Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust aren’t just four of the five emotion-based characters that resided in a young girl’s head in the 3-D-animated Pixar hit “Inside Out,” they’re feelings Walt Disney Co. executives might find coming to the surface as well.
Disney and Pixar were hit with a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Tuesday on behalf of Minnesota child development expert Denise Daniels, who claims studio executives used her original ideas to create the 2015 film, which was a critical, box office and awards hit.
It was third animated hit created by Disney or Pixar in the past three years to be slapped with copyright suits seeking millions of dollars — “Zootopia” and “Frozen” were the other two — and this one asks for unspecified damages to be determined by the court.
It was filed by a team from Robins Kaplan, a Minneapolis-based law firm the studio knows well. It represented the U.K. company Celador International in a 2004 case involving profits from ABC TV’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” in a case that ended in a $320 million verdict against Disney.
A Disney spokesman denied the claim in a statement. “‘Inside Out’ was an original Pixar creation, and we look forward to defending it in court,” it said.
“Inside Out” features five anthropomorphic characters based on the emotions — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust — that the teen girl Riley must manage in her own mind when she has to adjust to her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco. Directed by Pete Docter, the movie was a critical hit and took in more than $350 million at the domestic box office and another $500 million overseas. It won the Oscar for animated feature and was nominated for its original screenplay.
Daniels claimed that she spoke extensively to Docter about the film between 2005 and 2009, as well as several top Disney and Pixar executives, when she pitched her idea for a TV project called “The Moodsters.” The premise behind the show was to look at five color-coded, animated and anthropomorphized characters — Happiness, Anger, Sadness, Fear and Love — who reside “deep inside a young girl.”
The suit alleges that when Daniels and her team pitched and disclosed the idea at the heart of “The Moodsters” to Disney and Pixar executives, it was with the understanding, as is custom in the TV and film industry, that Daniels would be compensated if Disney⋅Pixar used the idea.
Docter was born in Minnesota, where Daniels is based.
In March, Disney was sued by “Total Recall” screenwriter Gary L. Goldman’s company, which claimed copyright infringement and breach of implied-in-fact contract — the same claims Daniels makes on “Inside Out” — on its 2016 animated hit “Zootopia.” That film won the Oscar for best animated feature and took in more than $1 billion worldwide.
In June 2015, about the same time that Disney announced a sequel to its 2014 megahit “Frozen,” the top-grossing animated film ever at the global box office, the studio said it had settled a copyright infringement suit brought by Kelly Wilson, director of a short film called “The Snowman.” Two earlier efforts to have the suit dismissed in federal district court failed.
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