moodsters_insideout moodsters_insideout

Disney and Pixar Accused Of Stealing ‘Inside Out’ In New Lawsuit By Parenting Expert

Denise Daniels, an experienced child development specialist, has filed a lawsuit against The Walt Disney Company and Pixar Animation Studios, alleging that Oscar-winning Inside Out was based at least in part on her project, The Moodsters.

Daneiels’ project features five main characters that are anthropomorphized versions of various emotions: happiness (yellow), anger (red), sadness (blue), fear (green), and love (pink). Inside Out, on the other hand, featured five anthropomorphized characters representing joy (yellow), sadness (blue), anger (red), fear (purple), and disgust (green).

Daniels, however, is not suing for copyright infringement. She instead alleges a breach of implied-in-fact contract. Under California Civil Code section 1621, “an implied contract is one, the existence and terms of which are manifested by conduct.”

In her lawsuit, Daniels argues that it is the custom in the entertainment industry that “creators…provide ideas and materials to producers and studios in exchange for compensation and credit” if those ideas or materials are used. Daniels alleges that Inside Out used several ideas she developed in The Moodsters. Because of this, she argues, Disney and Pixar had an implied-in-fact contract for which Disney and Pixar owe her compensation and credit.


According to Daniels’ lawsuit, The Moodsters characters live “[s]omewhere deep down inside every child.” The suit further claims that in 2008 Daniels got in touch with Disney chief financial officer Thomas Skaggs and discussed The Moodsters. Later that year, Skaggs told Daniels he would speak to Roy Disney about The Moodsters. Daniels also alleges she spoke “for an extended period of time” with Pete Docter about her characters and concept. Docter would go on to direct Inside Out.

She also points out that no other Disney or Pixar animated feature has ever used anthropomorphized emotions as characters, highlighting the concept’s uniqueness.

Arguing for breach of contract, Daniels avoids the more stringent requirements of a copyright claim, which excludes the protection of mere ideas. Instead, Daniels argues that Disney and Pixar created a contract when it used Daniels’ ideas, and it breached that contract when it failed to compensate and credit her.

An example of "Moodsters" merchandise.
An example of “Moodsters” merchandise.

Creators are more and more frequently turning to breach-of-contract claims where a copyright claim may not be successful. In 2005, Hayden Christensen – aka Anakin Skywalker in the infamous Star Wars prequel films, and his brother Tove, through their production company Forest Park Pictures, pitched a show to the USA Network about a doctor that caters to the rich and famous in Malibu.

After USA premiered its series Royal Pains, the Christensen brothers sued for breach of implied-in-fact contract. A federal appeals court, in a landmark 2012 ruling in Forest Park Pictures v. Universal Television Network, Inc., ruled in favor of the Christensens, allowing the suit to go forward, and USA ended up settling with the Christensens. According to some analysts, the court ruling in Forest Park Pictures has breathed new life into “idea theft” lawsuits.

In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed a breach of implied-in-fact contract lawsuit to go forward, while dismissing a copyright claim, in a lawsuit filed by screenwriters Aaron and Matthew Benay against Warner Bros., alleging theft of their screenplay, The Last Samurai, by the 2003 Tom Cruise movie of the same name.

The challenge for Daniels, then, is proving that Disney and Pixar used her idea and, if so, that they should have realized by doing so they were creating a contract with her.

The lawsuit puts emphasis on Daniels’ professional credentials, highlighting her work with survivors of Hurricane Katrina, the shooting at Columbine High School, and the terrorist attack on New York City on September 11, 2001, and her appearances on The Today Show, The View, and Larry King Live.

Daniels recruited a team of professionals to help produce The Moodsters, including co-executive producer Lisa Simon, a veteran producer and director of Sesame Street who had also worked on Nick, Jr. and Little Airplane Productions; co-executive producer Louise Gikow, a writer on the PBS series, Between the Lions, and the Playhouse Disney show, Johnny and the Sprites; and creative director A.J. Dewey, an illustrator and designer whose work includes Dr. Seuess’s My Many Colored Days, and Animal Planet. Daniels also recruited Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

Daniels has asked for a jury trial. Disney and Pixar now have twenty-one days to respond to the lawsuit.

The Walt Disney Company is also currently dealing with a lawsuit filed by Total Recall writer Gary Goldman, who alleges that the studio stole his concept for Zootopia.

  • Cameron Ward

    yeah good luck with that. I highly doubt this person is going to succeed.

  • Fluffydips

    This is the most convincing case I’ve seen yet. I think she deserves some credit. Even her name in the end credits would have been nice. Pixar sure is having a terrible year this year though. First Cars 3 underperformed then Coco is only like 70 minutes long and they have to use Frozen to sell it. I wonder what happened at the studio. They used to be so continuously good, now they seem to have trouble with everything.

    • Andres Molina

      Everyone, even the best, will have a bad/ mediocre period or year. Cars 3 was a solid film in my opinion, Coco has to be longer than 70 minutes long, and i’m sure there’s a good reason they’re using a Frozen short other than money. As much as Pixar is stumbling, at least they’re not Dreamworks, where they are firing hundreds of employees, writing down millions, and/or canceling/delaying 1-2 films every year. Lets hope Pixar can bounce back and return to former glory in the future, because if Walt Disney Animation Studios can revive itself with great films like they are right now, so can Pixar, because I love Pixar and I want to believe they can heal and flourish again, whether some people like it or not.

      • Sam Snyder

        and dreamworks too. i hope their ok in the end.

      • Fluffydips

        I’m sure they will, it’s just not looking good for them right now. I’m going to see Cars 3 next weekend so I guess I’ll see where the quality meter lands at.

    • Christop

      What does it matter how long Coco is? Isn’t Dumbo like 65 minutes long?

  • Metlow Rovenstein

    Ah, bullshit. She sees success, she goes after it immorally.

  • Andres Molina

    Yeah, to be perfectly honest, this probably go very well for this woman. I seriously doubt Pixar would steal the idea of the Moodsters. There are a few things I would like to point out. First, Inside Out started as an idea pitched by Pete Doctor, as a replacement for the now canceled film Newt somewhere between 2010 and 2011. Second, its very common for multiple projects and productions to feature similar ideas, like Antz and A Bug’s Life for example. And speaking of similar ideas, there are multiple productions and project that feature the same emotions in peoples’ head premise, including the 2013 shot film, Brain Divided, and especially, the 90’s Fox sitcom, Herman’s Head, just to name a few. And third, it would be understandable to accuse Pixar is stealing if their ideas look similar, but judging on the designs, The Moodsters does not resemble Inside Out, at least in terms of character design. Now lets pretend Pixar did copy the premise out of her, now copying and using a similar premise is one thing, but how the premise is executed can be an entirely different story. Sure Inside Out may feature a similar premise, but the Pixar characters look nothing like the Moodsters they’re accused of ripping off. The only things that Moodsters resemble in terms of characters, or at least based on what I’m seeing so far is, are the colors (one of them however, is pink) , and the fact that there are five emotions, but notice that each of the Moodster characters look very similar too each other, while the emotions in Inside Out however, each have an entirely different design and body structure, made to represent the very emotion they play. So maybe the Moodsters and Inside Out have similar premises and ideas, I’ll admit, but the way Pixar executed the premise is almost nothing like Moodsters, and lets also consider that if you check out the website for the Moodsters and read some of the descriptions, the characters play the role of “detectives who use special sleuthing skills to help children solve the mysteries of feelings”, which could imply that they are living characters who interact with children in person, while Inside Out, features the emotions interacting inside Riley’s head, and does not feature the detective element. But again, this is just based in what I know, and I’m honestly not sure whether or not Pixar really did steal her ideas, or its just coincidence. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, or if I missed something.

    • WanderPony

      Yeah, the Moodsters look more like the Teletubbies than the Inside Out cast.

      • Given the network it aired on, I’m not surprised.

        On another thought, The Moodsters are said to be inside each children’s heads, while Pixar’s Inside Out suggest its ensemble cast live inside the heads of not only children, but adults too. Their roles are really about keeping their person in control of their emotions rather than solving puzzles.

    • “Second, its very common for multiple projects and productions to feature similar ideas, like Antz and A Bug’s Life for example.”

      Have to disagree with your point between Antz and A Bug’s Life.

      While they’re both featured around ants and other bugs, Pixar was already creating the project first, and John Lasseter kept in touch with Jeffrey Katzenberg of the film’s progress (Katzenberg worked with Lasseter and Pixar for Toy Story prior to him leaving Disney) . Katzenberg then rushed to his team and wanted them to come out with a movie similar to Lasseter’s idea, to have it out ‘first’ before Pixar’s release. The animators at DreamWorks were stunned to hear of this, as they knew that Pixar was already working on this, and Katzenberg wanted the project to still happen.

      Katzenberg’s purpose in doing so was to have leverage against Disney (after leaving them to form DreamWorks), so that he could have The Prince of Egypt open successfully. This put him at odds with Pixar (Lasseter and Steve Jobs), as they both found Katzenberg’s actions foul and wrong. Katzenberg made a deal to ease up on Antz if A Bug’s Life would move further away from The Prince of Egypt, but Jobs and Lasseter would not budge.

      Antz did arrive first, but was not fully welcomed with strong reviews. A Bug’s Life came much later, and was widely received well both with critics and audiences.

      This account was written in both The Men Who Would Be King by Nicole Laporte and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson if you like to read them there (great stuff).

    • Bob

      Antz and a bugs life is a bad example though… it literally was one studio trying to beat the release of another using similar content based on info from leaks.

  • Herman’s Head is on the line muttering something about prior art.

  • JenAdkins

    These suits are kind of annoying to me, because let’s face it: there are no new ideas. That’s like saying “hey you cant make this superhero movie because I made a superhero cartoon”. It’s one thing to steal a complete plot or create undeniably similar characters, but this seems to just be a concept, and as stated below about Herman’s Head, there’s many ways to use this concept and I don’t think it should be subject to copyright in itself.

    • We are certainly starting to feel very stagnant when it comes to what can be done or not be done thanks to what has come before. It has gotten pretty difficult not to repeat yourself.

      • Fried

        It only feels that way because things are archived so heavily now. There’s probably hundreds of thousands of ideas that were lost to time but now we do our best to preserve as many comics, videos, films, shows, shorts, books, tapes, songs, etc as we possibly can. It seems like, because of that process, any idea you talk about, someone is ready to pull out an obscure reference to some Swedish short that was made in 1980 or something as it being “similar to” that other person’s idea.

        It gets a little grating though when people go as far as comparing Megamind and Incredibles whose only similarity is that it’s the superhero genre.

  • ‘She also points out that no other Disney or Pixar animated feature has
    ever used anthropomorphized emotions as characters, highlighting the
    concept’s uniqueness.’

    Not true. What about Disney’s WWII Propaganda film Reason and Emotion? But anyway, that is actually not very relevant. I highly doubt this short came up in conversation when developing Inside Out. It’s so…superficial.

    Artists are not so starved for ideas that they would have to resort to stealing concepts from journalists. Denise Daniels is probably a very ambitious person, but she fails to understand the nature of the creative process. Strong ideas are not just about the externals. There are so many things working beneath the surface that come into play. It’s very easy to have a convergent shell. Like that guy who tried to sue Disney because he wrote a children’s book about a clownfish. Anyone can write a story about a clownfish. But Finding Nemo isn’t just about clownfish, is it? It’s a story about an over-protective dad, which depicts very specific emotions. It’s a bit more difficult to have a convergent engine.

    • Still, it was in my mind while reading her statement. It idea is nothing new if only more broaden out because of Inside Out going for splitting the emotions up to an ensemble cast.

  • Joel Furtado

    hrmm, although I can see some similarity here I always though the student film ‘brains divided’ was directly copied for Inside Out (as has been mentioned before). If I were those students I would have been pretty pissed.

    • Chris Bennett

      its such an obvious idea though. It’s been done dozens and dozens of times, even before this short film. Whereas the actual STORY and characters of Inside Out are definitely very, very unique.

    • Chicken McPhee

      That’s pretty blatantly similar, actually.

  • ValjeanLafitte

    “aka Anakin Skywalker in the infamous Star Wars prequel films”

    Was ‘infamous’ really necessary? You’re inserting an opinion into fact-based reporting. I doubt the prequel trilogy could be truly said to be infamous–they’re Star Wars films, for crying out loud. The fans far outnumber the vocal minority that likes to complain about them.

    • There’s still quite a lot that do hate those “prequels” with a passion.

  • Troy

    Another copyright lawsuit….. oh wait.

    I do give her credit though, at least she didn’t pursue that one yet. Based on what it is stated in the article, it is a possible that she could win, if we looked at this in face value. The question is, like the previous ongoing lawsuit, if the the other people involved with the projects are going to provide context as to what the concept is. Another to note is the fine line between verbal and written contracts. It is also to note that the lawsuit apparently wants to flaunt credentials and other status. So what? In the court of law as far as the judges are concerned you need evidence to back your claim. Exactly how people present their ideas to companies makes me question if they actually know what they’re doing.

  • Alberto Herrera Jr.

    The Moodsters and the emotions in Inside Out are very different from one another. First of all, Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear live inside Riley’s head, where they control her emotions. The Moodsters on the other hand, live outside a child’s head, basically acting as detectives, which makes them not in complete control of the child’s emotions. Second of all, there is no Love character in Inside Out, because Disgust is one of Riley’s main emotions. And finally, in Inside Out, the emotions are made out of tiny particles, while The Moodsters have normal skin. This lawsuit may end with Pixar not getting sued, and everything will be peachy keen again. Daniels should realize that Disney has some of the best lawyers in the world, and they would immediately realize that Inside Out and The Moodsters have very little in common with each other.

    Daniels, if you are reading this, you have to let it go, because there is no way that you would win this case against a giant corporation like Disney. And Pixar also comes up with original ideas for their animated features, they don’t take ideas from other people.

  • Chris Bennett

    don’t most Disney/Pixar movies face these things? And it always just comes across as someone hoping for some ‘go away money’ from Disney.

  • Elsi Pote

    With a curriculum like hers and some proof of those meetings with Docter, Disney doesn’t have a snowball in hell to get out of this one unscathed. Mostly because the discovery could yield some gold on how pixar mines for ideas when the push comes to shove, and that alone could open a Pandora’s box.

    There is this uncanny depth to Inside Out that makes you think who would have come out with such idea. If Pixar can’t prove they did it without Daniel’s help, this could be the first nail on it’s coffin and the start of a downspiral that will finally break it’s already cracked reputation.

    Accept it, Pixar ain’t what it used to be.

  • Steven Micheal

    I always felt it was loosely adapted from their own attraction. Cranium Command at epcot wonders of life.

  • otterhead

    Whatever her background and ‘pedigree’, her case completely rests on whether she can prove conversations with Pete Docter took place that laid out a similar storyline or characters as Inside Out. The idea of anthropomorphized emotions isn’t exactly original, the storylines of her books have nothing to do with Inside Out, and her characters’ emotions don’t match either the original ones used in the Inside Out pitch or the completed movie. This would be like the creators of Augie Doggie suing Disney for Bolt because they both use talking dogs.

  • Chicken McPhee

    Personified emotions are not really anything new – they started with Snowwhite and the seven dwarves. It’s not an original idea. The only original thing about Inside Out might’ve been Bing Bong.
    The only troubling thing in her deposition is that she alleges she spoke “for an extended period of time” with Pete Docter about her characters and concept.
    That said, the above designs from the Moodsters make my eyes bleed.


    Back in ’82 (yeah, I’m old) I copyrighted a series of characters underneath the title “Monsters Inc.” When the movie came out, I enjoyed it and though there were some basic design similarities between my characters and the characters in the movie, I saw no reason to pursue an legal action, because highly unlikely that they saw or even heard of my characters.

    The problem is, many people see litigation the same way as they see the lottery.

    As far as the “Moodsters” are concerned, they lack any kind of the creative design work that is prevalent in the “Inside Out” design….

  • Small Kiwi

    In all honesty, these things didn’t start advertising on preschool channels until after Inside Out got released.