Disney is known for recycling their animation, but did you also know that some of their characters are “recycled” too? Funnily enough, most of your favorite characters are combinations of other famous actors and actresses. For some characters, models are brought into the studio during production to act out prerecorded scenes dressed as their respective characters, while other times a character’s appearance is taken from pictures and videos. This is the list we have compiled of the unsung talents behind some of your favorite characters:
15. Aladdin was inspired by Tom Cruise.
For those of you whose sexual awakening was sparked by a cartoon prince, you’re in the perfect place. The animators for Aladdin have confirmed that their handsome hero was based off of Tom Cruise. Though Aladdin’s original design was actually modeled after actor Michael J. Fox from Back to the Future. The animators found that their end result was “too cutesy” and they decided on they needed a more confident leading man and love interest for Princess Jasmine. In search of a bolder and hunkier model, the animators settled on Tom Cruise as their muse. The animators added a few years to Aladdin’s age and took off his shirt, all while watching Tom Cruise’s movies. Aladdin’s features as well as his cockiness and confidence all come from the legendary Tom Cruise. Fun fact: Because the movie’s animation already started there are traces of the old Aladdin during “Friend Like Me.”
14. Young Alyssa Milano was the inspiration for Ariel.
When seeing both Alyssa Milano and Ariel side by side there’s no doubt that the two have similarities. Child actress Alyssa Milano was only seventeen when The Little Mermaid debuted in 1989. Milano’s age at the time of movie production was also very close to Ariel’s age in the movie, which makes even more sense when I tell you that Alyssa Milano served as the inspiration for Ariel’s signature look. What is even more interesting is that Milano didn’t even know that she was the model for Princess Ariel. In 2013, Milano revealed on The Wendy Williams Show how she found out. She said, “I didn’t know that when it was going on. But they asked me to host The Making of ‘The Little Mermaid’ and it came out there that the drawing and likeness of the little mermaid was based on pictures of me from when I was younger.”
13. Sherri Stoner also served as inspiration for Ariel and Belle.
Princess Ariel is not only inspired by one woman, but two! Along with Alyssa Milano’s looks, Ariel also has characteristics of Sherri Stoner. Stoner served as the live action models for both Ariel and Belle, meaning that Princess Ariel looks like Alyssa Milano but her movements and mannerisms come from Sherri Stoner. As a part of her modeling, Stoner swam around in a water tank as Ariel and pantomimed Belle’s movements to the prerecorded track of Paige O’Hara’s voice. Stoner’s work with animation does not end here though. After The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, she went on as a writer and a producer for Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs while voicing Slappy Squirrel! Currently she is working on a television program with Disney Junior.
12. Drag legend Divine inspired Ursula the sea witch.
I bet as an adult, watching Poor Unfortunate Souls gave you a little sense of nostalgia, except you couldn’t quite figure out why. Well now we have the answer! Disney animators have confirmed that the drag legend Divine, inspired Ursula. Howard Ashman, the lyricist responsible for both Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid came from the same “Baltimore-D.C. gay scene as Divine“. During the production of The Little Mermaid, animators went through several different versions of how Ursula the Sea Witch would look. One version was inspired by Joan Collins and the other portrayed the witch as “beautiful but deadly.” None of the animations were chosen until an artist named Rob Minkoff created a woman whose appearance was very similar to Divine, a character which we now know as Ursula.
11. Robin Williams served as inspiration for the Genie.
The character of the Genie is Aladdin was specifically written with comedian Robin Williams in mind. Aladdin‘s directors John Clements and Ron Musker both really wanted Robin Williams to be their Genie and in an effort to make their dream come true they had their animators create the Genie to look like the comedian. After convincing both Disney and Williams the writers and comedian went to work on creating the Genie and some of his most memorable scenes. Director John Musker said that he felt like Williams really was the genie and that he would “give [the audience] the gift of my comedy,” much like the Genie grants Aladdin’s wishes. The creative team has also confirmed that many of the Genie’s lines were improvised by Williams and made their way into the final cut of the movie. Williams cracked jokes while in the recording booth and the jokes that made the directors laugh the most, made it into the movie.
10. The Vultures from the Jungle Book were initially inspired by The Beatles.
Robin Williams isn’t the only A-list celebrity asked to voice a Disney character. The original plan for The Jungle Book was to have The Beatles voice the four vultures who befriend Mowgli. John Lennon, however, was against the whole idea from the beginning. Unfortunately though, the British boy band’s schedule conflicted with the production schedule and alas, the Fab 4 could not provide the voices for the vultures. The birds do still share a striking physical resemblance though, and the actors who voiced them added inflections and voices that are extremely similar to The Beatles’. Ziggy is the “John” of the group. He is the jokester and the instigator of trouble among the four. Dizzy represents George Harrison. He is the skinniest of the bunch and like his human counterpart has a humorous deadpan voice. Buzzy can be argued to be Ringo just because whenever he speaks, there is a slight snare drum heard in the background. Last but not least, Flaps is the “Paul” of the group, being the most attractive vulture with his big eyes and puckered mouth. The vultures may look like the original British boy band, but their signature song “That’s What Friends Are For” is no British Invasion.
9. Irene Bedard inspired Pocahontas.
Irene Bedard is an American actress who is best known for her portrayal of Native American women in films. She is best known for providing the voice for Pocahontas in the Disney classic Pocahontas, and its sequel Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World. In 2005, she also played the role of Pocahontas’ mother in the Disney movie The New World, and appearing in the live action Disney film Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale. The animators used Bedard as the inspiration for how Pocahontas’ would appear onscreen, as well as copying her actions and movements. In an interview, Bedard revealed that even her son is able to recognize Bedard in animated form, as Pocahontas. Bedard also told Ultimate Disney that “[Bedard’s] brother came all the way from Alaska to the Central Park premiere and throughout the screening, he constantly nudged me because he recognized traits of mine.”
8. Snow White is based on Marge Champion.
Marge Champion is known mostly for her dancing and choreographing abilities, but this dancer has a little bit more to be proud of. As a teenager, Champion was hired by Disney to work as a dancer for their films, her first film being Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. She also danced for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, the dancing hippo in Fantasia, and Mr. Stork in Dumbo. Champion’s dance and ballet inspired movements were worked into all of her movies and copied in animation, in hopes of making her characters seem more realistic. Champion’s pure and childlike look inspired that of Snow White and Champion’s actions and dancing made it into the animation as well. While on set, however, Champion was asked to wear a football helmet because the animators envisioned Snow White’s head being bigger than normal, but this method didn’t catch on for long.
7. Bela Lugosi served as the inspiration for Chernabog from Fantasia.
In “A Night On A Bald Mountain” Chernabog is the god of evil and death, but frequently compared to Satan. He is ranked thirteenth in Disney’s most evil villains, just under Scar from The Lion King. Bela Lugosi is the actor who Chernabog is originally based off of. Lugosi was an actor of Hungarian-American descent who was well known for his iconic roles in horror films. You’d probably recognize him in the 1931 film Dracula, as the vampiric count. During production the director, Wilfred Jackson, shot footage of Lugosi, which would after be studied by Vladimir Tytla, the animator in charge of Chernabog. However, after shooting, Tytla was not impressed with Lugosi’s performance and believed it was unrealistic for how the villain would move and behave. After asking Lugosi to leave, Tytla found a new model and created his specific version of the character. Even though Lugosi wasn’t there for the end, his performance in Dracula was the true inspiration for Chernabog.
6. Margaret Kerry inspired Tinker Bell.
Peter Pan was released during the same time as Marilyn Monroe gained popularity so you may have heard that the hot headed pixie Tinkerbell was inspired by Marilyn Monroe, but really it was Margaret Kerry who provided the inspiration. Margaret Kerry was asked to come audition for the role by Peter Pan‘s creators. The audition required Kerry to pantomime Tinkerbell’s actions that would be used in the film. After getting offered the role, Kerry spent six months at an empty sound stage in Disney studios, where she provided actions for Peter Pan’s feisty friend. Disney even provided props like oversized keyhole and scissors, which are shown in the movie when Tinkerbell gets trapped in a jewelry box. These and other props were used to help get the full effect of how tiny the fairy would actually be. Kerry also inspired the mermaids that appear in the lagoon scene in Neverland!
5. Edna Mode from The Incredibles is believed to be inspired by Edith Head, Anna Wintour, Linda Hunt and many more.
There is no way you can forget the infamous Edna Mode. Edna is the half-Japanese half-German fashion designer credited with making the super suits for the superheroes in The Incredibles. Animators have not yet confirmed where they got their inspiration for the designer, but there are many fan theories which seem plausible. Many believe that real-life fashion designers Edith Head and Mary Quant provided the inspiration solely because of how similar they are in appearance to Edna. Others have come to the realization that Edna not only looks like designer Una Jones, but also shares the same personality traits. Though Edna’s hairstyle and facial features also match that of Linda Hunt’s character Regina Krumm. Even though none of these fan theories have been confirmed (yet) we can all agree that Edna Mode is a character for the books.
4. Eleanor Audley provided the inspiration for both Lady Tremaine and Maleficent.
Eleanor Audley was an American born actress known for her radio and animation voice as well as her television and film roles. She is most credited for her portrayal of Lady Tremaine in Cinderella and Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, but it is often forgotten that she also provided the voice for Madame Leota in The Haunted Mansion attractions at the Disney theme parks. Marc Davis worked as an animator for both Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and has admitted to making Audley’s characters resemble her. Audley also worked as the live action model for the two villainesses, meaning that she would come to set everyday dressed as the character she was portraying. The production team would read lines with her and Audley would move in ways that she believed the characters would. As this happened, Audley was filmed and the film’s frames would then be laid under animation paper as a guide for the animators.
3. Helene Stanley inspired Princesses Aurora and Cinderella.
If you thought Eleanor Audley was a busy woman, wait until you hear about Helene Stanley. Stanley was an American born actress known for playing the live action model for Cinderella and Anastasia Tremaine in the Disney’s classic Cinderella, Princess Aurora in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and Anita Radcliffe in Disney’s 101 Dalmatians (whom she also provided the voice for too!). The animators behind the production of Cinderella, had two very different ideas of how the princess would look. One look would accentuate Cinderella’s elegance, while the other was more simple and minimalistic. This meant that Cinderella would be much more complex than Snow White, the princess who came before the blonde beauty. After many auditions the creative team decided on Helene Audley because of her elegance and grace, thus starting her collaboration with Disney.
2. Hans Conried served as inspiration for Captain Hook.
Captain Hook is undoubtedly one of the most memorable movie characters. His iconic hook for a hand and long black locks aren’t the only things about him that stand out though. Hans Conried is the actor notable for voicing Captain Hook as well as George Darling in Disney’s Peter Pan. In addition to acting as the voice of the two characters, Conried also worked as the live action model for Captain Hook, which is nothing too out of the blue, as we’ve learned earlier in this article. Here’s the fun part: Conried showed up for his shoot in full head to toe pirate garb, an acting method to help him prep for such a role. Once fully dressed as the character he sought to be he was finally ready to take on the role of the evil Captain Hook. The amused animators loved Conried’s choices and attire and used the actor’s fierce dedication for the one handed pirate we all know so well.
1. And last but not least, Scar from the Lion King is inspired by Academy Award winner, Jeremy Irons.
Did you ever watch The Lion King and realize how similar it really was to that certain Shakespearian play you rad in high school? You know, Hamlet?! Well you were definitely not alone. The director of The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, pitched his idea to the Disney executives, not even noticing how similar the concept was to Shakespeare’s drama. In Minkoff’s defense, he did believe that one should always “anchor [a film] with something familiar.” The creators of The Lion King took this idea and ran with it. They decided to make their movie like a Shakespearian play, however, using animals and making the plot more of a “true-life adventure.” Their hope was to make Scar as scary as he could possibly be. And in doing this, they decided that the lion would be subtle and conniving, like a real Shakespearean villain. Jeremy Irons was given the role of Scar over actors Tim Curry and Malcolm McDowell, mainly because of his extensive training in stage shows and Shakespeare. The Oscar winning actor put his voice over chops to the test and created one of the most evil Disney villains ever.