Evel Knievel Brand Sues Disney
LAS VEGAS, September 22, 2020 – K&K Promotions, Inc., the brand that owns the intellectual property rights of famed motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel, has filed a lawsuit in federal court against The Walt Disney Company, Pixar, and other Disney-related entities, alleging trademark infringement and violations of K&K’s rights of publicity.
K&K’s long-time legal adviser, Ronald DiNicola, who has represented other iconic brands including Muhammad Ali, announced the lawsuit, which was filed today in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas.
Evel Knievel garnered world-wide fame and recognition starting in the late 1960’s when performing death-defying motorcycle jumps. By the early 1970’s, Knievel became equally known for his readily identifiable signature wardrobe: a white jumpsuit embellished with star-spangled red, white and blue patriotic insignia with matching cape and helmet, and for his similarly decorated motorcycle.
Some of Evel’s best-known stunts included soaring over the fountains of Caesar’s Palace Hotel in Las Vegas, launching a steam-powered rocket over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, and thrilling 90,000 spectators with a jump over 13 buses at England’s Wembley Stadium. All three were among Evel’s many crashes, which along with his multiple hospitalizations only added to his daredevil image.
Ideal Toys released the iconic Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle in 1973, one of the best-selling toys in history, featuring a doll of Evel in his signature red, white, and blue jumpsuit and matching helmet as well as a matching replica motorcycle. The toy famously came with an “Energizer,” which users would wind up and release, causing the toy motorcycle and doll to propel forward, performing stunts.
In 2019, Disney Pixar released Toy Story 4, featuring a major new toy character named “Duke Caboom,” voiced by Keanu Reeves. The character is a 1970’s-era motorcycle-riding toy stuntman.
K&K’s Las Vegas counsel Randall Jones filed a complaint on behalf of the company Tuesday, September 22nd, alleging that the Disney character is an unlawful knockoff of the classic and newly re-released Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, which can be seen at www.EvelKnievelToys.com.
According to the complaint, the motorcycle-riding film character, who wears a Knievel-like white jumpsuit with cape and helmet, introduces himself to the other toys as “Duke Caboom, Canada’s greatest stuntman,” to which another toy character responds, “the one who jumps and crashes!”
The complaint alleges that Disney “expressly instructed cast members to avoid drawing any public association between Duke Caboom and Evel Knievel, even if directly asked.”
Yet in an interview with “Entertainment Tonight,” the court filing notes, Tim Allen pointed to Keanu Reeves (who voices the Duke Caboom character) and said, “We were going to call you Evel Knievel.”
A number of journalists have commented on the similarity between Caboom and the real-life legendary stuntman.
The complaint cites a review on ABC News that described the character as a “1970’s-era daredevil… inspired by 1970s American icon Evel Knievel,” and a comment by critic Matt Zoller Seitz on RogerEbert.com that Caboom is an “Evel Knievel-styled motorcycle rider.”
The filing notes that critic James Berardinelli referred to “the Canadian Evel Knievel knockoff, Duke Caboom;” the Washington Post called the character “a stuntman evocative of Evel Knievel’s era;” and in an interview with the film’s director Josh Cooley, the Chicago Tribune said “Duke Caboom is the Canuck version of that Evel Knievel toy,” an apparent reference to the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle.
The lawsuit says Disney’s “unlawful appropriation” and “intentional and willful infringement of the Evel Knievel rights of publicity” through the Caboom character and associated merchandising was “done in bad faith and with the intent to cause confusion” with Evel Knievel-branded goods licensed by K&K Promotions.
The complaint asks the court to award it actual, compensatory, statutory and punitive damages, as well as profits from the film, “in an amount to be determined at trial.”
Kelly Knievel, son of the world-renowned performer and the spokesperson for K&K Promotions, said, “Evel Knievel did not thrill millions around the world, break his bones and spill his blood just so Disney could make a bunch of money. He remains an instantly-recognized icon, as demonstrated by the huge popularity of the re-issued Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle among kids who hadn’t even been born when my father died a dozen years ago.”
Auerbach & Co. Public Relations