Have you ever watched a cartoon character and been reminded of someone else? That might not be simply a coincidence, as there are plenty of cartoon characters based on real life people. Animation studios used actual humans to act as visual and live-action reference for the cartoonists to bring their creations to life as realistically as possible. And then famous actors also inspired certain characters. Sounds pretty cool, huh? But not everyone has been happy about his or her likeness being used.
Back in the golden age of Disney movies, there were a couple of women who pulled double duty. And that’s why you might have noticed similarities between some characters. Did you ever get a sense of déjà vu watching Maleficent in “Sleeping Beauty” and the Wicked Stepmother in “Cinderella”? That’s because Eleanor Audley voiced both, and was the visual reference for them too. And Marge Champion was the basis for Snow White as well as the Blue Fairy in “Pinocchio”. Both of these women were committed to their roles, wearing huge props like Maleficent’s headdress and Snow White’s football helmet to help animators get a sense of scale. Margaret Kerry also posed with oversized props as the basis for Tinker Bell.
In more recent years, studios have taken inspiration from famous actors and actresses for some of their animated characters. In “Aladdin” there’s not one but two such examples. Aladdin himself was modeled on Tom Cruise, while the Genie was not only voiced by Robin Williams, but inspired by him too. And “The Little Mermaid” Ariel’s face was based on Alyssa Milano as a child actor on “Who's The Boss”. The way the actress found out is pretty funny. Ariel’s movements were based on Disney producer and writer Sherri Stoner, who literally swam in a tank of water. But she got to stay on dry land when she also acted as the model for Belle in “Beauty and the Beast”.
Some characters are inspired by friends and acquaintances of the directors and creators. “Batman: The Animated Series” villain Harley Quinn was inspired by writer Paul Dini’s college friend Arleen Sorkin. And Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid” was based on the producer’s drag queen acquaintance Divine aka Glenn Milstead. While some of these connections are confirmed, others remain rumors, like ‘The French Angel’ wrestler Maurice Tillet being the basis for Shrek. And then there are those who aren’t impressed with the connection, like Helen Kane, who filed an infringement lawsuit against the creators of Betty Boop for the “deliberate caricature” of herself. She lost.
Watch our video to discover the real people who inspired these cartoon characters,