5 Disney Characters Inspired by Real Life Actors

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Audrey Hepburn et al. posing for the camera

It’s no secret that Disney draws on the characteristics, physical appearances, and humor of famous actors to bring iconic Disney characters to life, but which celebrities has Walt Disney Animation Studios drawn on — pun intended — for inspiration through the years?

Since Disney animators tend to “recycle” entire scenes — like Beauty and the Beast reusing the ending of Sleeping Beauty or characters having similar appearances — like Baloo from The Jungle Book and Little John in Robin Hood looking identical — it makes one wonder who animators “recycled,” so to speak, for famous characters like Ariel, Belle, and The Mad Hatter? Let’s take a closer look.

5) Alyssa Milano and Ariel

Celebrity (Left) Ariel in The Little Mermaid (Right)

The star of The Little Mermaid is one of the most popular Disney princesses of all time, and people still can’t get enough songs like Part of Your World and Under the Sea. The film is considered one of the first movies to spark the Disney “Renaissance”  period and has received an attraction themed after it at Disney California Adventure.

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During film production in the late 1980s, animators used actress Alyssa Milano as the main inspiration for Ariel’s look. During The Little Mermaid release, both Alyssa and Ariel shared the same age of 17, but Milano didn’t know that she was a model for Ariel while the movie was being made.

It was only after the fact that Milano found out when Disney invited her to host The Making of The Little Mermaid and concept art revealed to her that the likeness of Princess Ariel was based on young pictures of the actress.

4) Ed Wynn and The Mad Hatter

Ed Wynn Mad Hatter
Credit: Disney/Wikimedia

Before the Mad Hatter donned his famous green hat with the “10/6” slip and blew up teapots, Disney animators needed a muse for their Hatter.

Legendary actor, comedian, radio personality, and part-time cowboy Walt Disney hired Ed Wynn to voice Mad Hatter. Still, animators loved his physical features so much that they used the actor’s likeness as Hatter himself’s inspiration.

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His wacky hair, nose, chin, and ears were all perfectly copied onto the Mad Hatter, and his personality isn’t too far off!

3) Louis Armstrong and Scat Cat

Scat Cat and Louis Armstrong
Credit: Disney/Wikimedia

Legendary trumpeter and musician Louis Armstrong is undoubtedly the inspiration for the character Scat Cat in Disney’s The Aristocat (1970). The fan-favorite film features this cool cat during the Everybody Wants to be a Cat scene in which the cats bring the roof down on their venue! Armstrong was a personal friend of Walt Disney and appeared at Disneyland’s Dixieland concert on the Mark Twain Riverboat in the Rivers of America during the early 1960s.

Note how the Scat Cat’s cheeks are very similar to Armstrong’s and how they both use their left hand to hold a trumpet.

2) The Beatles and Birds

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Before singing about blackbirds, The Beatles were transformed into vultures in Disney’s The Junge Book (1967). During Walt Disney’s classic film production about a “man-cub” in the jungle, animators planned to have the Fab Four make a cameo in the film.

Originally, Disney intended for John Lennon, Ringo Starr, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney to voice the four vultures and sing along with That’s What Friends Are For. However, Lennon kindly declined and preferred for he and his counterparts not to appear in the film. He actually suggested that Elvis Presley make an appearance, but production was too far to replace the vultures.

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Instead, four actors were hired to make the vultures sound like their random people from Liverpool, but the birds’ likeness is spot on to The Beatles.

1) Audrey Hepburn and Belle

Belle's gown from Beauty & the Beast was directly inspired by the royal gown worn by Audrey Hepburn in … | Disney princess hairstyles, Disney princess, Belle disney
Credit: Taylor Lilly

While many European actresses inspired and influenced many physical features of Princess Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991), Audrey Hepburn served as the primary muse for Belle’s facial features.

One of the most famous actresses of the Golden Age of Hollywood and legendary fashion icon Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’sRoman HolidaySabrina) influenced much of Belle’s famous yellow gown and facial structure.

If Old Hollywood Actresses Played Disney Heroines | Funk's House of Geekery
Credit: House of Geekery

Hepburn’s high cheekbones, slim jawline, hazel-colored eyes, fair nose, and ears are all copied onto the beautiful Princess Belle. On top of that, Hepburn’s famous gown in Roman Holiday (1953) is said to have inspired Belle’s ballgown, one of the most famous Disney gowns of all time.

Do you see the similarities between these actors and Disney characters? Let us know in the comments below!

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