11 Real-Life Inspirations Behind Iconic Disney Characters

Matt Dekneef

You instantly recognize them as some of your favorite Disney characters, but they didn’t exactly manifest out of thin air. From their looks to their mannerisms, these characters actually evolved out of some surprising places.

1. Ursula was based on Divine.

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The iconic drag queen was the inspiration behind Ursula, the sea witch in The Little Mermaid.


2. Pocahontas was based on Irene Bedard.

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The Native American actress also lent her voice and singing abilities to the film Pocahontas.


3. Snow White was based on Marge Champion.

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The ‘30s/‘40s star also modeled for other Disney films following Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, including Pinocchio and Fantasia.


4. Ariel was based on Alyssa Milano.

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Actress Sherri Stoner was the actual model the cartoonists used, but Alyssa also served as an inspiration and reference point for the animators.


5. Belle was based on Sherri Stoner.


Sherri, who was also an employee at Disney, served as the model for another Disney princess we all love.


6. Chernabog from Fantasia was based on Bela Lugosi.


When animating the musical odyssey film, it makes sense that they turned to one of the scariest icons of the era.


7. Captain Hook was based on Hans Conried.

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Originally just used for his voice, Hans was so compelling in costume, the animators used his look for the character as well.


8. Aladdin was based on Tom Cruise.

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Originally, Michael J. Fox’s character from Back to the Future was the inspiration behind the title character, but the animators felt they needed someone a little more mature and suave. Enter Tom Cruise.


9. The vultures in The Jungle Book were based on the Beatles.

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The Beatles invasion was at its peak during the initial stages of adapting The Jungle Book for Disney and funnily enough the band was originally tapped to voice the group of birds. That didn’t pan out, but the look remained.


10. Peter Pan was based on Bobby Driscoll.


Bobby Driscoll was THE child star of the ‘50s and the face of all things innocent and boyishly charming. Sadly Bobby passed away at a young age, but his memory lives on in the famed children’s film.


11. The Genie was based on Robin Williams.

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Robin Williams encompassed the role so well with his voice, it only made sense to model the look of Genie after the actor as well.

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