Tai chi expert claims studio stole his "Panda" idea

Wed Jun 2, 2010 8:21am EDT
 
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By Matthew Belloni

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A martial arts guru is accusing DreamWorks Animation of stealing one of its most lucrative characters.

Terence Dunn, who describes himself as a writer-producer-teacher-philosopher and says he "pioneered the practice of tai chi, kung fu and qigong in modern medicine," claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court that he originated the idea for a movie about a "spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear" and met with the studio months before it decided to make "Kung Fu Panda" without him.

Dunn says that in November 2001, he disclosed to DreamWorks Animation executive Lance Young his idea for a feature about a panda "who is adopted by five animal friends in the forest (a tiger, a leopard, a dragon, a snake and a crane), whose destiny is foretold by an old and wise sage, Turquoise Tortoise, and who comes of age and fulfills his destiny as a martial arts hero and spiritual avatar ... by leading his friends to save the inhabitants of peaceful Plum Flower Village."

After a number of development phone calls between Dunn, Young and another DWA executive, Michael Lachance, the studio allegedly passed on the idea in February 2002. A few months later, DreamWorks allegedly began developing "Kung Fu Panda," its hit 2008 film starring the voice of Jack Black as a panda "substantially similar in all respects" to the one Dunn described, according to the complaint. The film grossed more than $630 million worldwide and has spawned a DVD sequel, a planned TV show and a theatrical sequel scheduled for next summer.

Dunn says his conversations with the studio created an implied-in-fact contract. He wants at least $1 million in damages.

DWA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.