A San Francisco-based tattoo artist who once lent her "tremendously cool" van with a unicorn mural on the side of it to Pixar is now suing the Disney-owned animation studio for copying her "superlative work of automotive art" in an upcoming film without her permission.
It's a strange story which will immediately spark Twitter debates about whether a pegasus mural is really that similar to unicorn mural, but SF artist Sweet Cecily Daniher has the receipts. Pixar animators didn't just spot her van on the street and snap a photo, they allegedly rented her van — ostensibly for a company event — and used that time to recreate a simulacrum of its mural for a van named Guinevere in the upcoming film Onward, which is a 1972 Chevrolet G10 van with a red interior, much like Daniher's, with a similar-looking pegasus mural on the side that is owned by the main characters.
As Art Newspaper reports, Daniher has filed suit against Disney Pixar claiming that its employees misled her, and not only does her "Vanicorn," or something much like it, feature prominently in Onward, there is also promotional merchandise and swag for the film that features replicas of the van. And this isn't coming out of nowhere — Daniher has emails from the company in September 2018 asking to rent the van for a fee, and she says she was called last June by one of the films producers who apologized to her for not disclosing their intentions for the van. The trouble, the Pixar producer allegedly said, was that they couldn't have Daniher sign a non-disclosure agreement without a title for the film, and the film didn't yet have a title.
Daniher says that a July 2017 piece about her and her van in San Francisco Magazine appears to have been the catalyst for Pixar's interest. And as the Hollywood Reporter notes, Daniher has been documenting her back-and-forth with Pixar over the last year on Instagram.
The language of the legal complaint is pretty amusing, on a whole. It states that Daniher decorated the "tremendously cool, dark blue and/or purple 1972 Chevrolet G10 van, with red shag carpeting, red velour walls and seating, and a white shag carpet roof" after buying it in 2014, following a divorce from an ex-husband who had "refused to allow her" paint a van purple with a big unicorn and moon on the side. It goes on to say that she "brought forth unto the world (or, at the very least, the streets of San Francisco) a mobile mural and/or a superlative work of automotive art, with her very particular mural applied thereon, born of her own creation and design, and which she thereafter christened as the ‘Vanicorn’”.
Daniher’s lawyer Conor Corcoran helped her register her Vanicorn with the US Copyright Office in December 2019, and he calls Pixar's use of the similar-looking pegasus van "the most egregious example of copyright infringement" he has ever seen. Daniher is now seeking unspecified damages, and Corcoran says he will be attending an early showing of the film, once it's released, and "counting how much time the van is on screen" in order to calculate a percentage of box office revenue that his client might be entitled to.
Onward comes out on March 6 and it features the voices of actors Tom Holland and Chris Pratt as elf brothers trying to resurrect their dad using an ancient spell, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus voices their mom. Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, and John Ratzenberger are also featured voices.