The 1980s sparked a trend that changed television – baby or toddler versions of classic animated series. There was A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, The Flintstone Kids and so many more. But the trend’s forebearer was the 1984 series Muppet Babies. In 2018, the beloved animated series received a reboot from Disney, leading to a lawsuit from original series writer Jeffrey Scott. Recently, Disney decided to fight back against Scott’s Muppet Babies lawsuit.
Muppet Babies was a trendsetter during its run from 1984 to 1991, given the concept and reinterpretation of proven intellectual properties. Jeffrey Scott worked on the original series during the first three seasons as a writer as well as a developer. In October 2020, Scott filed a lawsuit against Disney, claiming the company had misappropriated elements from his original 1984 series bible. THR revealed the House of Mouse decided to file a motion to dismiss the case. In the motion, the attorney for Disney, Erin Cox, explained why Scott had no claim over the Disney reboot.
Scott concedes that he was only brought on by Marvel Productions Ltd. ('Marvel') to work on the Muppet Babies cartoon television show after the concept had already been developed by Henson Associates Inc. ('HA'). HA authorized development of Muppet Babies only on a work-for-hire basis; either that applies to Scott (and he has no copyright claim) or he was working without authorization (and anything he developed was an unauthorized derivative work, which cannot be copyrighted).
Along with dismissing Jeffrey Scott’s copyright claims, Disney claimed the series creator didn’t list the 1984 original series as part of his 2003 bankruptcy filing. Erin Cox alleged Scott "never had any such copyright" on the 1984 series’ original series bible. The attorney even stated in the court papers that Scott wouldn’t have retained the series’ copyright as it belonged to the bankruptcy estate and not him. The documents claimed Scott couldn’t claim any part of the 2018 reboot as he didn’t make any "contributions to the underlying intellectual property are original, copyrightable, and non-trivial.”
To make their case for dismissing Jeffrey Scott’s claim, Erin Cox stated in the papers that Muppets creator Jim Henson was the originator of Muppet Babies. She pointed out that the toddler version of the Muppets first appeared in the 1983 film The Muppets Take Manhattan. The film sequence was further developed in March 1984. Disney argued, due to Scott’s copyright claim not fulfilling legal standards, his suit should be dismissed as federal courts lack jurisdiction over the case.