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Animated Disney Characters That Were Inspired By Real People

Updated on May 4, 2013

From The Stage Show Adaptation of Beauty And The Beast ~

The finale of the stage show "Beauty And The Beast."
The finale of the stage show "Beauty And The Beast." | Source
Belle with the Beast in the stage show.
Belle with the Beast in the stage show. | Source
Another scene from Beauty And The Beast.
Another scene from Beauty And The Beast. | Source

I Didn't Realize That So Many Animated Disney Characters Are Based On Real People!

Living in Las Vegas, you are surrounded by ~ OK, maybe not surrounded by, but there are a lot of very talented people who call this city home. With so many very good shows being based here in Vegas, it makes sense that actors, actresses and singers call this town their home.

After recently reading about one of those residents, a woman who lent her voice to the character Belle from Beauty And The Beast, I decided to look into the subject of animated Disney characters being based on real people. I was surprised at how many of these characters either used real people as models to base the characters mannerisms on, or how many actors and actresses use their voices to portray these characters.

This is the case of a local woman named Paige O'Hara. Nightly, she performs in a musical at the Luxor Hotel here in Las Vegas called "Menopause, The Musical." This is one show we haven't seen yet, but we might do that soon. The show just celebrated its 3,000th performance, which is a very unusual feat for any show in this town.

For anyone who has seen the 1991 Disney animated film, "Beauty And The Beast," they will recognize Paige O'Hara's voice immediately. She loaned her vocal skills to give life to the character "Belle" from that film. I guess you can say that for Paige, the character Belle is her biggest claim to fame and she always will be.

This incredibly smart, savvy Disney character, Belle, was a heroine in "Beauty And The Beast." For over fifteen years now, little girls have looked up to her. For the real Belle, Paige O'Hara, her tale of the beginning of the character "Belle" is a fascinating one.

It began in New York City at a huge audition where over 500 hopefuls were trying out for the part. Once Paige learned about the audition, she decided that no matter what it took, she had to be there. She identified with this character so strongly that she felt like she had to lend her talent to the part... Belle was already a part of her consciousness.

It took five nerve wracking auditions, but Paige said that after the third audition, she knew she would get the part. It is so difficult for any actor or actress to have confidence in how they did in an audition, but Paige felt confident early on since she identified so strongly with the character they wanted her to portray.

Paige O'Hara actually grew up in Florida and she attended a Performing Arts high school there. Paige played the part of "Belle" when she was 30, which was older than most of the Disney princesses. She recalled in a funny story that pictures were being used to base the looks of Belle on. The animators used pictures of Grace Kelly, Natalie Wood and Elizabeth Taylor, and according to Paige, they also used her picture right next to the pictures of all these Hollywood "starlets." She found that to be a humorous thing.

Once the concept picture for Belle was drawn, Paige said that the original picture of Belle looked a lot like Angelina Jolie! Not only did Paige lend her voice to be used in the motion picture, her voice was also used in children's toys based on the movie and in dolls and even in Leapfrog software. She's also received a treasured award, a Disney Legend Award.

Princes And Characters Were Often Portrayed By Real Actors And Actresses ~

Disney princess and characters from Disneyland. Such a magical place!
Disney princess and characters from Disneyland. Such a magical place! | Source

Other Disney Characters Based On Real People ~

Fantasia ~ Pinnochio ~ Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs

An actress from California named Marge Champion was the young actress and dancer who Walt Disney Studios chose to be the model for Snow White in their animated film "Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs." They had her move in ways that were eventually copied to make the animated and fictional Snow White character appear to be more "real."

At a later time, around 1940, she modeled for the parts of the dancing hippopotamus in Fantasia and for the part of the Blue Fairy in the animated film Pinnochio. She also acted in films and performed in live musical versions of shows.

In an interesting side note, Marge Champion's first husband (from 1937 until 1940) was also employed by the Walt Disney Company as one of their best animators. He was the creator of the character "Goofy."

Cinderella ~ Anastasia Tremaine ~ Sleeping Beauty ~ 101 Dalmations

An actress from the United States named Dolores "Helene Stanley" Frere was the inspiring model for Cinderella and for a 1950 animated Disney film called Anastasia Tremaine. She was also the model and inspiration for Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty and for a character named Anita Radcliffe in the Disney film from 1961, 101 Dalmations.

These models were usually known as "Live action reference models" and were used extensively by the Walt Disney company to help to make animated characters who appeared in their films move in a more realistic way.

Peter Pan ~ Song Of The South ~ Treasure Island

A child actor named Bobby Driscoll was the live action model that the Disney character Peter Pan is based on. Bobby also provided the voice of Peter Pan. In following the often tragic lifespan of a child actor, Bobby Driscoll saw a lot of success in childhood that, unfortunately, did not follow him into his adult life. He died at the young age of 31, in 1968, after a long period of addiction to narcotics. He had ensuing health problems from the abuse of narcotics which eventually led to his young death.

Bobby Driscoll also appeared in live action movies that were so popular in the late 1940s, with roles in Disney's "Song Of The South" and in "Treasure Island". In 1953, he landed the title role of Peter Pan for the animated film.

Alice In Wonderland ~ Peter Pan

A popular child actress named Kathryn Beaumont provided the voice for Alice in the animated film "Alice In Wonderland" in 1951. She also played the part of Wendy in "Peter Pan" in 1953. Kathryn Beaumont was born in England in 1938. In addition to acting she was also a school teacher at one time. She loved acting and singing as well and began to do both early in her childhood.

Kathryn received a Disney legend award in 1998 for the work she did in both "Alice In Wonderland" and in "Peter Pan". She also used her voice to play the part of Alice in some episodes of an animated Disney series called "Disney's House of Mouse".

Alyssa Milano was one of the inspirations for the character Ariel from Disney's Little Mermaid.
Alyssa Milano was one of the inspirations for the character Ariel from Disney's Little Mermaid. | Source
Aladdin is a blend of Tom Cruise with the fashion sense of popular rap artist MC Hammer.
Aladdin is a blend of Tom Cruise with the fashion sense of popular rap artist MC Hammer. | Source

Current Actors And Actresses Who Inspired Disney Characters

After reading this, you might think that the roles of animated Disney characters only used real actors and actresses back in the 1940s and 1950s. The truth is, some of the more recent best-loved animated Disney characters were also inspired by some of today's popular actors and actresses.

The Little Mermaid

At first, Disney's choice of an inspiration for Ariel of the Little Mermaid may come as a surprise. It did to me. But after you look at Alyssa Milano and consider both her mannerisms and her looks, you can see pretty easily that she was, indeed, one of the inspirations for the character Ariel from the blockbuster animated film "The Little Mermaid".

Alyssa Milano was born and raised in Brooklyn and she lived there as a small child. She started acting at the young age of eight when she won a role in the musical "Annie." Out of 1,500 hopeful young girls, she was picked along with three other girls for that part. She did some other acting in a television sitcom called "Who's The Boss" at age 10.

In 1989, she became the inspiration for two Disney animators, Mark Henn and Glen Keane who used her mannerisms and looks to help to create the Ariel character. Another actress named Sharon Stoner also contributed mannerisms to the Ariel character, and to the character Belle from Beauty And The Beast. Sharon was responsible for Ariel's tendency to bite her lower lip and for Belle's tendency to do things like brushing her hair away from her face.

Aladdin ~

Originally, Disney animators considered using Michael J. Fox as an inspiration for the Aladdin character in the animated movie "Aladdin". Then, it was decided that he was too young looking once the character's age was turned from age 13 to age 18. Once it was decided that Aladdin should be older, animator Glen Keane decided to go with the look of Tom Cruise.

The Aladdin character has large eyes, in keeping with Disney's wish to have their animated characters look innocent because of their larger eyes. Aladdin is portrayed as a savvy, street-smart character. He is brave, with a desire to win and to keep the affection of friends.

In an interesting side note, the loose fitting pants worn by Aladdin were inspired by the look of a pair of pants that a popular rap artist named MC Hammer wore at the time. Now, go ahead and tell me you didn't just think "U can't touch this...." and if you're like me, you also see the dance moves in your head, too. Now you will have that song in your head for the rest of your day. You're welcome! :)

Disney animation is some of the best known and most loved in the world. As long as Disney strives to create characters that move and act in believable ways, they will most likely keep on using live action models as the basis for creating these characters.

Who Is Your Favorite Disney Animated Character?

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    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 

      2 years ago from Chicago

      What a fun article. I am a Disney fanatic and love anything associated with it.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting, get it scene!:-) I thought the story about Bobby Driscoll was so sad, too. Sometimes I think parents wish for their kids to become child actors and actresses, but I think the adage be careful what you wish for applies here! Sometimes, unless they have a very strong support system and foundation, it can have a tragic ending. Thanks so much for commenting, I appreciate that! :-)

    • GetitScene profile image

      Dale Anderson 

      5 years ago from The High Seas

      Hey this was really interesting! Voted up. It also made me read about Bobby Driscoll, what a sad story.

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're so welcome, kidscrafts! I'm so glad you enjoyed this and learned something as well! :) I love Disney movies and shows, they are so amazing and imaginative! Thank you for your sweet comment, I appreciate that!

    • kidscrafts profile image


      5 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I didn't know that some animated Disney characters where inspired by real people! Very interesting hub!

      I had the occasion to see the live show of Beauty And The Beast last year. I feel like I am still a big kid at heart :-)

      Good for you that you can see so many shows in Las Vegas!

      I can't vote on my favorite Disney animated character as they all have a special something!

      Thanks for sharing all this beautiful hub!

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      Thanks so much, Faith! :) I appreciate your wonderful support!! :) Thanks SO much for the shares, too, I really appreciate that. Blessings to you, too. :)

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 

      5 years ago from southern USA

      Wow, KathyH,

      How very interesting. I had no idea whatsoever that they were based on actual people!

      Thanks for this great hub, very thorough and well-written.

      Voted up ++++ and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • KathyH profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

      You're welcome, Ms. Dora, I had fun writing this one! I had read a story about the lady from Las Vegas who lent her voice to Belle, and wanted to learn more. I'm so glad you enjoyed this! :) Thanks for your great comment!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting! I know some of the people (know,as in who they are); but I don't know the Disney shows. Still, I appreciate knowing these facts. Thank you.


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