Why the Family-Friendly PETER RABBIT Is Facing Legal Woes
By Movieguide® Staff
Despite the family-friendly and heartwarming nature of 2018’s PETER RABBIT, an intense legal battle between producer Jason Lust and Animal Logic lies beneath the surface ahead of the movie’s sequel.
In 2016, Lust sued Animal Logic, accusing the VFX company of forcing him to submit intellectual property and barring him from working on the project. However, Animal Logic countersued, claiming that their relationship with Lust was “at will” and that it was clear that the company could use Lust’s IP on other projects.
That ended without a settlement and a change in legal counsel. But now the dispute lies in whether the PETER RABBIT sequel falls under the short-form agreement, which mentions “all other projects.”
The Hollywood Reporter reported:
In September 2019, U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt partially granted Animal Logic’s motion for summary judgment. Only Lust’s claim for breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing survived. Kronstadt found that while the short-form agreement the parties were operating under didn’t explicitly say Lust would be actively involved in the film, there was no evidence that Lust was aware his role would be reduced at the time he signed over his rights.
Although the initial trial was put on hold, a failed conversation between the company and Lust resulted in another trial date request.
Then in May 2020, with trial rescheduled for November, Lust’s lawyer Neville Johnson filed a motion to withdraw. Details are scarce, but Lust’s pro se opposition argues failure to pay isn’t necessarily good cause for withdrawal, and Johnson’s firm filed a notice of lien on any monetary settlement or judgment awarded. Kronstadt, based partially on confidential information reviewed in camera, found there had been “a sufficient and material a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship,” granted the withdrawal and vacated the trial date.
Because PETER RABBIT 2: THE RUNAWAY was already in production before the trial, Kronsdadt agreed to a supplemental complaint.
“Under the SFA, Plaintiff is ‘entitled to be attached’ to ‘[a]ll other projects agreed as commencing development after the Commencement, greenlit for production within a five (5) year period from the date of termination,'” Kronstadt wrote. “The term ‘all other projects agreed’ does not clearly exclude sequels.”
“Lust was to be ‘accorded a credit not less than ‘Executive Producer,'” Animal Logic attorney John Shaeffer said, arguing that Lust already received what the SFA promised.
“Since Lust has received executive producer credit on both Peter Rabbit and Peter Rabbit 2, as admitted by him in his Complaint, and had no right to receive a producer credit on either films because both were first Greenlit after the Term, Lust has no claim for damage arising from his failure to receive a producer credit on either project,” he continued.
Lowe responded: “While the text of the SFA does not provide a definition of the term ‘project,’ it is abundantly clear that sequels and prequels (and other exploitations of the intellectual property which Lust has assigned) are works in which the plaintiff is entitled to be ‘attached.’ Lust is attached to the Peter Rabbit project from which Peter Rabbit 2 derives. There is no question that a sequel is a derivative work of the original film, and Peter Rabbit 2 will use the same characters, the same talent and the same director.”
Although PETER RABBIT 2 is expected for release on July 2, Lust and Animal Logic will attend a hearing on June 14, THR reports.
Movieguide® named PETER RABBIT one of 2018’s Best Movies for Families.
According to the Movieguide® review:
The PETER RABBIT movie has a wonderful, wry sense of humor that’s laugh-out-loud infectious. The slapstick comedy works well without becoming overbearing. PETER RABBIT also has a strong story structure that hits all the plot points it should and that leads to nice climax. Finally, there are some heartwarming emotional moments that provide uplifting messages where love, repentance and forgiveness are extolled. The title character, Peter Rabbit, eventually learns to do the right thing instead of always causing trouble.
MOVIEGUIDE® advises a light caution for younger children due to the slapstick comedy and for very brief language. There’s also a brief comical reference mocking evolution and some chaste Romantic elements, and the movie has a couple jokes mocking political correctness. The good news is that PETER RABBIT emphasizes blessings and has a redemptive ending that will leave families with lots of positive feelings as they exit the theater.
In our comprehensive analysis of the box office in our 2019 Report to the Entertainment Industry, we found that movies released in 2018 with very strong Christian, biblical, and moral content or worldviews outperformed movies with very strong Mixed, Non-Christian, or Anti-Christian content and worldviews, by about 2.5 to 1, and often much more. In addition, movies with very strong Christian content earned many times more money overall in the U.S. and Canada than movies with very strong humanist or atheist content, $795.63 million versus only $73.38 million.