A Minneapolis child development specialist accused moviemakers at Walt Disney Co.'s Pixar studio of stealing some of her ideas to make the 2015 movie "Inside Out."
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Los Angeles earlier this week, Denise Daniels says Pixar used concepts from a children's TV show, called "The Moodsters," which she pitched to Disney multiple times from 2005 to 2009.
In the lawsuit, she said Disney-Pixar breached an implied contract by not compensating her.
Disney denied the allegations. "Inside Out was an original Pixar creation, and we look forward to vigorously defending against this lawsuit in court," the company said in a statement.
According to the suit, Daniels conceived "The Moodsters" as a way to help children manage their emotions. She proposed a TV show featuring five animated figures who each represent a single emotion with a corresponding color: happiness (yellow), anger (red), sadness (blue), fear (green) and love (pink).
She and some colleagues produced a pilot episode in 2007. Today, Daniels sells a series of educational toys based on "Moodsters" characters.
"Inside Out" features colorful characters who live in the mind of an 11-year-old girl, who is uprooted from her Midwest home, that represent her different emotions: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger.
"Disney-Pixar would not have enjoyed the extreme success it has had from 'Inside Out' without its use of anthropomorphized emotions as its main characters," the suit alleges.
According to her website, Daniels is a "parenting and child development expert and author who specializes in the social and emotional development of children." She is also is the founder of the nonprofit National Childhood Grief Institute. Daniels won a Peabody award for her work on a PBS special about helping children cope with war and has appeared on NBC's "Today" show, CNN, Oprah and TV shows and news media as a parenting expert.
Among the executives Daniels discussed the idea with were then-Disney CFO Thomas Staggs and "Inside Out" director Pete Docter, who both grew up in Minnesota. Staggs is from Minnetonka and went to the University of Minnesota. Docter grew up in Bloomington and studied briefly at the U before transferring to the California Institute of the Arts.
Docter said at the time of the film's release that the idea came from his experience with his daughter as she reached her teenage years.
Daniels was put in touch with Staggs by a mutual friend in 2008. She spoke with Docter over the phone to walk him through the details of "The Moodsters" for an extended period of time, according to the suit. Docter can be seen interviewing various child development experts in a behind-the-scenes video about the movie on Pixar's website.
"Inside Out" grossed $850 million worldwide and won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film.
Daniels is seeking an unspecified amount of damages. She is represented by the Robins Kaplan law firm. Ronald Schutz, Daniels' attorney, declined to comment Thursday.
Robins Kaplan in 2012 won a case against Disney representing a plaintiff who sued over profits from the show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."