"Vice presidents from Disney don’t contact just any old Joe Schmoe off the street."

After reading this Newsday.com (Updated link:) wdwmagic forum article about a scuba-diving dentist that claims Disney and Pixar Animation Studios stole the idea for the hit film “Finding Nemo” from him, I think he may have a case.

He claims he submitted an illustrated manuscript to Disney and talked on the phone about his story with a writer from Pixar. (The two companies have a distribution partnership.)

A Disney vice president told Sternberg in 1996 that although the story had “great potential,” it did not fit into the studio’s “development slate” at that time, according to the suit.

Seven years later, Sternberg was in a movie theater and saw a preview for the upcoming release of “Finding Nemo.”

“I thought, ‘Hey, I’m the scuba-diving dentist. Those are my characters, that’s my story,”‘ he told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Wednesday’s editions. “It made me sick to my stomach.”

One big similarity: Sternberg story has a character named “Nimo.”

The thing is, before he submitted his manuscript he signed a two-page waiver that said he would be entitled to only $500 if he were to claim that the company used his material without permission or authorization. His lawyer is asking the court to void that waiver.

NJ diving dentist says `Nemo’ film was his idea

February 16, 2005, 7:36 AM EST

NEWARK, N.J. — A scuba-diving dentist says Disney and Pixar Animation Studios stole the idea for the hit film “Finding Nemo” from him.

In a lawsuit filed this week in U.S. District Court in Newark, Dennis G. Sternberg, 56, of Allenhurst, said he used experiences as a diver to create an underwater adventure story for children in 1991. He called his story “Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish.”

He claims he submitted an illustrated manuscript to Disney and talked on the phone about his story with a writer from Pixar. (The two companies have a distribution partnership.)

A Disney vice president told Sternberg in 1996 that although the story had “great potential,” it did not fit into the studio’s “development slate” at that time, according to the suit.

Seven years later, Sternberg was in a movie theater and saw a preview for the upcoming release of “Finding Nemo.”

“I thought, ‘Hey, I’m the scuba-diving dentist. Those are my characters, that’s my story,”‘ he told The Star-Ledger of Newark for Wednesday’s editions. “It made me sick to my stomach.”

One big similarity: Sternberg story has a character named “Nimo.”

The suit claims a violation of federal copyright laws, in addition to fraud and misrepresentation, breach of contract, unjust enrichment and breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing. It claims the companies “have intentionally, knowingly, illicitly and slavishly copied plaintiff’s protected works in whole or in substantial part.”

Before Sternberg submitted his manuscript, Disney had him sign a two-page waiver that said he would be entitled to only $500 if he were to claim that the company used his material without permission or authorization. The lawsuit asks the court to void that waiver.

Neither Disney nor Pixar would comment when reached by the newspaper Tuesday.

Developed by Pixar and distributed by Disney, “Finding Nemo” grossed nearly $340 million, making it the 12th highest grossing movie of all time and the second highest among animated films.

It tells the story of a young clown fish named Nemo who is caught by a scuba diver and ends up in a fish tank in a dentist’s office. Nemo’s father searches the vast ocean for him with the help of a blue tang. Nemo eventually gets free of the dentist’s tank, returns to the sea and is reunited with his father.

Sternberg’s “Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish” tells the story of “two worlds coming together _ above and below the sea, with unusual sea creatures such as hatchet fish, creatures with large eyes and other exaggerated features, undersea turtles and their travels on the undersea Gulf Stream currents,” according to the lawsuit.

Sternberg had a long-standing personal acquaintance with a woman who worked as an executive secretary at ABC Capitol Cities, a Disney company, the lawsuit states. He sent her a copy of his manuscript, and she encouraged him to send another copy to Disney, the suit asserted.

According to the suit, the Disney copy ended up in the hands of Barry Blumberg, an executive vice president of television animation. Blumberg called Sternberg at his home in November 1996 to talk about the story.

The lawsuit quotes Blumberg as saying during that phone call, “We all love ‘Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish’ and the entire concept.”

The suit says Blumberg’s office put Sternberg in touch with a Pixar employee, Andrew Stanton. Sternberg told Stanton he imagined “Peanut Butter the Jelly Fish” surfacing during his adventure and using the Statue of Liberty to get his bearings.

In “Finding Nemo,” Nemo surfaces and gets his bearings when he sees the Sydney Opera House.

Stanton was the director and story writer of “Nemo.” He was also one of the three screenwriters who were nominated for an Academy Award for best original screenplay.

“The thing that makes this so different from other similar situations is the amount of contact between Dr. Sternberg and the studios,” said Sternberg’s attorney, William T. Hill. “There was a vice president from Disney on the phone with this guy. Vice presidents from Disney don’t contact just any old Joe Schmoe off the street.”

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newjersey/ny-bc-nj–stealingnemo0216feb16,0,4148481.story?coll=ny-region-apnewjersey

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