Artist Sues Disney, Pixar Over Unicorn-Adorned Van in 'Onward'

Sweet Cicely Daniher says her "Vanicorn" was copied without permission for the film under "wickedly misleading pretenses."
Walt Disney Studios

An artist named Sweet Cecily Daniher on Monday sued Disney, Pixar and Onward producer Kori Rae for allegedly conspiring to secretly create an animated doppelganger of her one-of-a-kind van without permission.

She calls it the "Vanicorn," and, according to her lawsuit, it's the result of her lifelong love of the mythical beasts. 

"At the risk of belaboring the point, the Plaintiff has had a real thing for unicorns, for a very long time, and they have been a central theme and subject matter of her artistic work, throughout the entirety of her career," states the complaint, which is posted in full below. 

Daniher has spent the better part of the past two decades taking pictures of common things that look like unicorns. In 2014, she published a book of her photographs called I See Unicorns. For the the past six years she's owned a "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" and a unicorn mural on the side, which she regularly posts photos of on Instagram.

It has drawn "considerable press attention," according to Daniher, who says a San Francisco Magazine piece sparked Pixar's attention and the company reached out about renting her vehicle for a special event in September 2018. She says she was told "the Vanicorn would be used for an event limited to 'a one day music festival/activity day for Pixar employees and families' and that the Vanicorn 'would just be a show piece and not used in any way other than a visual prop.'"

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

WOW! Sooo, do y’all think Pixar Disney stole the Vanicorn for their movie #onward ???? Hmmmmm. Not Cool!! LIKE AND REPOST IF YOU AGREE #supportsmallartists #supportsmallbusiness @customvannermagazine @rollingheavymagazine #vanicorn #customvanners #vannin #ladytattooers

A post shared by Sweet cicely Daniher (@sweettransam) on

On May 31, 2019, Daniher discovered Pixar was producing Onward, a tale of two blue elves trying to reunite with their dead father who travel around in a vehicle that looks suspiciously like the Vanicorn. She posted the two vans on Instagram and wrote, "WOW! Sooo, do y’all think Pixar Disney stole the Vanicorn for their movie #onward ????"

On June 3, she posted the image again with this caption: "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."

In the complaint, Daniher says Rae apologized and admitted they intentionally didn't inform her that they intended to use the Vanicorn as a character in Onward because, at the time, the film didn't have a title and without a title they couldn't have her sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Daniher's lawyers, Jared Weinstock and J. Conor Corcoran, argue the contract for the van rental explicitly prohibits any photos, video or visual representations of the Vanicorn for any purpose other than that event.

"[T]hey 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," states the complaint.

Daniher is suing for copyright infringement, violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act and violation of the California Artists Protection Act. In addition to seeking damages, Daniher is asking the court for an injunction barring defendants from distributing, marketing or selling infringing advertisements, merchandise and the film itself and she wants a declaration that defendants' related copyrights are invalid.

Disney has not yet responded to a request for comment on the complaint.