Did You Know These Famous Actors Inspired Your Fave Disney Characters?

Disney has created some of the most ICONIC figures in the history of animation. What would entertainment look like without Ariel, Aladdin, and the rest of the Disney gang?


While some characters were purely a product of an animator’s imagination, others were inspired by real people. One of Disney’s famous animation techniques is to have a performer act out a scene, which animators will then transfer into drawings and sketches. Another strategy is to use figures that are well-known (like celebs!) to create the image of characters.

Here are iconic Disney characters inspired by real life celebrities!

Jamie Foxx as Joe Gardner — Soul

Jamie Foxx astounded audiences with an Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles in Ray. This musical turn lead to filmmakers hand-picking Foxx to play the leading character in the Pixar movie Soul. According to D23, he was the first and only choice for Joe Gardner, the jazz artist who “sparks” for music.


Jamie Foxx is a talented musician himself and is basically for this role. In an interview, he related to the character’s “spark” for music. He stated, “I was born with a similar spark. I came out singing and telling jokes.”


Alyssa Milano as Ariel — The Little Mermaid

Alyssa Milano is best known for her roles in Charmed and Who’s the Boss?. When The Little Mermaid was made, Milano was in the limelight as Samantha Micelli, and her image was used as inspiration for Ariel. HuffPost reported that Alyssa Milano didn’t even realize until later that the character was based on her likeness!


Milano stated on The Wendy Williams Show that she “didn’t know that when it was going on, but they asked me to host the making of The Little Mermaid ,and it came out there that the drawing and likeness of The Little Mermaid was based on pictures of me from when I was younger, which is so cool.”


Divine as Ursula —The Little Mermaid

It seems that Ariel wasn’t the only character from The Little Mermaid that was inspired by a real person! The evil sea witch Ursula had a unique look, including high-arched brows and ruby red lips. The over-the-top look was inspired by a famous drag queen named Divine.


Ursula’s look started with concept art that looked like what the animators called a “Miami Beach Matron.” This is where Divine was brought into the conversation and later heavily influenced Ursula’s looks and movements.


Tom Cruise as Aladdin — Aladdin

This one isn’t quite as obvious as Divine inspiring the look for Ursula. Tom Cruise was the big inspiration for Aladdin. Cruise’s swagger and confidence in films like Top Gun could give us a hint as to where the inspiration came from.

©Gamma Rapho

Originally, the character was inspired by Michael J. Fox. Producer Jeffrey Katzenberg turned down the idea and wanted him to look like what he thought was a “daring hero.” He suggested Tom Cruise as an inspiration for the animators.


Robin Williams as Genie — Aladdin

Much of Aladdin’s success came from the magnificent performance by Robin Williams. His energetic, bouncing humor is what made Genie such an icon. Because of this, the animators created the look of Genie with Robin Williams’ features in mind.


In fact, they even used the Genie concept art to convince Robin Williams to agree to the movie. Directors John Clements and Ron Musker had animator Eric Goldberg draw Williams as the Genie. The Robin Williams-inspired drawing was shown to Disney and to Williams. Both parties agreed to the casting!


The Beatles as The Vultures — The Jungle Book

Disney filmmakers originally wanted The Beatles to play the four vultures that appear in The Jungle Book. For whatever reason, whether it was money, scheduling, or contracts, the four famous singers didn’t end up playing the four singing vultures. (Rumor has it that Lennon outright refused to be a part of the gag.)


The voices were done by professional voice actors instead. However, the vulture’s mop-tops and groovy look were still inspired by the band.


Usher and Michael Jackson as Dr. Facilier — The Princess and the Frog

It seems a lot of characters went into the development of Dr. Facilier. Animator Bruce W. Smith said in a panel that he used “the elasticity of Jim Carrey” and the “great acting of Jack Lemmon.” Facilier’s body language, however, was inspired by the smooth movements of Michael Jackson and Usher.


Smith stated, “As I began drawing him out, I realized he had to be very thin, and I had to be able to move him across the screen. I thought about guys like Michael Jackson and Usher and the types of moves they’d have as they would sort of scurry across the screen.”


Anika Noni Rose as Tiana — The Princess and the Frog

It isn’t uncommon for animators to use their voice actors as inspiration, as they did with Genie and Robin Williams. The role of Tiana was first based on Jaimi Milner, an intern in the post-production department. They even used photos of her to design the character’s hair. To develop the character further, though, animators used the voice actor as inspiration.

Anika Noni Rose Singing at a Disney Legends Ceremony

Animators used Anika Noni Rose for the final touches on Tiana. They gave her dimples and even made Tiana left-handed like Rose! 


Rita Hayworth as Jessica Rabbit — Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Jessica Rabbit is another hodge-podge of iconic actors, blended together to make one Disney character. The majority of the inspiration came from Old Hollywood leading ladies. Jessica Rabbit’s hair came from Veronica Lake and Robert Zemeckis (the director) liked the look of Lauren Bacall.

©Time Warner Classics

Richard Williams, the animation director, said that he “tried to make her look like Rita Hayworth.” Hayworth was the star of big films and musicals like Pal Joey in the 40s. Her leading lady qualities are part of what made Jessica Rabbit come to life.


These are just a handful of inspirations for our beloved Disney characters. Voice actor Kathryn Beaumont was key to inspiring Alice and Wendy, both of whom she voiced. Actress Eleanor Audley voiced the evil Stepmother, Maleficent, and Madame Leota in the Haunted Mansion. You can see some of her features in all three characters as well!

Did we miss your favorite character inspiration? Tells us about it in the comments below!

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