Created by Paula Rosenthal, Superkitties follows four costumed felines in their battle against evil.
Created by Shane Davis, Starlight Cats follows four costumed felines in their battle against evil.
We’ve seen big companies complain about people swiping their properties while hypocritically using fan art, or ideas from smaller creators in their products. The biggest known disaster was Star Trek: DIscovery using the idea of giant tardigrades, an actual arthropod but very small, as part of a method of otherspacial travel…an idea that seemed to be taken from an indie video game developer. Despite the differences in methodology the concept alone is too close to be considered coincidental.
That brings us to Superkitties, a recent Disney Junior animated series about kittens who are secret superheroes in a human world. I recently did a review of the first few episode of the show, which is why I got concerned listening to my favorite wake-up podcast claiming the idea may have been taken from an indie creator. For the record, this doesn’t change any of the positive or negative comments I made about the show. It is a good superhero show for younger kids and has many positive messages in the episodes I’ve seen. (I’ve watched maybe one or two since the review.) Also for the record I have not read Starlight Cats and I’m going solely on the successful Indiegogo campaign from 2020 and the solicit for the complete comic on publisher 9 Lives Comics’ website. So did I pull a Bitsy-style “oopsie-kitty” and promote a theft? Let’s compare and see.
First let’s see the trailer for Starlight Cats‘ Indiegogo campaign.
Now let’s compare that with one of the trailers for the show…that thankfully doesn’t include that way too long held note I complained about in the review.
Obviously the issue is not the tone. Starlight Cats is a more serious all-ages graphic novel down to the art style while Superkitties is a preschool and elementary school aged show that is obsessed with its own cuteness. Thankfully it knows when to stop, at least for my tastes, but I’m an adult (or so they tell me) with a high cute tolerance despite my usual preferences.
There is also a big difference in the plots. Starlight Cats is focused on a lonely girl from Singapore named Rebecca who is drawn into a cosmic war between cats and rats from outer space. To save the world they need to find a set of jewels that will call forth the ultimate protector or something. Rebecca is accidentally pulled in when she finds one of the jewels and fights alongside her cat and his friends.
Superkitties has no human protagonist outside of the woman who runs the cafe/daycare center/whatever that place is supposed to be, except she’s not really a protagonist either. In the episodes I watched she doesn’t even say anything. One kid just says “kitty” a lot when he sees the cats out of costume and that’s it. Humans don’t even seem to know anything is going on…and given there’s an episode where the park is slowly being turned into cheese that’s a level of unobservant you don’t see very often. It’s the other animals in the city that call on the Superkitties for help via a communicator hidden in a fire hydrant.
Even the show’s villains are no where near the level of big green rat creatures out to infest the planet. I haven’t seen them all but the baddies in the show seem motivated by personal complaints that not only mirror what the kitties are struggling with personally but end on a positive note for everybody. Villains like Lab Rat and Cat Burglar are mad, even justified based on your perspective, and take it out on the city, but by the end learns to find a better solution to their problems. Those green rats look like they’re trying to eat Rebecca, while Lab Rat had to learn that there’s more food options than cheese. So what are Davis’s complaints? Here’s the latest video, second of two as of this writing, where he goes into his concerns.
Okay, so Rosenthal, creator and co-executive producer, has borrowed elements in the past. Could that be the case here? We know the Superkitties don’t fly. In fact the promotional image in the video looks more like they’re falling, possibly from the helicopter in the back. Sparks, the one in purple, does ride his flying toolbox, which supposedly was inspired by videos of cats riding those robot vacuum cleaners according to the Superkitties fandom wiki. In fact Rosenthal has stated in the only behind the scenes interview I found with her that all four’s personalities and abilities were inspired by cat videos, Rosenthal herself claiming to be a fan of cats and superheroes. Maybe she’d actually like Starlight Cats? At any rate we’ve heard this nonsense before from thieves in the past so she’s not off the hook just yet, given not only Hollywood and top gaming companies history but apparently her own. Let’s see the actual Starlight Cats in costume.
The sticking point seems to be the jewel-like designs on their costumes, but they don’t really seem to do anything on the show except for aesthetics. Bitsy is the only one shown with actual superpowers, her superspeed. The leader is into parkour, Sparks’ brother can roll up like a Sonic The Hedgehog character, and Sparks makes gadgets. The wiki calls them emblems rather than jewels, but it isn’t hard to think that Rosenthal or whomever created the character models and designed the costumes didn’t see this image somewhere since there were articles about the comic and was inspired by it without being aware of the stones’ significance much as Davis appears to be about the show’s emblems. It’s an easy watch. Disney Junior has it on their YouTube channel as well as airing on Disney Channel’s Junior lineup and separate network, and presumably Disney Plus as well.
So did someone steal the costume designs? Given history I wouldn’t rule it out but there’s no evidence to suggest it either beyond the circumstantial. However, Davis and co-writer Yanzi Lin are right to defend themselves. Their comic came out well before the show and I’ve seen people being accused of ripping off an idea they came up with first simply because they’re a lesser-known creator or not part of a big media company who has more of a presence. Superkitties wasn’t introduced until late 2022; even with pandemic delays there was no mention I’m aware of. Starlight Cats had been around since 2020 as a FINISHED product, meaning 9 Lives Comics was working on it before the show was announced and has a better claim than Disney or Sony Pictures Television-Kids, the show’s distributors. At the very least this offers them protection from false accusations that they are the thieves when they have time and all the legal protections on their side. As far as the show, 9 Lives may have updated their readership and backers with images that got picked up by search engines while the character models were being finalized either before or during the creative and computer modeling processes.
Yes, it’s true neither are the first time the idea of super-powered cat heroes was introduced. Oddly, someone trying to defend Superkitties used a picture of Dex*Star, the Red Lantern cat. You know, the villain character. That Davis himself created for DC Comics, who also has Streaky The Supercat. I could list a bunch more but the point is it seems to be the costumes that are the source of his concern. It could be a coincidence or it could be the model artist was inspired by this piece. It’s all guesswork at this point, though it wouldn’t be the first time such an uncredited inspiration occurred. The plots, tone, style, and concept beyond cats in costumes are both very different. On the other hand, I want to read this Starlight Cats now. It looks like a fun story. So even using the similarities as a way to show off this comic has advantages. No, I don’t think that was Davis’ goal, but it is a happy bonus.