Was ‘Seinfeld’ a Disney Knockoff?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because the characters on Seinfeld bear a striking resemblance to another famous quartet of characters.
It was whimsically billed as a “show about nothing,” but could Seinfeld’s creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have unconsciously tapped into a really big something after all? Could part of the show’s enduring appeal have to do with its undeniable affinity to another storied television franchise — an older one sometimes known as Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse and Friends?
Could Seinfeld’s creators have unconsciously tapped into a very big something after all?
Twenty-five years ago this Saturday, an unheralded television sitcom known as The Seinfeld Chronicles, starring comedian and “minor celebrity” Jerry Seinfeld, debuted. The antics of the show’s four central characters — Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer — were zany, riotous and unlike anything anyone had seen on television. Yet looking back a quarter of century later, there is something distinctly familiar, one might even say oddly Goofy, about them — as well as something Mickey, Minnie and Donald, too.
Let’s roll the tape.
George Costanza & Donald Duck
More than 50 years before George Costanza, played by Jason Alexander, cornered the market on endearing curmudgeons, the world fell in love with Donald Fauntleroy Duck. Irritable, mischievous, aggressive, Donald was not like any other cartoon figure when he arrived on the scene in 1934.
Like George, with his fondness for creature comforts like sleeping desks and magnificent toilet facilities, Donald can often be found lazing in his hammock and minding his own business when the world jumps up and bites him. Torn between his good and bad selves, Donald tends to be one everyday annoyance from losing his self-control. George, whose trademark “neurotic insecurity” was based on co-creator Larry David, has also been known to lose it and, like Donald, when he feels wronged, he is relentless in his attempt to put things right again.
Kramer & Goofy
If Walt Disney’s anthropomorphic dog Goofy is a walking and talking adjective, Cosmo Kramer is pure attitude. Carefree, dapper and preternaturally clumsy, what unites the two characters is their sheer physicality: tall and lanky with a breath-taking, almost choreographed, lack of coordination.
When you see Goofy in amorous pursuit of a ship’s female masthead, you cannot help but picture Michael Richards’ Kramer making out with a mannequin. The same applies to other endeavors like playing golf (Goofy vs. Kramer), impersonating a police detective (Goofy vs. Kramer) or enjoying a smoke (Goofy vs. Kramer). Primarily good guys, both characters can also play the duplicitous villain when called for.
Elaine Benes & Minnie Mouse
Early Disney cartoons and the world of Seinfeld were both notoriously short on strong, female characters, but Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Minerva Mouse (aka “Minnie”) did an admirable job of stepping into the breach.
On first glance, Mickey’s sweet, feminine girlfriend and Jerry’s man-eating ex have little in common, but Elaine and Minnie match up quite well in certain respects. Both characters display an easygoing superficiality, which — along with their conservative wardrobe — hides a feisty nature and a character willing to speak her mind. Like Elaine, Minnie relishes good food and doting admirers but can be angered easily, especially when the males around her are misbehaving.
Jerry Seinfeld & Mickey Mouse
As the title characters in epic entertainment franchises, both Jerry Seinfeld and Mickey Mouse are relatively bland, content to play the proverbial “straight man” for their more colorful, at times outrageous, supporting cast.
Jerry, played by Jerry Seinfeld, and Mickey, originally voiced by Walt Disney, occasionally show flashes of mischief and impetuousness, but most often they are the competent, “well-meaning everyman” anchoring their respective shows.
The parallels between the Disney and Seinfeld characters may not be exact but they are eerily compelling. And while Disney wouldn’t really have cause to sue Seinfeld’s creators for copyright infringement, theoretically they still could. That’s right: Even at 86 years old, Mickey Mouse is still not in the public domain, thanks to a 1998 amendment to the U.S. Copyright Act, sometimes known as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.”
Still not convinced that the comparison holds up? Take a look at the mash-up below. As Jerry might have said: “Seinfeld, you magnificent bastard!”