Disney movie infringes upon wrestling character
TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun
Most sports fans probably aren't too familiar with The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl -- that is, unless they happen to have pre-teen offspring or the inclination to watch Saturday morning cartoons on acid.
But the kiddie action movie became a hot topic in wrestling circles last month when TNA grappler Shark Boy (Dean Roll) filed a lawsuit against the film's producers.
"I trademarked the Shark Boy name in 1999," Roll told the Calgary Sun this week. "And I'd been using it for eight years, so I never thought somebody was going to come along and just take it for a movie."
Roll created the Shark Boy character in 1997 when he decided to move from a wrestling referee to a full-fledged grappler.
"When I first broke into wrestling, there weren't any guys my size," Roll said. "I bill myself as 5-ft. 10-in. with my fin but, in reality, I'm more like 5-ft. 7-in. standing on my tippy toes. When I decided to wrestle, they wanted to me wear a mask so people wouldn't recognize me as a ref."
A masked gimmick is often the kiss of death for a wrestler's career but Roll set about creating a comicbook-style persona that would stand out from the pack.
"I wanted to be as original as possible," he said. "I wanted to go to a different extreme, so I created Shark Boy. The character comes from under the water to fight the wrestling bad guys. I do lots of biting and silly antics like jumping up on the turnbuckle and putting my hand on my forehead like a fin. I have fun with it and the fans definitely react to it."
Shark Boy developed an underground cult following and was signed to a contract with WCW in the late '90s.
"When they invited me up for tryout matches with WCW, I realized it had a lot to do with the character," Roll said.
"I figured that rather than sign the rights to the character over to the company, I would trademark it myself."
Roll got the rights to the name but his run with WCW was cut short when the company folded in 2001. He soon resurfaced in TNA and his cult following exploded as his underdog superhero gimmick reached a wider audience on pay-per-view and cable TV.
As he developed into one of TNA's hottest mid-card stars, Roll caught wind Hollywood big-shot Robert Rodriguez was coming out with a movie called The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl in 3D, a kiddie flick based on a pair of imaginary super heroes that come to life.
"I got an e-mail from someone who heard about the movie and asked me how I was involved," Roll said. "My first thought was that since Rodriguez made the Spy Kids movies and Sin City, it was going to get a lot of attention. Right away I started looking at legal help."
Roll realized the damage the movie could do to his wrestling persona. As TNA's audience continued to grow, new viewers would pin him as either a ripoff or a spoof of a pre-teen movie character -- not exactly the type of reputation to which most wrestlers aspire.
"It could reach the point where people would think I stole the name from a movie and that's really upset me," Roll said. "When I wrestle, I already get questions like 'Where's Lava Girl?' I also hear 'Disney sucks' chants everywhere I go. It's definitely affected what I do."
Roll, who will wrestle tomorrow night at TNA's Sacrifice pay-per-view, is even faced with the prospect he may have to change his gimmick because of the situation.
"It's so up in the air now," he said. "But I hope I get to keep being Shark Boy because it's taken me places I never thought I could go. I just saw it getting bigger and better."
The official Shark Boy website
The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl reviewed in Jam!