Child Development Expert Claims Disney Stole Idea for ‘Inside Out’

Courtesy of Disney•Pixar

An expert in child development filed a federal lawsuit on Monday alleging that she pitched Disney and Pixar executives on a TV project that bears a striking resemblance to the 2015 film “Inside Out.”

Denise Daniels alleges that Disney breached an implied contract by failing to compensate her for the idea, which she began developing in 2005. According to the suit, Daniels assembled a creative team and produced a pilot for a show called “The Moodsters.” The show was intended to help children understand their feelings, and featured characters representing five emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, love, and fear.

“Inside Out” also features characters that represent five emotions: joy, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust.

Daniels alleges that she discussed the idea with several Disney and Pixar executives between 2005 and 2009. She also says she had an extensive phone conversation with Pete Docter, who would go on to direct “Inside Out.” She says she discussed the idea with Thomas Staggs, who was the CFO of Disney at the time, and executives at Playhouse Disney.

A Disney spokesperson issued this statement: “Inside Out was an original Pixar creation, and we look forward to vigorously defending against this lawsuit in court.”

On her website, Daniels describes herself as a Peabody-winning broadcast journalist who has appeared as a parenting expert on “The Today Show,” “The View,” and many other programs. The website also links to a separate site for the Moodsters, which offers a product line of branded toys and games.

In addition to the pilot, Daniels and her team also created a “bible” for the show, which outlined the characters, settings, and other aspects of the show. She says she shared those materials with the Disney executives, including Staggs. She says Staggs discussed the idea with Roy E. Disney and Rich Ross, who would later become chairman of Walt Disney Studios.

In interviews, Docter has said the inspiration for “Inside Out” came from watching his own daughter’s emotional development. He has said he began working on the idea in 2009, when his daughter turned 11 and her personality appeared to change.

“She became a lot more reclusive and quiet,” he told an audience at the L.A. Film Festival in 2015. “We didn’t literally get eye-rolls, because she knew that would get her in trouble, but she gave off that kind of feeling. And that got me wondering, ‘What’s going on in her head?’ That’s when I thought of emotions as characters. This could be exactly what animation does best. And that’s what led us on this five-year journey.”

Daniels, who lives in Minnesota, is seeking unspecified damages. She is represented by the law firm of Robins Kaplan.

Inside Out Suit by gmaddaus on Scribd

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  1. Lindsay says:

    Disney actually did work with a psychologist for this show…Drs. Paul and Eve Ekman established the Atlas of Emotion which was used as a basis for the five emotions, as well as the responses and characteristics of the child in the movie. Paul Ekman is also really well known for his work on microexpressions, and was a consultant on the TV show ‘Lie to Me’. The idea of principal emotions isn’t new, and the storyline isn’t terribly unique, but this person’s claims seem to ignore the fact that the Ekmans were consultants and guiding forces behind the “psychology” of the movie.

  2. eric says:

    They both knocked of Herman’s Head – an obscure Fox sitcom that aired in 1991.

  3. Sam says:

    Wow that’s disgusting. To try and say some director came up with a professional therapists yrs of study and work.
    Just pay her. Disgusting stealing from an expert and claiming it as a directors original work. Omg. Pathetic.

  4. I can see that. Zooptopia had characters that were strikingly similar to a persons art that was introduced to Disney. Disney acted like they rejected him copying what he did making a few changes.

  5. philnolan3d says:

    So maybe I wrong. They didn’t steal it from the 90’s sitcom Herman’s Head. They stole it from her and she stole it from the show.

    • Mark says:

      And herman’s head stole it from Disney: Reason and Emotion–a cartoon from the 1940’s.

      But then again, NO ONE SAW herman’s head. Because it wasn’t funny, entertaining, or well written. And it flopped.

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