12 Disney Characters Who Were Based on Real People
Throughout its history, Disney has created amazing stories that have been by our side since our childhood. Many of their characters have become our favorites, and some of them are really close to our hearts. However, what you probably don’t know is that many of them were based on real people and in some cases, celebrities.
Bright Side would like to show you a selection of iconic Disney characters that were based on real people, and compare them to the those who served as inspiration for bringing them to life.
1. The 4 vultures — The Beatles
While producing the animated version of the novel The Jungle Book, Disney and the filmmakers in charge of the adaptation, conceived a rather ingenious cameo of The Beatles. It was 1967 and they were already one of the most popular bands of the time.
John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr would provide the voices behind the 4 vultures. The animals would also have crazy hairstyles and sing the song That’s What Friends Are For. However, although the band inspired the birds, this was not enough reason to go ahead with the plan.
It’s been said that Lennon preferred to not appear in the film. He explained to the band’s manager, Brian Epstein, that he should tell Disney that it was a better idea to hire Elvis Presley. Due to his decline, the film only shows the vultures speaking in an accent similar to that of people living in Liverpool, with the voices of J. Pat O’Malley, Digby Wolfe, Lord Tim Hudson, and Chad Stuart.
2. Maleficent — Eleanor Audley
Eleanor Audley not only gave a voice to Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, but Disney filmmakers also asked her to perform and film the scenes that would help the animators produce the fictional character. This means that the actress’ features and gestures inspired the movements and face of Maleficent.
Additionally, Eleanor also served as inspiration for creating the animated character, Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s legendary and evil stepmother.
3. Jessica Rabbit — Rita Hayworth
The bombshell of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? became an icon due to her portrayal in the film and her stunning figure. But her appearance wasn’t just a matter of luck: Jessica Rabbit was based on the beautiful actress Rita Hayworth.
At the beginning of the character design, the writer Gary K. Wolf based her on the dancer of the animated short film Red Hot Riding Hood, created by Tex Avery. However, during the production of the movie, Jessica Rabbit’s image shifted. This shift was inspired by several actresses, but mostly by Rita. Richard Williams, the director of animation for the film, said he tried to make the character look similar to Hayworth, but with Veronica Lake’s hair.
4. The Mad Hatter — Ed Wynn
The Mad Hatter is one of Alice’s most distinctive and unique characters in Alice in Wonderland. In the film, the Hatter was inspired by the gestures, appearance, and personality of the actor Ed Wynn. He was also the voice behind the character, so it’s fair to say that he served as a perfect model for the animators to use to design the Hatter.
5. Edna Moda — Linda Hunt
It’s believed that the story of Edna, the character in The Incredibles, was originally based on the life of fashion designer Edith Head. However, the character has an almost perfect resemblance to actress Linda Hunt.
6. Scat Cat — Louis Armstrong
Scat Cat from The Aristocats was a role originally written for Louis Armstrong, the distinguished jazz singer and trumpeter. The idea was that he would give voice to the popular cat, which was originally going to be named Satchmo the Cat.
Unfortunately, because of unexpected health problems, Armstrong couldn’t be part of the project. This forced the filmmakers to replace him with the musician Scatman Crothers. For this reason, they renamed the character Scat Cat, and wrote a new song for him that Crothers performed.
7. Dr. Facilier — Michael Jackson
Dr. Facilier, the villain in the movie The Princess and the Frog, was based on Michael Jackson. The strong resemblance between the 2 is not only evident in his slim figure and choice of clothes, but also in the choreography Dr. Facilier’s character performs throughout the film. The mannerisms and postures are the same as those the “King of Pop” used to display.
8. Ariel — Alyssa Milano
When the creative brains of Disney began to design the character of Ariel for The Little Mermaid, they wanted to portray the image of a beautiful, sweet, and contemporary young woman, so they used Alyssa Milano for inspiration.
During an interview, the actress revealed that she wasn’t aware of this, at least not when the character was being produced. Later on, however, she was invited to present a documentary where the producers showed how the movie was made. It was then that she discovered that Ariel was based on her. The creators of the tape had used pictures of her during her teens to recreate the unforgettable mermaid.
9. Ursula — Divine
Harris Glenn Milstead, also known as Divine, was a distinguished American actor and drag queen who served as inspiration for creating the evil Ursula from The Little Mermaid. His shows and presentations were critical for shaping the features, stunning style, and personality of the villain.
10. Alice — Kathryn Beaumont
The leading character in Alice in Wonderland was based on the actress Kathryn Beaumont. She also provided the voice for Alice. The company’s animators used the girl as a model to bring Alice to life. She was only 10-years-old at the time. Countless photographs depict the Kathryn’s work, and there’s even a video where she’s seen acting and voicing the role of Alice.
11. Cruella de Vil — Tallulah Bankhead
The animated version of Cruella de Vil appeared for the first time on screen in the 1961 movie A Hundred and One Dalmatians. In the film, Betty Lou Gerson gave voice to the iconic villain. However, Marc Davis, the head of animation, had to create Cruella from scratch, so he and his team relied on the personality and gestures of Tallulah Bankhead to design her.
12. Snow White — Marge Champion
Marge Champion was one of the most emblematic dancers of the twentieth century. When she was only 14, the young artist auditioned for the role of Snow White. Her job was to recreate the character’s scenes in front of the animators. In doing so, however, she was asked to keep the elegance and delicate movements of her dancing experience that also characterized the princess.
One of the reasons why Marge got the role was because of her father. She had an exceptional talent for dancing and acting, but was also raised and behaved like royalty. Ernest Belcher, Marge’s dad, taught her to bow and regularly behave very delicately. Her upbringing allowed her to get the role because her gestures and postures were similar to those the producers wanted for Snow White.
Which character on the list surprised you the most? Do you know any other Disney characters that were inspired by real people? Tell us in the comments!