Pixar Went To Court To Prove They Invented 'Unicycles'
Before they released Toy Story in 1995, Pixar produced a handful of shorts. Maybe you've heard of their 1988 toy-themed short, Tin Toy, which gets a few nods in the Toy Story movies. In 1986, they made Luxo Jr., starring a lamp you know well from the Pixar production logo. And then in 1987, they made Red's Dream, about a unicycle named Red. A unicycle dreams of juggling in a circus, then it wakes up and sadly realizes that this will never happen, as it is a unicycle.
In 1994, with Pixar still yet to release a full-length movie, the world got another piece of unicycle-themed media. Nintendo put out Uniracers, a racing game for the SNES built entirely around unicycles. Pixar sued the developers, DMA Design, saying they'd stolen the unicycle design from Red's Dream to make the game.
DMA Design had not stolen the design of their unicycles from Red's Dream. Unicycles are an invention no one owns, had existed in various forms for over a century, and saw a sudden jump in popularity in the '80s unrelated to either the film or the game. If you've never seen a unicycle, the ones in the game look remarkably similar to the character in the film, but that's just what a common kind of unicycle looks like. The unique part of Red came from how Pixar had animated it, bending parts and having it stop and start like it's alive, and Uniracers did not copy this. It couldn't—it was a 2-D game from 1994.
Being the most generous to Pixar that we can, the only grounds we can see for their dispute is that the game's cover art prominently featured a red unicycle, even though the game's vehicles spanned various colors. This marketing might falsely imply the game adapted the Pixar film. Few buyers could make that error, since few buyers had ever heard of Red's Dream—Pixar had screened it at computer animation conference but hadn't released it to theaters or home media—but maybe Pixar saw some infringement there.
What would the recourse be in that case? Should Nintendo be forced to change the cover art? Should Pixar receive a cut of all profits, past and future? No, it went further than that. Following Pixar's suit, Nintendo ceased all production of new Uniracers cartridges. And so this game, which pops up today in several best-of lists of the era, never sold beyond its initial run, never got a sequel, and was never ported to more modern systems.
Still, let's not just blame Pixar in this. Let's also blame DMA Design's lawyer. How hard could it possibly have been to prove unicycles were a preexisting concept?
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