Disney princess and villains are instantly recognizable to millions across the globe, thanks to generations of fans growing up with love for the iconic films.
Indeed, many of the beloved characters are just as popular today as when they were first created – in some cases almost 90 years ago.
Though they may be works of fiction, it has since been revealed over the years that many of their cartoon looks were inspired by real-life celebrities.
From Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor to Tom Cruise and Jeremy Irons, many of Hollywood’s most famous were featured on the mood boards of the animators responsible for creating the characters loved by children – and adults – all over the world.
Familiar face: Over the years, it has been revealed that many Disney cartoon looks were inspired by real-life celebrities. Actress Alyssa Milano (left) was inspiration for Ariel (right)
New iteration: Actress Halle Bailey will be bringing the character of Ariel to life in a new movie
In the recently released book, Disney Princess: Beyond The Tiara, it was confirmed that supermodel Christie Brinkley was a huge source of inspiration for the design of The Little Mermaid’s Ariel.
Meanwhile, a young Alyssa Milano was also an unknowing model for how the famous mermaid would look on screen.
Elsewhere, animators were watching Tom Cruise movies while creating Aladdin. While drag legend Divine was the ultimate source of inspiration for The Little Mermaid villain Ursula the Sea Witch.
The likes of Ming-Na Wen and Anika Noni Rose not only voiced their characters Mulan and Princess Tiana respectively, but also provided inspiration for how they looked and moved.
Thanks to a slew of live-action remakes in recent years, newer stars have been able to bring the characters to life with Harry Potter star Emma Watson famously playing Belle in 2017’s Beauty and the Beast.
Elle Fanning portrayed Sleeping Beauty in 2014’s Maleficent, while Lily James starred as Cinderella in the 2015 film of the same name.
Now, Halle Bailey will be seen playing Ariel in the new The Little Mermaid live-action film, alongside Melissa McCarthy as Ursula the Sea Witch.
Here, DailyMail.com takes a look at the famous faces that helped inspire the original looks of the world’s most beloved animated characters.
The Little Mermaid: Princess Ariel was inspired by actresses Christie Brinkley and Alyssa Milano
Muses: Alyssa Milano had no idea about her link to the Disney princess at the time of the film’s release
When The Little Mermaid was first being created, executives had requested for Ariel and all the mermaids to be blonde.
During this time, supermodel Christie Brinkley became the original muse for how the iconic mermaid should look.
First draft: Model Christie Brinkley was an original inspiration for Ariel
However, supervising animator Mark Penn revealed that the team made the decision to give Ariel red hair instead because the color would work better with the blue and teals under the sea.
Around this time, animators turned to the then child star Alyssa Milano for further inspiration to cement Ariel’s signature look.
In 2013, Milano revealed on The Wendy Williams Show that she had no idea about her link to the Disney princess at the time.
She explained: ‘I 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.’
Musician and actress Halle Bailey will be seen bringing the character to life in the upcoming live-action remake of The Little Mermaid.
Aladdin: The lead character was inspired by Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise
Leading man: Aladdin was inspired by Tom Cruise after the original design was too ‘cutesy’
When animators were originally coming up for Aladdin’s look, they started modeling the character on Back To The Future star Michael J. Fox.
Wrong look: It came after animators ditched a look created with Michael J. Fox in mind
However, they felt the resulting design was ‘too cutesy’ and soon turned their eye to a leading man that would help the character convey more confidence.
According to the documentary Diamond In The Rough: The Making Of Aladdin, Jeffrey Katzenberg – the chairman of Walt Disney Studios at the time – said he just didn’t believe Jasmine would fall for a character like they had drawn.
Katzenberg said something along the lines of: ‘Guys, you’ve got Julia Roberts and Michael J. Fox. They don’t fit together.
‘You need Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. They fit together. You need more Tom Cruise.’
Cruise ended up becoming their muse as they made Aladdin older and infused more cockiness into his design – all while watching the Hollywood star’s movies.
Pocahontas: Titular character was inspired by Native American actress Irene Bedard
Shaping the role: Actress Irene Bedard inspired Pocahontas’ looks as well as well as voicing the character
Native American actress Irene Bedard provided the iconic voice of Pocahontas in the original movie and its sequel, Pocahontas II: Journey To A New World.
However, she also proved to be a source of inspiration for how the character would look and move.
In fact, her son was actually able to recognize his mother while watching Pocahontas’ animated form.
Bedard also went on to tell Ultimate Disney that ‘[Bedard’s] brother came all the way from Alaska to the Central Park premiere and throughout the screening, he constantly nudged me because he recognized traits of mine.’
The Little Mermaid: Ursula the Sea Witch was inspired by Drag legend Divine
One of a kind: Drag legend Divine inspired Ursula the sea witch in The Little Mermaid
Paying homage: Melissa McCarthy has said she enjoyed paying homage to Divine with her take on the role in the new live-action movie
Another character from The Little Mermaid that was inspired by an iconic star was the larger-than-life villain, Ursula the Sea Witch.
When animators first began to create the character, they looked towards Dynasty star Joan Collins for inspiration.
However, Howard Ashman – the lyricist responsible for both Little Shop of Horrors and The Little Mermaid – came from the ‘same Baltimore-D.C. gay scene as Divine.’
Soon they turned their attention to the drag legend (born Harris Milstead), leading to artist Rob Minkoff creating the Ursula the world got to meet when the film was released in 1991.
Actress Melissa McCarthy will now be seen bringing the character to life in the new film.
Sleeping Beauty: Princess Aurora was inspired by Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn
Classic beauty: Audrey Hepburn was looked at when animators were designing Aurora for Sleeping Beauty
According to Disney Princess: Beyond The Tiara, there’s a reason why fans might have noticed the fact Belle shares a similar facial structure as Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn.
Animators even chose to copy Hepburn’s prominent eyebrows and her expressive eyes when creating the character.
The actress even had an influence on what Belle worn as outfits from her 1953 film, Roman Holiday, were used to create the character’s gowns.
Actress Helene Stanley served as live-action model for Princess Aurora (and Cinderella) with animators closely observing her graceful and elegant movements.
Actress Elle Fanning went on to play Aurora alongside Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent in 2014.
The Lion King: Villain Scar was inspired by British actor Jeremy Irons
Celebrated thespian: Scar from the Lion King was inspired by celebrated theater and film actor Jeremy Irons
Thanks to his extensive theater training and performances in Shakespearean plays, Jeremy Irons was not only the voice of Scar in The Lion King but also shaped the character’s look.
Animators worked to create a lion that was subtly conniving using the nuances Irons used to help make the villain so menacing.
The Oscar-winner actually beat off competition from actors Tim Curry and Malcolm McDowell for the role.
Mulan: The titular character was inspired by actress Ming-Na Wen
Perfect muse: Actress Ming-Na Wen voiced Mulan and also served as a source of inspiration for the character
Forever princess: Ming-Na delighted fans when she made a cameo in the 2020 live-action movie
In Beyond The Tiara, animator Mark Henn revealed that Ming-Na Wen’s voice acting ultimately helped shape the final design of the character.
As she recorded scenes, they worked to include aspects of her mannerisms and personality in the animation.
In the 2020 live-action version of the film, actress Liu Yifei brought the character to life, but fans were delighted to see Wen make a touching cameo in the movie.
Peter Pan: Villain Captain Hook inspired by actor Hans Conried
Attention to detail: Actor Hans Conried served as inspiration for Captain Hook when he turned up to a shoot dressed for the part
Actor Hans Conried was only intended to be the voice actor for Captain Hook.
However, he arrived dressed for the part in full head to toe pirate garb for the reference shoot, and the animators loved it.
They took inspiration from his attire and the way he chose to move as the one-handed pirate and went on to create the memorable villain we all know today.
Conried also voiced the character of George Darling in the beloved 1953 film.
Beauty and the Beast: Belle inspired by actresses Elizabeth Taylor and Natalie Wood
Hollywood glamor: Elizabeth Taylor was a famous face looked at while creating Belle
Famous face: West Side Story star Natalie Wood also helped to formed the characters’ look
Actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn were among the faces animators kept on a board while designing the Beauty And The Beast character.
Taylor and Hepburn’s fashion helped with outfit designs, including Belle’s famous yellow ballgown.
Writer Sherri Stoner also modeled for Belle (and The Little Mermaid’s Ariel). She swam around in a water tank for Ariel and acted out Belle’s actions to prerecorded tracks of voice actor Paige O’Hara’s dialogue.
Harry Potter star Emma Watson then brought the character to life in the 2017 live-action movie.
The Princess and the Frog: Tiana was inspired by actress Anika Noni Rose
Perfect princess: Tiana in The Princess And The Frog was inspired by actress Anika Noni Rose – who also provided the speaking and singing voice for the character
Anika Noni Rose not only voiced Tiana’s character, but also sang for the first Black Disney princess.
However, The Princess And The Frog character’s looks also came directly from the Broadway star as Tiana was given dimples and made left-handed because of Rose.
Supervising animator Mark Henn recalled: ‘I went to the directors one day and said, “Can I put dimples in?” I see Anika’s got these amazing dimples and when she smiles, it just lights up a room.’
Elsewhere, Henn revealed that some of Tiana’s looks were also based on an intern in the post-production department named Jaimie Milner.
The crew even took picture of her to help get the design for the princess’s hair just right.
Another source of inspiration for the character was Leah Chase, the owner of Dooky Chase’s New Orleans restaurant who was referred to as ‘the Queen of Creole Cuisine.’