Animated movies are not simply for kids.
Everyone knows that films like Toy Story 3 and The Incredibles 2 were made as much for the generation who grew up with the originals as for kids today.
Though often light-hearted, animated movies are still a serious business. Six of the highest grossing animated movies have each made over $1 billion worldwide and eleven animated films are ranked among the top 50 worldwide highest-grossing films of all time.
It is notable when animated movies made by different studios release suspiciously similar movies at very similar times. It leads to questions of who got in first? Who wore it better?
It would be very easy to tote out a list of B-movies that are blatant ripoffs of more famous ones. No prizes for guessing which movies A Car’s Life, Frozen Land and What’s Up are aping. Instead, we are interested in similarities between movies you might have actually seen. Let’s face it, you would have to be mad to actually sit through those infamous copies.
Your mileage may vary on some of these entries as, objectively, what you consider a better animated movie is down to personal taste and what you look for in a story. When looked at through a lens of nostalgia, it is difficult to be objective.
With that in mind, here are 15 Animated Movies That Ripped Off Better Ones.
15 Antz / A Bug’s Life
Antz and A Bug’s Life may very well have been the catalyst for the curious feud running through this list, where Pixar and DreamWorks release obviously similar movies at oddly similar times.
Antz may have beaten A Bug’s Life to the theatres but when DreamWorks began working on their bug-based flick, Pixar was already deep into production on theirs.
Antz essentially has the same premise as A Bug’s Life: an odd, misfit insect discovers that he is more than a faceless drone of an oppressive regime and goes on to great things. Antz was made faster and so skimped on animation quality but had plenty of gags and a cast of famous actors to paint over inadequacies with star power.
During production, there was a public feud between DreamWorks co-founder Jeffrey Katzenberg and John Lasseter of Pixar over the controversial parallels.
Despite such a shady start, both movies were largely positively received by audiences.
14 Coco / The Book of Life
The announcement of Disney’s Coco was met with enthusiasm. The film boasts a gorgeous style, lively songs, and is a celebration of one of Mexico’s most iconic celebrations, The Day of the Dead.
Though described by Pixar as a “unique idea” done in the colourful style of Mexican folk art, many angry fans reminded the studio that this film was not so original after all.
In 2014, 20th Century Fox released The Book of Life, a computer-animated musical made by Reel FX Creative Studios, also set during the Day of the Dead. It had moderate success but those who did see it applauded it for the sensitive portrayal of the subject, beautiful animation, and exceptional soundtrack.
Of course, there is no harm in enjoying two Day of the Dead inspired animations, but it would be unfair to forget about The Book of Life just because Disney steamrolls across the same ground.
13 The Nut Job / Over the Hedge
When DreamWorks release Over the Hedge in 2006, it did not exactly change the way we see animated movies. However, it at least gave audiences a raucous comedy about a con-artist racoon, an energetic squirrel, and their furry friends finding out that suburbia is encroaching on their woodland lives.
Roll forward to 2014 and another film about a squirrel planning a heist of his human neighbours comes to the big screen. The Nut Job spent less time on characters and plot, and more time on bad puns about nuts.
The Nut Job was received negatively by viewers. Of course, DreamWorks did not have exclusive rights to squirrel-related heists, but if you are going to re-tread such a similar story, at least make it funny.
12 Shark Tale / Finding Nemo
It was noticeable when fish-focused animated movies Finding Nemo and Shark Tale came out consecutively in 2003 and 2004.
Comments were made on the similarity in theme and in interviews at the time DreamWorks Animation's CEO, Jeffrey Katzenberg, said: "any similarities are mere coincidence. We've been open with the Pixar people so we don't step on each other's toes."
Granted, the plotlines of both films are very different. Could the two studios have just hit on a fun, promising setting concurrently?
While Dreamwork’s Shark Tale features characters with adult problems, such as debt with loan sharks, Pixar's Finding Nemo is about parental love, a plot that young audiences could more easily identify with.
It is undeniable that the two films have a lot in common. The adverse comparison between the more successful Finding Nemo and confusingly targeted Shark Tale means if they did copy Pixar’s premise, it didn’t work out so well.
11 The Secret Life of Pets / Toy Story
Illumination Entertainment, already responsible for the disgustingly popular Despicable Me and Minions Movie, released The Secret Life of Pets in 2016.
The premise is simple: it follows what pets get up to when their humans are not around. In itself this is a premise we have seen before, with movies like Cats V Dogs. Yet these movies about our favourite four-legged friends all had wider plots of their own to distinguish them.
The Secret Life of Pets seems to rip off Toy Story’s formula beat by beat.
Like Toy Story, we have a comfortable setup for the pets. The lead character is used to getting all of the attention of his owner, exactly like Woody. Then they adopt a new pet who attracts all the attention of the owner and causes conflict, just like Buzz.
It could be worse, but one can’t help but feel that we have seen this done before.
10 Dinosaur / The Land Before Time
The Land Before Time is incredibly influential. Released by Universal in 1988, it spawned many "sing-a-long" direct-to-video sequels, and even became a television series in 2007. Very few households in the ‘90s did not have at least some of the many sequels on VHS.
When Disney released Dinosaur in 2000, it was impossible not to compare it to the other animated dino flick.
It followed a suspiciously similar formula to The Land Before Time, with long-neck dinosaurs for the protagonists, who lose parents and travel with a small band of friends to a greener haven, stalked by a "Sharptooth."
Although boasting stunning computer animated visuals, Dinosaur’s plot was generic. It aimed for a sweeping storyline but lacked enough emotion to make it feel epic. Perhaps if Disney had pulled off a decent movie, no one would have bothered to compare it to the clearly similar predecessor?
9 Surf’s Up / Happy Feet
Warner Brothers’ Happy Feet came out in 2006, with Sony’s Surf’s Up following closely on its stubby penguin tail in 2007.
The similarities are obvious: both movies are about penguins. But penguins are popular. There have been plenty of other movies cashing in on the fad, arguably started by March of the Penguins in 2005.
In theme, the two movies have little in common. One is a mockumentary, looking into the annual Penguin World Surfing Championship. The other is a serious drama about environmentalism, religious fundamentalism, and accepting who you are.
Although both well-received, neither film quite hits the mark. Surf’s Up has a plot that could have worked just as well with humans rather than penguins, and Happy Feet has so many messages it gets confusing.
8 Treasure Planet / Titan A.E.
Following the successful rise of Pixar, animation studios began making mostly CG films. This sort of trend does not happen overnight and there were a few bumps along the CG road. Disney’s Treasure Planet and Don Bluth’s Titan A.E. were two such bumps.
Both movies combined hand-drawn traditional animation and 3D computer animation in a way that didn’t completely gel.
They were also both animated sci-fi adventures featuring an angsty young hero in possession of an important map. The heroes join a motley spaceship crew, including a father-figure and a shady traitor, on an adventurous journey.
The dystopian Titan A.E. is certainly aimed at an older audience and gained something of a cult following. For the more light-hearted Treasure Planet, the goal is treasure, while in Titan A.E. it is a new home for the human race. Yet the characterizations and the setting are so obviously similar that many fans noticed parallels.
7 The Wild / Madagascar
If it had happened once, it could have been considered a coincidence. If it had happened twice, eyebrows might have been raised. The fact that repeatedly DreamWorks and Disney release very different movies with almost identical premises makes it seem naïve to believe it is anything but on purpose.
A group of animals, raised in captivity, find themselves accidentally leaving New York's Central Park Zoo and find themselves bound for Africa. The creatures band together to help get home safely as they discover that the jungle is meaner than they had anticipated.
That summary could have been describing both Madagascar (2005) and The Wild (2006).
The movies have almost identical set ups and very similar messages.
As animated movies take so long to develop, the release date does not necessarily necessitate which one ripped off the other. In fact, Madagascar landed a lot better, with dance numbers and songs that made it more popular.
6 Quest for Camelot / The Sword in the Stone
Based loosely on Vera Chapman’s ‘The King’s Damosel’, Warner Brother’s Quest for Camelot: The Magic Sword is an Arthurian tale in the same vein as Disney’s beloved The Sword in the Stone.
In actual fact, besides the same setting and the importance of the same magical sword, the movies are quite different. It might be forgiven, if the rest of it wasn’t such a blatant Disney ripoff in every other way.
With animated sidekicks, colorful musical numbers, and a plucky heroine who looks a lot like Belle (especially as she stands atop a cliff singing about how she wants something more), the film tries far too hard to fit the Disney formula.
It has some redeeming features. The voice acting is stellar, featuring talent such as Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, and Pierce Brosnan, and some of the songs (notably Celine Dion’s "The Prayer") had a popular life of their own outside of the mediocre film.
5 The Princess and the Frog / The Swan Princess
In 1994, the little-known studio Crest Animation released The Swan Princess, a fairy tale musical based on Swan Lake. It ticks almost every box of a Disney classic: a beautiful princess, a handsome prince, catchy musical numbers, obnoxious talking animals, and an evil sorcerer. They even released a bunch of Swan Princess merchandise.
The Swan Princess is based on no discernible movie. The small studio ripped off the Disney formula and hoped harassed parents would pick up the VHS, mistaking it for a Disney Princess movie.
Perhaps this is why, years later, Disney got its revenge with The Princess and the Frog. Angry fans of the smaller budget movie complained that the way Naveen (in frog form) looks and behaves similarly to Jean-Bob, Odette’s French frog friend, and the sphere of water when Facilier's spell is broken looks just like Odette’s transformation.
Perhaps that make them even?
4 Atlantis: The Lost Empire / Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water
Hayao Miyazaki, co-founder of Studio Ghibli, has given audiences such timeless masterpieces as Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle.
Miyazaki also was the brain behind Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, a Japanese steampunk series, originally aired from 1990 to 1991. Nadia ran for 39 episodes, and was later broadcast in the United States.
A nerdy, academic, young man with big glasses and a bowtie searches for Atlantis, along the way falling in love with an exotic, strong heroine, in a high-tech submarine with a diverse crew. Once they discover Atlantis, the heroine uses her pendant to fuse with the magical power source and save the day.
Sound familiar? Eagle-eyed animation fans have pointed out that Disney’s Atlantis, released in 2001, bears a shocking similarity to this set-up. Even the similarities between minor side characters and plot points are uncanny.
3 Wings /Planes
Disney’s 2013 Planes was already consciously a spin-off of Pixar's Cars franchise. The similarities between the movies about anthropomorphized vehicles competing in high-speed races, although undeniable, are on purpose. Despite not being produced by Pixar, the film was co-written and executively produced by Pixar and so this "ripoff" was pre-approved.
What was less valid was Lionsgate’s own direct to DVD movie Wings. Unlike many of the other direct, low-budget copies of well-known animations out there, this has a surprisingly recognizable Hollywood cast, including Josh Duhamel, Hilary Duff, and Rob Schneider.
Like Planes, it features a plucky plane looking to compete in a famous race. That’s pretty much all there is to it.
Planes was already a generic cash-in and the lower budget, hastily made Wings is all but unwatchable.
2 Shark Bait: The Reef / Shark Tale
Shark Bait is a 2006 South Korean-American CG animation. It was known as The Reef in the UK and Northern America and, despite its status as a co-production between South Korean and American, it never received a theatrical release.
The plot revolves around a (suspiciously familiar looking) small orange fish named Pi and his attempt to win the heart of (suspiciously familiar looking) feminine pink fish Cordelia, while dealing with a tiger shark that is terrorizing him and the inhabitants of the reef.
Criticized for references to multiple other movies and its obvious ripping off character designs from both Shark Tale and Finding Nemo, it was also a simplistic story with bland animation.
Just one look at the DVD cover shows that they were simply cashing in on looking like the other, more popular movies.
1 Izzie’s Way Home / Finding Dory
Izzie's Way Home is an American direct-to-video film produced by The Asylum. The Asylum are more famous for such classics as Sharknado, with this fish-centric cartoon being their first animated release.
This low-budget rip-off is very similar to Pixar’s family-friendly sequel.
Izzie is an odd-ball fish who lives with her father Harold. He tries hard to protect her from bullies and from being returned to the ocean by the human who maintains the aquarium. In a shock twist, Izzie and Harold do end up being returned to the sea, and are separated. The film centres on Izzie befriending the other fish as she and her father search for one another.
With a suspiciously similar cover design, questionable voice acting, and mediocre animation, there is little to recommend this movie. This shameless cash grab is one of the most obvious.
Are there other animated ripoffs? Let us know in the comments!