Disney allows reproduction of 'Up' house in Utah
The house is a product of the strange obsession of one man, his connections, the film's powerful director and a company that is trying to evaluate the use of its characters and imagery.
The New York Times
HERRIMAN, Utah — Cute is the Walt Disney Co.'s stock in trade, but there is nothing soft and cuddly about how it protects its intellectual property.
This is a company that once forced a Florida day-care center to remove an unauthorized Minnie Mouse mural. More recently, Disney told a stonemason that carving Winnie the Pooh into a child's gravestone would violate its copyright.
So how is a homebuilder in this Salt Lake City suburb getting away with selling a near-identical copy of the floating house in the Disney-Pixar film "Up"?
The sherbet-colored structure sits at the intersection of Meadowside Drive and Herriman Rose Boulevard, but you don't need directions to find it. Just look for the swarm of helium-filled balloons that the developer tied to the chimney of a house that has a gabled roof, scalloped siding and a garden hose neatly coiled next to the porch — all details taken from "Up," the 2009 hit about an old man and his flying abode.
The house is a product of the strange obsession of one man — in this case, the son of a former governor — his connections, the film's powerful director and a company that is trying to evaluate with more care the hundreds of requests it receives a month from people wanting to use its characters and imagery.
Bangerter Homes, which specializes in custom-built dwellings, is marketing the 2,800-square-foot reproduction as "The Disney/Pixar 'Up' House," using stills from the film and the official logos of Disney and its Pixar Animation Studios subsidiary. The listing price: $400,000.
So far, serious bidders are scarce. But over the past few weeks about 27,000 people paid $10 each for a peek inside, with most of the proceeds going to charity.
The man behind the design is Blair Bangerter, a son of Norman H. Bangerter, who served as governor of Utah from 1985 to 1993. The younger Bangerter first saw "Up" two years ago. A longtime animation buff, he said that he was thrilled that the film gave a starring role to his other passion — houses — and became preoccupied with replicating the colorful Victorian in real life.
"But I tried to put it out of my mind," he said. "I knew I needed to get approval, and everything I'd ever heard is that Disney never agrees to anything. Real tough customers, those folks."
Then one day Bangerter mentioned his fantasy construction project to a buddy, who responded that a lawyer with ties to Disney had just become a member of the Salt Lake Homebuilders Association. Maybe that guy could call in a favor?
The new member was Scott R. Sabey, a lobbyist whose clients include the Motion Picture Association of America. He didn't have a favor to use, but Sabey did have an acquaintance in Disney's legal department.
"What do you know," Sabey said, "once I told them how serious Blair was about this, they said they'd take a look at the plans." (Bangerter's tie to the governor's mansion didn't hurt, Sabey noted.)
After much back-and-forthing, a lawyer at Pixar produced a four-page contract that gave Bangerter Homes permission to build the house, sell it and keep any profits, Sabey said; moreover, the builders could use Disney's name, logos and "Up" artwork for a limited time. Disney did forbid reproductions of the reproduction: Bangerter couldn't speckle the West with "Up" houses.
With that, he never heard from Disney again.
Bangerter said he figured out how to mimic the house by watching the "Up" DVD over and over on his laptop. He paid particular attention to the film's opening, when the home's inhabitants, Carl and Ellie Fredricksen, are newlyweds and remodel their two-story dream house.
Why did Disney accommodate the project? A hard-core "Up" fan wanting to live inside the animated movie's fantasy world would be one thing. But this was business. Not only did the Bangerters get a house to sell at a sharp premium — new homes in Herriman are typically priced around $300,000 — they also got a high-profile calling card for future clients.
A spokesman for Walt Disney Studios said the company had no comment. But as it turns out, the Bangerters had a powerful ally: Pete Docter, the director of "Up," who personally intervened on behalf of the project, a studio executive with knowledge of the transaction said, on condition of anonymity so as not to contradict his employer's stance.
Somehow Bangerter's detailed architectural drawings made their way to Docter's desk at Pixar. Touched that his film had inspired such an elaborate reaction, he asked the company to make it happen, according to the Disney executive.
Docter wields considerable power at the studio; "Up" sold over $731 million at the global box office, and his other credits include "Monsters, Inc." and writing for the "Toy Story" franchise. And although Disney still declines the vast majority of these requests and zealously polices unauthorized usage, it has also started paying more mind to the potential public-relations fallout from saying no. It notably reversed its ruling on that Winnie the Pooh tombstone after the news reported the rejection.
"I'm just glad somebody said yes because it's totally darling," said Sheila Fry, who came to Salt Lake City to visit family but "just had to make a pit stop" in Herriman to see the house. As she cooed over the hand-stenciled name on the mailbox (another "Up" detail), music from the movie's soundtrack played from speakers set up in the garage.
Some people in Herriman, a rapidly growing community where most homes are painted the same shade of brown, worry that the colorful "Up" house will bring noise from a continual parade of sightseers. But many residents seem to share the opinion of Angie Williams, a neighbor who came by to admire it with her daughter, Kaylee.
"It's really cute — beyond cute," Williams said. She did have one quibble, however. "If I bought it," she said, "I would probably repaint the outside brown."