “Who Censored Roger Rabbit?,” Disney has foiled attempts by the Massachusetts author to learn exactly how much money the 1988 film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” has made.

Where is Eddie Valiant when you need him most?

Perhaps Valiant, the film’s human detective hired by the animated Roger Rabbit to crack the mysterious murder of Marvin Acme, would have been up to the task of unraveling byzantine studio accounting.

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Wolf, president of Cry Wolf Inc., signed a deal with Disney in 1983, two years after his novel, which introduced the concept of Toontown, was published. The contract gave Disney certain rights to the book and his Toontown characters in exchange for 5% of gross revenue, the lawsuit says.

Disney developed and co-produced with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment the movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis.

The movie made at least $250 million worldwide, according to the lawsuit. In U.S. theaters, it earned $152.8 million.

It’s unclear how much Wolf is owed since Disney won’t give him complete access to its books, according to the lawsuit. Previous audits, the suit says, show that Disney has underreported revenue from the Roger Rabbit legacy.

The Los Angeles attorneys handling the case for Wolf--J. Larson Jaenicke and Michael B. Garfinkel--declined to comment.

“We have received the complaint and reject its allegations,” said Christine Castro, a Disney spokeswoman. “Unfortunately, such differences sometimes arise in business arrangements.”

The two sides previously squabbled over the terms of the 1983 agreement. They agreed on a modified version in 1989 that required Disney to pay Wolf royalties from characters that embody the features of both a Wolf-created character and Disney characters, court papers say.

On four occasions, Wolf attempted to exercise his accounting rights, but the company has refused “to provide Wolf and his representatives access to certain relevant books, records and information even though Disney has admitted to Wolf that such records exist,” the suit alleges. Instead, Disney has turned over incomplete reports, the suit contends.

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The suit seeks punitive damages, claiming “Disney’s conduct was carried on with a willful and conscious disregard for Wolf’s rights.”


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