Which Disney films share the same universe? Who are the real-life inspirations for your favorite characters? And which scripts were almost COMPLETELY changed? This list explores the secret stories behind the most iconic Disney characters, proving that—in the end—happily ever after isn’t always what it seems.
1. She Had The First Word
The first character to actually speak in a full-length Disney cartoon was the Evil Queen in Snow White. Not first villain, or first female character: first voice ever. Her first wicked words were “Slave in the magic mirror, come from the farthest space, through wind and darkness I summon thee. Speak! Let me see thy face.”
2. Frozen Had A Completely Different Villain
Initially, creators planned to have Elsa as the evil Snow Queen, comparable to other white-haired greats like Cruella de Vil and Ursula. However, the musical number “Let It Go” was a total gamechanger. After hearing the lyrics, the writers completely rejigged the plot to make her the beloved antihero of our dreams.
3. Frollo Was Actually A Man Of God
In Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Frollo is a Catholic priest. For the Disney adaptation, screenwriters made him into “Judge Claude Frollo” the Minister of Peace, as not to offend any religious sensibilities.
4. A Famous Drag Queen Inspired Ursula
Ursula from The Little Mermaid was inspired by the iconic drag queen, and John Waters’ muse, Divine. Unfortunately, Divine did not live to bring Ursula to life himself, as she passed away in 1988.
5. Captain Hook And George Darling Are Oddly Connected
The same actor voices two characters from Peter Pan. Hans Conried is the voice behind both Captain Hook and George Darling. And we can’t deny that there are some obvious similarities here.
6. The Evil Witch Reigns Supreme
The Queen from Snow White was ranked #10 on the “villains” portion of the AFI’s 100 Greatest Heroes & Villains list. To give you a sense of how wicked that is, she beat Michael Corleone from The Godfather by one spot.
7. Only One Princess Kissed A Villain
Poor Jasmine really took one for the team when she tried to save Aladdin by locking lips with the evil Jafar. In fact, she is the only Disney princess to kiss a villain.
8. Tarzan’s Family Betrayal
In Disney’s 1999 adaptation of Tarzan, we know little of Clayton beyond that he really wants to hunt those gorillas. In the original Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, however, Clayton is revealed to be Tarzan’s paternal cousin. The Disney version of Clayton doesn’t resemble much of the literary Clayton beyond sharing the same name, but it’s good to know that after all these years, Disney still doesn’t shy from kin-slaying.
9. Snow White Is Underage
Yes, Snow White is only 14 years old—and yet, she spends the entire film living with seven men in the middle of the woods while longing for her Prince Charming.
10. The Little Mermaid Almost Lost Its Iconic Song
One of the film’s best songs, “Part of Your World,” almost didn’t make the final cut. During the test screening, a child in the audience dropped his popcorn, making the chairman of Walt Disney Studios worry that the song was too boring. Luckily, the rest of the staff disagreed and saved the day for all of us.
11. An Unprecedented Expiration
Technically speaking, Mother Gothel is the first Disney villain to die on-screen of old age.
12. Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder Are In Frozen
If you keep your eyes peeled while watching Frozen, you may notice a brief appearance of Tangled’s main players—Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder. You can see them here, entering the castle for Elsa’s coronation.
13. Animating Sulley Took Forever
In Monsters, Inc, Sulley is a massive, blue monster with an unbelievable amount of fur. In fact, the character had a staggering 2.3 million strands of hair. That said, creating him was no small feat. Because each strand had to be animated, producing a single frame of Sulley took about 12 hours.
14. Walt Disney Had A Favorite Princess
Walt Disney told Ilene Woods (the actress who voiced Cinderella), “You’re my favorite heroine, you know.” She replied, “You mean Cinderella?” “Yes,” he said, “there’s something about that story I associate with.”
15. A Fable Inspired A Bug’s Life
A Bug’s Life was inspired by Aesop’s fable, The Ant and The Grasshopper. In this story, a grasshopper spends the harvest months having fun instead of collecting food. Come winter, the grasshopper is starving and begs the ants for food but is turned away. Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft wondered why the grasshopper doesn’t just take the ants’ food.
Thus, the antagonist Hopper and A Bug’s Life were born.
16. The Beast Is A Combination Of Many Animals
According to animator Glen Keane, he found inspiration for the Beast’s singular look by looking at many different animals. He used a wolf’s legs, a bear’s body, a dog’s tail, a buffalo’s head, a gorilla’s eyebrows, a lion’s mane, and a wild boar’s muzzle.
17. Sleeping Beauty Barely Spoke
Princess Aurora only has a measly 18 lines in Sleeping Beauty. But considering that she spends the majority of the film snoozing, this definitely makes sense.
18. Only Belle Wore Blue
Among her townspeople, Belle is the only citizen wearing the color blue. The creators purposely dressed her in this way to drive home the notion that Belle was different from everyone else—an outsider. Even better? When she finally meets the Beast, he, too, is also wearing blue, proving that they really were a match made in heaven.
19. Scar Had An Unfortunate Name
As per The Lion King canon, Scar’s birth name was “Taka.” He changed it to “Scar” after a Buffalo attack left him with the signature mark on his eye. And to give you some perspective on the piece of work that is the Lion King family, “taka” can mean “want” in Swahili, but it is also commonly used to mean “garbage” or “dirt.”
To sum up, Scar and Mufasa’s parents named their older kid after the Swahili word for “King” and then turned around called the other kid “trash.”
20. Hercules Has A Very Disturbing Rug
In The Lion King, Zazu snips that Scar would make an excellent throw rug. Technically, this actually comes true, as Scar can be seen as a throw rug in a scene from Hercules. How many of you noticed that?
21. Merida’s Voice Is Unlike All The Rest
Although there are many princesses that hail from different nations, only Merida from Brave is the only princess without an American accent. Her thick Scottish accent makes her stand out from the rest.
22. The Very First Male Villain
Gaston is the first male Disney villain in any Disney Princess feature—it had been all evil queens, sea witches, and stepmothers before that.
23. Ariel Was A Redhead For A Reason
In 1984, Daryl Hannah became famous as the blonde mermaid in Splash. In order to make Ariel as unique as possible, Disney decided to give her bright red hair.
24. A Sibling Rivalry Under The Sea
King Triton and Ursula from The Little Mermaid are supposed to be brother and sister, which makes Ariel the tentacled witch’s niece. These familial connections did not make the final cut, but it just goes the show that blood isn’t always thicker than water.
25. The Story Behind Belle’s Unruly Hair
In Beauty and the Beast, Belle has a stubborn strand of hair that constantly fall across her face. The screenplay writer, Linda Woolverton, commented, “The only thing I wrote [to describe Belle physically] was ‘she has a little wisp of hair that keeps falling in her face.’ Because I wanted her not to be perfect. It was important that not every hair be in place.”
26. The Ice Palace Reflects Her Feelings
In Frozen, Princess Elsa’s ice palace reflects her emotions through color. The walls turn blue when she’s content, purple when she’s sad, red when she’s frightened, and yellow when she’s enraged.
27. She Had No Teeth
How did Lucille LaVerne achieve her vocal transformation from Evil Queen to Evil Witch in Snow White? She simply removed her teeth.
28. Walt Disney Had A Favorite Piece Of Animation
Allegedly, Walt Disney’s favorite animated scene is Cinderella’s glittering transformation before the ball—a classic rags-to-riches moment that continues to wow audiences.
29. An Evil Lineage
The animator Bruce W. Smith imagined Doctor Facilier of The Princess and the Frog as the “lovechild” of Cruella de Vil and Captain Hook. I ship it!
30. Pocahontas’ Initial Sidekick Could Talk
Although the beloved raccoon Meeko, Pocahontas’ non-verbal sidekick, made the final cut, filmmakers had other ideas. Initially, they wanted to animate a talking turkey named Redfeather. But that’s not all. They also wanted John Candy to voice the character.
31. We Never Meet Aladdin’s Mother
Despite having her very own song—”Proud of Your Boy” Aladdin’s mother didn’t make the film’s final cut. However, her song had its moment in the broadway musical adaptation.
32. This Disney Character Had A True Story
Pocahontas is the only princess based in reality. Pocahontas was an Indigenous woman who belonged to the Powhatan people. Mulan, although based on a real legend of a warrior, did not exist in real life.
33. There Was A Disney Princess Hiatus
After 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, audiences didn’t get to meet another princess for another 30 years. It was a long wait, but totally worth it. In 1989, Ariel captivated audiences in The Little Mermaid.
34. This Villain’s Name Says It All
Maleficent means “evil-doing” in Latin.
35. An Actress Inspired Ariel’s Looks
According to the Charmed actress Alyssa Milano, creators looked to her childhood pictures for inspiration. They used her “likeness” to craft Ariel’s sweet, heart-shaped face.
36. What IS Prince Charming’s Name?
Sadly, Cinderella’s prince (like many other princes) isn’t the most fleshed-out character, and as such, he has a couple of different names. In the original, he is simply known as Prince Charming. However, Disney France calls him Henri, while the live-action film named him Kit.
37. Prince Eric Wasn’t A Singer
Of all the official Disney princes, Eric was the only one to bite his tongue when it came to the musical numbers. Despite losing her voice, Ariel ended up taking the reins as songbird supreme.
38. Lady Tremaine Was Chillingly Realistic
Lady Tremaine, AKA Cinderella’s stepmother, was deliberately drawn to be more realistic than the film’s other antagonists. Filmmakers wanted her to embody a more chilling and “out of this world” demeanor by drawing, ironically, from our world.
39. Skateboarding Inspired Tarzan’s Movements
The animator Glen Keane revealed one of the greatest inspirations behind Tarzan—his son, Max: “[Max] loved performing fearless skateboarding stunts and watching extreme sports, such as snowboarding. Thus, Tarzan seemed to ‘surf’ through the trees.”
40. A Real Prince Inspired Prince Phillip
It’s been said that Sleeping Beauty’s Prince Phillip was named after Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. As the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, he would have been a familiar figure at the time of the film’s release in 1959.
41. John Smith Was A Man Of Many Talents
Usually, two actors voice Disney characters: one sings, and the other speaks. But this is not the case for Pocahontas’ John Smith. Mel Gibson contributes both his voice acting and singing prowess to the role.
42. We Saw That Dance In Another Film
During the production of Beauty and the Beast, time was of the essence. Running behind, they decided to use the animated dance scene from Sleeping Beauty for Prince Adam and Belle’s final dance scene.
43. There’s Only One Princess With A Tattoo
Of all the Disney princesses, Pocahontas is the only one with a tattoo—a red band that wraps around her right bicep. Of course, that’s not the only unique thing about the 1995 film.
44. Disney’s First Interracial Relationship
Not only does Pocahontas include Disney’s first interracial couple, but it’s also the only original movie where the love interests don’t end up together. When John Smith asks Pocahontas to come back to England with him, she refuses, choosing to stay with her tribe instead.
45. Mr. De Vil Came First
101 Dalmatians was based on Dodie Smith’s novel, The Hundred and One Dalmatians. In this written version, Cruella de Vil is not living the sweet single life, as in the movie, but has a henpecked husband. His clearly didn’t matter that much though, because the novel doesn’t even give him a name—he’s never referred to as anything but “Mr. De Vil.” We can guess who wore the pants in that relationship.
46. Lady Is A Real Dog
A real dog inspired the character Lady from Lady and the Tramp. In fact, it was Disney writer Joe Grant’s Springer Spaniel. When Walt Disney laid eyes on Grant’s sketches, he asked him to mount a storyboard of his furry pet. Although Disney initially scrapped the idea, he returned to it after reading the story Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog.
47. Belle’s Personality Is Inspired By Another Character
The screenwriter for Beauty and the Beast, Linda Woolverton, said that one of her main sources of inspiration for Belle was Katharine Hepburn’s performance in 1933’s Little Women. Hepburn’s interpretation of the bookish Jo March is undoubtedly similar to Belle’s headstrong character.
48. Mirabel Is The Very First
In 2021’s Encanto, Mirabel is the very first female Disney lead character to wear glasses.
49. A Heartthrob Inspired Aladdin
At first, animator Glen Keane thought of making Aladdin similar to a Michael J. Fox character. But the chairman of Walt Disney Studios, Jeffrey Katzenberg, had another idea. He thought of using Tom Cruise’s character from Top Gun. Keane later said, “I got the film and I looked at him, and what I noticed was all of his poses. His attitudes. There was this confidence. The way his chest stuck out. There was a cockiness to him. And Aladdin, we wanted to have a little bit of that edge on him.”
50. Mulan Is Based On A Chinese Legend
The story of Hua Mulan goes way back. The earliest record of her story is the Ballad of Mulan, most likely written around 400 AD. But before her Disney debut, her story was a little bit different. Originally, the female warrior fools her comrades until the very end of the war. They don’t find out she is actually a woman until the conflict is over.
51. This Villain Had A Secret Song
The shrill and desiccated Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove had her own villain song titled “Snuff Out the Light.” Not familiar? That’s probably because it was cut from the final version of the film, but you Kuzco super-fans out there may have heard it on the official soundtrack for the movie.
52. The Only Disney Princess Who Is Not The Lead
Jasmine is the only Disney princess who does not star as the main character of her film…or should I say, Aladdin’s film.
53. Thumper Charmed Walt Disney
Thumper is one of the most beloved characters from Bambi, but initially, he didn’t have such a prominent role. However, once Walt Disney watched his scenes with Bambi, he fell completely in love with the character. As a result, Thumper got a hefty promotion.
54. Mrs. Potts Had A Different Name
In Beauty and the Beast, the maternal teapot Mrs. Potts was originally known as Mrs. Chamomile. However, considering its difficult pronunciation, it was eventually changed to the simpler “Mrs. Potts.”
55. Sebastian Had A Different Accent
First of all, Sebastian the crab has an extremely long name: Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian. But what’s more? Creators almost gave him a British accent. It would have changed everything.
56. A Notorious Ladies’ Man Inspired Lumiere
French actor Maurice Chevalier was known for his suave personality and smooth voice. After his passing, his features and style inspired the character of Lumiere in Beauty and the Beast. But that wasn’t Chevalier’s only connection to Disney. In The Aristocats, he sang its title track.
57. Mickey Almost Had A Different Name
Before he landed on the name “Mickey,” Walt Disney planned to name his iconic mouse “Mortimer.” Well, luckily, his wife Lillian thought the name wasn’t the right fit for the feisty character’s personality. Instead, Mortimer Mouse became one of Mickey’s greatest rivals.
58. There’s One Original Character In Wonderland
Although the Alice in Wonderland adaptation couldn’t possibly include all of Lewis Caroll’s characters, there was one original Disney character to make an appearance. After Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she comes face to face with the talking Door Knob. Her interaction with the Door Knob removed the necessity of a monologue.
Instead, she conveyed her thoughts to the audience through conversation.
59. What’s a Good Henchman For?
In The Lion King, Scar’s iconic number “Be Prepared” is actually sung by… Ed the Hyena. Or rather, Ed’s voice actor (Jim Cummings) stepped in to do the singing voice for Jeremy Irons for part of the song. Irons had blown out his vocal cords while trying his best, so that’s Cummings doing his best Irons impression for the song’s final third.
60. Going Solo
All the animation for Cruella De Vil from 101 Dalmatians was done by a single person. That’s a lot of straight lines for one poor sketch artist.
61. Gaston Was Not The Original Villain
Gaston was not originally supposed to be the lead villain in Beauty and the Beast. Instead, Belle’s evil Aunt Marguerite was meant to have occupied that dastardly role. Unfortunately for her, Maggie did not have what it takes to make the film’s final cut, and so it’s Gaston that we all remember hating so much.
62. They Had Another Hades In Mind
Before James Woods won the part of Hades, the creators of Hercules imagined the role for John Lithgow or even Jack Nicholson—two distinct voices, but not exactly fast-talkers, as Woods’ Hades came to be known.
63. The Stars Just Didn’t Line Up
Patrick Stewart had to turn down the role of Jafar in Aladdin because he was too busy filming Star Trek: The Next Generation.
64. Her Wardrobe Reveals The Truth
Tangled takes place in the 1780s, but Mother Gothel’s dress is from the Renaissance. Some people might think this was just a design mistake, but her costume was actually deliberate—it signifies how old she actually is.
65. He Was Too Terrifying For Disney
Tim Curry auditioned to play Judge Doom in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but unfortunately, most considered the former Dr. Frankenfurter just too terrifying for Disney. This was only two years before he played Pennywise the Clown in the horror film, It.
66. The Youngest Disney Baddie
Hans from Frozen is canonically 23 years old. This makes him the youngest ever Disney villain (If you don’t count Sid from Toy Story. I personally don’t; he was just a kid, and no one told him that toys were alive…).
67. Hook Was Too Lovable
Walt Disney himself specifically ordered that Captain Hook not die at the end of Peter Pan. The iconic animator had an eye for hot intellectual property; he predicted fans would like this bumbling buccaneer, and that means Hook’s here to stay.
68. Gaston’s Quarter-Life Crisis
Gaston is only 25 years old. Honestly? That makes a lot of sense now that I think of it.
69. Gaston 2.0
Gaston was based on Beauty and the Beast co-screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s ex-boyfriends. However, he was also based on the character of Avenant, a very similar bro-type from Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation of the same fairy tale. Of course, Disney transformed him from Cocteau’s more foppish aristocrat suitor to the jock we know and hate.
70. From Big Boss to Bad Bad
Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective was modeled after the CEO of Disney, Ron Miller. You can’t blame them: Miller was 6’6” and happened to be a former player for the Los Angeles Rams football team, so he cut a pretty imposing figure.
71. The Price We Pay
The original design for Ratigan was originally more “thin, weasely, and ratlike.” However, the casting of Vincent Price as the voice actor inspired the animators to rework the character to better fit the famously sleek, expressive actor.
72. He Was A “Car Salesman Type”
James Woods ad-libbed much of Hades’ dialogue in Hercules. He was “based on a Hollywood agent, a car salesman type”—and he was hard to keep up with. The most difficult part of bringing the God of Death to life was getting the speed of his animation to match Wood’s fast-talking performance.
73. John Ratcliffe Comes From The History Books
To date, John Ratcliffe from Pocahontas is the only animated Disney villain to be based directly on a real historical person. That it, unless Ursula really is hiding beneath the waves and we’ve just never managed to find her.
74. Iago’s Other Personality
Iago was originally to be a serious, dignified British parrot. But then the smooth and sultry sounds of Gilbert Gottfried in Beverly Hills Cop II seduced the animators. Gottfried won the part, and the animation team even changed the parrot’s design to give him a semblance of the actor’s half-lidded eyes and omnipresent teeth.
75. It’s Just A Nickname
Although most of us know Minnie by her short and sweet nickname, her full name is actually Minerva Mouse.
76. Dastardly Daycare
In the live-action Maleficent movie, three of Angelina Jolie’s children (Pax, Zahara, and Vivienne) make cameo appearances.
77. Kaa Wasn’t Always The Enemy
Poor snake can’t catch a break: Kaa in The Jungle Book was supposed to be Mowgli’s ally. In the Disney movie, he was demoted to side-antagonist.
78. You Talking to Me?
Robert De Niro was John Lasseter’s first choice to play Hopper in A Bug’s Life. Unfortunately, De Niro repeatedly turned the part down. At the 1995 Oscars, Lasseter met Kevin Spacey, who enthusiastically signed on to the animated flick.
79. The Evil Queen Had a Real Name
The Evil Queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs actually has a name: She goes by “Grimhilde.”
80. Woody Was A Ventriloquist Dummy
It’s difficult to imagine Woody as anything other than an adorable cowboy doll—but horrifyingly, the initial concept envisioned him as a ventriloquist dummy.
81. Disney’s Repeat Offender
Eleanor Audley did the voices for Lady Tremaine in Cinderella, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty, and even Madame Leota in the famous Disneyland ride, The Haunted Mansion. That’s a pretty good resume!
82. The Truth Behind The Horns
The horns on Angelina Jolie’s costume in Maleficent were designed by professional fetishwear makers. Seems obvious now that I know.
83. The Lion King Had A Creepy Side
“The Madness of King Scar” was a deleted song in The Lion King. With Nala singing, it was centered around a creepy deleted encounter between her and Scar. According to leftover storyboards, Scar was thinking about his need for a mate and cubs to continue his line. He comes across Nala, who spurns his advances. At her rejection, Scar sends his hyenas to chase Nala off.
Although it was eventually reworked and included in Lion King: The Musical—with Scar, Zazu, the hyenas, and Nala singing—let’s be thankful, for our childhoods’ sakes, that this cinematic courtship was left on the cutting room floor.
84. The Chorus Line
Among the all-stars who lined up to voice Ursula the Sea Witch were Bea Arthur, Roseanne Bar, and Elaine Stritch. The role ultimately went to Pat Carroll.
85. Gaston’s Altered Demise
If you’re “lucky,” you might come across the grittier ending of Beauty of the Beast, in which Gaston’s death is much less ambiguous and a little more graphic. Some cuts of the ending feature a shot of skulls in Gaston’s baby blue eyes as he plummets to his end at the film’s climax. In the script, the playboy also screams “Time to die!” at the Beast, instead of “Belle is mine!” but this was also cut for being too intense.
86. Gaston Got Off Easy
Gaston was supposed to die like Scar from The Lion King. In the original drafts for Beauty and the Beast, Gaston was meant to initially survive his fall off the cliff, only to be devoured by wolves. Disney deemed this death too gruesome for a human being. For fratricidal lions, though? Bon appetit.
87. Hercules And Ariel Are Related
If you want to get technical about it, Hercules and Ariel are cousins. You see, Hercules is the son of Zeus, who is the brother of Poseidon, who fathered Triton—Ariel’s father. I guess it’s a small world after all.
88. Who Shot Bambi’s Mother?
The hunter responsible for the demise of Bambi’s mother was originally credited as “Man,” but an early draft of Who Framed Roger Rabbit was going to reveal that her killer was in fact none other than Judge Doom!
89. A Famous Screen Siren Inspired The Evil Queen
The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is a combination of two different women: actresses Joan Crawford and Lucille LaVerne. The queen’s unsettling gaze, strong jaw, and arched brows were a direct influence of the screen siren, Joan Crawford. However, Lucille Laverne not only lent her voice to the role, but her body movements were also a reference for the queen’s dramatic transformation into the witch.
90. Why Couldn’t Dopey Speak?
Dopey is the famously mute character in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But this wasn’t always the case. You see, initially, the script had many lines for him. The studio even hired the famous voice actor Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck) to bring Dopey to life. However, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Walt Disney, unhappy with the recording, cut ALL of Dopey’s lines. Blanc’s voice is only audible whenever Dopey hiccups.