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Top 10 Times Animated Shows Got Sued

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
The X-Men aren't immune to law suits! For this list, we'll be looking at instances where cartoons went to court or were at least threatened with serious legal action. Our countdown includes "The Simpsons", "Family Guy", "Dora the Explorer" and more!
Transcript
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Times Animated Shows Got Sued. For this list, we’ll be looking at instances where cartoons went to court or were at least threatened with serious legal action. We’re including theatrical animated shorts that were later repackaged for TV audiences. Which animated character would you want as representation in a court of law? Let us know in the comments.

#10: Sue All Monsters

“Rugrats” (1991-2004)

We’ve seen Godzilla vs. Mothra, Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah, and Godzilla vs. Kong (multiple times). In 2002, we got Godzilla vs. Reptar… in court. Two years earlier, “Rugrats in Paris” debuted with a giant Reptar robot playing a key role. Although Reptar had been a “Rugrats” hallmark for over a decade, the creators went bigger than ever with this parody. So big that it might’ve been what got Toho’s attention. Around the same time the film made it to Japan, the company behind Godzilla reportedly sued Klasky Csupo for Reptar’s striking resemblance. While Reptar is a send-up, this may explain why the character appeared less during the show’s final years. However, Reptar has made a comeback in “Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl” and the 2021 “Rugrats” reboot.”

#9: Crabtree v. Kirkman


“Invincible” (2021-)

Based on the comic series written by Robert Kirkman with artwork from Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley, “Invincible” has been an animated hit for Amazon. Not everyone associated with the source material has gotten a piece of the action. In 2022, colorist William Crabtree sued Kirkman, claiming he was technically a co-creator. Crabtree alleges that he made an oral agreement with Kirkman, guaranteeing him 20% of single sale proceeds and 10% of profits from
“other film or television commercial exploitation of the Work together.” When putting the deal on paper, Crabtree claims that Kirkman manipulated him into signing away his rights. While Crabtree would be paid for comic sales and was included in some licensing deals, he hasn’t seen any royalties from the animated series.

#8: “Linda” Lawyers Up


“X-Men: The Animated Series” (1992-97)

No instrumental superhero theme gets us more pumped than the “X-Men” TV show’s. Ron Wasserman’s music is so ingrained in the franchise that the theme even popped up in “Multiverse of Madness.” According to Florida resident Zoltan Krisko, though, the theme was taken from a 1984 Hungarian series entitled “Linda.” That show’s theme was composed by Gyorgy Vukan, who passed away in 2013. In 2019, almost 27 years after “X-Men” hit the small screen, Krisko filed a copyright suit against several companies, including Disney, Marvel, and Haim Saban. Although we probably won’t get the exact same theme in the “X-Men '97” sequel series, executive producer Beau DeMayo says that they’re “bringing back that classic '90s sound with a little bit of a modern edge.”

#7: A Fistful of Legal Fees

“Regular Show” (2010-17)

In Season 2 of this Cartoon Network series, Mordecai and Rigby confront Garrett Bobby Ferguson, a cheating gamer determined to keep his high score. The bearded G.B.F. resembles Billy Mitchell, who has held the records for many retro games and was prominently featured in “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters.” Two seasons later, G.B.F. is revived by his son along with several other enemies. Mitchell went on to sue Cartoon Network, accusing “Regular Show” of stealing his likeness and depicting him as “cartoonishly evil.” Judge Anne Thompson of Friday would throw out the case in 2015, ruling, “GBF appears as a non-human creature, a giant floating head with no body from outer space, while Plaintiff is a human being.”

#6: Dora the Plaintiff

“Dora the Explorer” (2000-19)

Multiple actresses have voiced Dora the Explorer, including Caitlin Sanchez. In 2010 when Sanchez was 14 and her voice underwent changes, her family pursued legal action. The Sanchez family claimed that Nickelodeon misled them during the early contract stages, cheating Caitlin out of “tens of millions” in merchandise, residuals, and publicity. Nickelodeon spokesman David Bitter commented that Sanchez was “well-compensated for her work and for her personal appearances.” In 2012, news broke that Sanchez got “duped” into accepting a $500,000 settlement. What’s worse, she ironically lost most of her money due to taxes and legal fees. Sanchez appealed, but couldn’t get the settlement overturned. Sanchez hasn’t had a starring role in several years while “Dora” has generated an estimated $15.8 billion in revenue.

#5: The Lollipop Lawyer


“South Park” (1997-)

Given the number of controversies it’s sparked, you’d think “South Park” would get sued every week. Thanks to a little thing called the First Amendment, there’s rarely a concrete case to be made. Weirdly enough, arguably the most substantial lawsuit against the show didn’t come from Tom Cruise or Barbra Streisand. It was the Lollipop King who lawyered up! Sort of. Exavier Wardlaw sued the creators in 2012, claiming that the Lollipop King from the “Imaginationland” trilogy was a knockoff of his Big Bad Lollipop character of the family-friendly series, “The Lollipop Forest.” Wardlaw wanted all alleged references removed, although the lawsuit seemingly didn’t go anywhere. It’s funny that in a story arc full of recognizable characters, the Lollipop King caused the most copyright issues.

#4: Better Call Carol Burnett


“Family Guy” (1999-2003; 2005-)

Long before the show was under the Disney umbrella, “Family Guy” got sued by Bourne Co. Music Publishers for its parody version of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “I Need a Jew.” That same year, “Family Guy” received another lawsuit from comedy legend Carol Burnett. Boomers will know Burnett best for her hit variety show. Younger generations will recognize her from a “Family Guy” parody that depicted her charwoman character cleaning up an adult store. Having used the character without Burnett’s permission, she pursued a maximum of $6 million for copyright infringement. The lawsuit didn’t get far with the judge deeming the parody protected by free speech. Maybe the outcome would’ve been different if Burnett had another attorney… like Saul Goodman!

#3: What Would a Fox Sue?


“The Simpsons” (1989-)

“The Simpsons” has faced its fair share of lawsuits, some of which hit surprisingly close to home. Since Matt Groening’s yellow creations debuted on her variety show, Tracey Ullman sued for a cut of the animated series’ revenue in 1992 to no avail. While Ullman at least had something to gain, why would Fox sue itself over “The Simpsons?” In a 2003 episode, the family watches Fox News, which presents several headlines making fun of the network’s far-right stance and perceived reputation for bending the truth. According to Groening, Fox News considered suing over this joke. Groening knew that Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t pay for Fox to sue Fox. He was right, although the series was instructed to not feature any more parody news tickers.

#2: One of These Days, Wilma

“The Flintstones” (1960-69)

“The Honeymooners” was not only pioneering for live-action sitcoms, but animated sitcoms as well. Premiering four years after “The Honeymooners” ended, “The Flintstones” might’ve been set in a different time period. However, there was an undeniable correlation between Fred and Ralph, Wilma and Alice, and Barney and Ed. Jackie Gleason, the star and creator of “The Honeymooners,” was tempted to sue Hanna-Barbera. Not wanting to be remembered as “the guy who yanked Fred Flintstone off the air,” Gleason decided against officially filing a lawsuit. Even if the case had gone to court, you could argue that “The Honeymooners” derived from “The Bickersons,” a radio show with a similar premise. We guess every artist has to get their ideas from somewhere.

#1: Kane v. Fleischer


“Betty Boop” franchise (1930-)

Debuting as a French poodle before becoming the flapper girl we all know and love, Betty Boop draws parallels to multiple stars of the era, including Clara Bow. However, if Dave Fleischer hadn’t asked Grim Natwick to sketch a caricature of singer Helen Kane, chances are we wouldn’t have Betty. Two years after Betty started stealing and breaking hearts, Kane sued Max Fleischer and Paramount for $250,000, which would be over $5 million today. Although Kane had mastered the “Boop-Oop-a-Doop” routine before Betty, it didn’t start with her. Theatrical manager Lou Bolton claimed that Kane was familiar with African-American Baby Esther, who performed with a similar voice. Since the style wasn’t exclusive to Kane, Betty got her Boop-Oop-a-Doop back.
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