Duke Caboom was easily one of the most memorable elements of Toy Story 4. Unfortunately, the character is now a subject of a copyright claim against Disney.
TMZ obtained the claim from K&K Promotions which alleges that Disney directly based Duke Caboom on the real-life persona of Evel Knievel. K&K Promotions claims that they own all the rights to Evel Knievel’s likeness, persona, and brand. With Duke Caboom acting as a pretty clear parody of Evel Knievel, K&K Promotions believes that their copyright has been infringed upon and Disney owes them some money.
The claim goes on to provide supposed proof that Duke Caboom was knowingly based on Evel Knievel and the merchandising that was released in the wake of Toy Story 4 directly ripped off similar toys and merchandise that were branded with Evel Knievel’s likeness and brand. The claim provides comparative photographs that are actually pretty convincing.
K&K Promotions also says that Duke Caboom actor Keanu Reeves and other actors in the Toy Story 4 ensemble were specifically directed not to acknowledge any similarities between the Disney character and Evel Knievel. They also say that this mindset was present with another character, Forky, and the potential that he was inspired by the copyrighted term “spork.”
But, here is where we get into a familiar discussion when it comes to copyright and parody. Duke Caboom is assuredly a parody of Evel Knievel. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about Evel Knievel and his entire gimmick can see the similarities between him and the Toy Story 4 character. But, there are some very important distinctions that have been demonstrated in countless other instances of parody characters and concepts.
For one, Duke Caboom does not directly reference any particular aspects of Evel Knievel that are distinctly and singularly linked to Evel Knievel. Any similarities are not being used to specifically represent Evel Knievel. For example, you could make the same argument against Homelander in The Boys and characters like Superman and Captain America. Yes, there are clear elements of those characters in Homelander, but the character himself is not a direct representation of either of those characters.
The same can be said for Duke Caboom. You can draw connections between him and Evel Knievel, but none of those connections are direct representations of Evel Knievel. Add to that the fact that the character of Duke Caboom is a sentient action figure with his own original story and plot elements that have nothing to do with Evel Knievel. Much like The Orville is a pretty clear riff on the world of Star Trek, it has enough totally original elements that allow it to exist in on its own creative merits.
It is kind of poetic to see Disney, a company that is notorious for viciously enforcing their own copyright claims, be brought into a legal claim over misappropriating another company’s copyright. There is almost no chance this will gain any real traction, but K&K Promotions could find themselves earning a decent settlement from Disney in order to shut them up. If it does progress, we will be interested to see how far it goes.