- A San Francisco artist is suing Disney's Pixar, alleging that the company stole her artwork for its upcoming animated film "Onward" and did so under "wickedly misleading pretenses."
- Pixar rented Sweet Cicely Daniher's van emblazoned with a unicorn for a company event in September 2018 as a visual prop, only for Daniher to watch the film's trailer months later and spot an animated van that she says is identical to hers.
- In the filed complaint, Daniher said the film's producer, Kori Rae, called her in mid-2019 to apologize.
- Daniher also said in the complaint that Rae admitted the studio intentionally didn't inform her that her van was to be used as inspiration for "Onward" because they couldn't have her sign a nondisclosure agreement since there was no working movie title at the time.
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A van with a celestial unicorn emblazoned on its side is set to play a role in Pixar's upcoming "Onward" film, whose story centers on two brothers' quest to resurrect their dead father for 24 hours and whose cast includes Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, Chris Patt, and Tom Holland.
But the van is also central to a lawsuit against the animation studio after a San Francisco artist Sweet Cicely Daniher accused Pixar of ripping the unicorn design from artwork that she painted onto her 1972 Chevrolet G10 van, "Vanicorn." Daniher, a unicorn fanatic and tattoo artist, is suing the animation studio over copyright infringement, The Hollywood Reporter reported.
Disney and Pixar did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment.
Well, SHIT! The producer of “Onward” just called me. She wanted to know HOW I’M FEELING...(?!) and to apologize.... she also wanted to tell me that they rented my van without disclosing their full intentions, or plans, and she’s sorry for that too. #disney #pixar just tried to smooth things over with a phone call, instead of putting their art dept to work, or asking. #Onward #corporateartsucks #justiceforsmallbusinessowners @vesta_dregs !!!!
"Vanicorn," which has been featured in San Francisco Magazine and is a beloved sight for some in the city, is also prominently featured on Daniher's Instagram account. The van has red shag carpeting, red velour walls, and a white shag carpet roof, according to The Reporter.
Pixar eventually took notice of it and, according to court documents published in The Hollywood Reporter, inquired about renting the van for a company event for employees on September 4, 2018.
"We just stumbled upon a badass photo of you and your amazing van in San Francisco Mag and shrieked with joy ... I'm working on an event over here at Pixar Animation Studio next week and was wondering if you'd be willing to rent us your Vanicorn for a couple of days. I have no idea if you get inquiries like this ever, but it is incredibly perfect for the theme of the event we're working with - kind of a fantasy/rocker sort of thing," Pixar employee Jane Clausen wrote to Daniher, according to the complaint filed.
For an undisclosed amount of money, Pixar rented the van from Daniher. She said the company intended to use it for "a one day music festival/activity day for Pixar employees and families" and that van would be used merely as a visual prop. The rental contract used explicitly prohibited photos or visual representation of the "Vanicorn" for any purpose outside of the event, according to The Reporter.
But months later, as Daniher watched a trailer for the "Onward" movie wherein two characters, brothers Ian and Barley Lightfoot, use a van named "Guinevere" in their mission to reunite with their dead father, the artist said she noticed the van looked identical to her own, right down to the make, model, and color of her "Vanicorn" - not to mention the unicorn painted on its side.
According to a post published in June on Daniher's Instagram account, the film's producer Kori Rae called Daniher to apologize for the incident. Rae's reasoning, according to the complaint filed, was that the production team didn't have a working title for the film yet and, without a title, couldn't have Daniher sign a nondisclosure agreement.
"Well, SHIT! The producer of "Onward" just called me. She wanted to know HOW I'M FEELING...(?!) and to apologize...," Daniher wrote in her post.
Disney Pixar, she continued in the post, "just tried to smooth things over with a phone call, instead of putting their art dept to work, or asking."
The complaint also describes Daniher's "Vanicorn" as a "validating act of recovery from toxic masculinity and a former marriage." Daniher painted her van as a way to heal from a divorce with her former husband.
According to the complaint, "they have altered this Plaintiff's highly personal and public transubstantiation of her lifelong artistic interest in unicorns into the Vanicorn (a uniquely San Franciscan work of public, mobile, automotive art, and a redemptive and validating act of recovery from toxic masculinity and a former marriage) and which has, instead, been pilfered by the Defendants as a commercial and corporate conduit for the aspirations of a pair of blue boy elves looking for their father in a mass marketed Disney film, and was accomplished by the Defendants under wickedly misleading pretenses."
In addition to the damages, Daniher is also seeking an injunction barring Disney Pixar from distributing, marketing, or selling infringing advertisements, merchandise and the film itself.
"Onward" is set to hit theatres March 6.