Since the 1920s Disney has been the absolute powerhouse when it comes to dishing out iconic animated characters. From Snow White to Wreck-It Ralph, Disney has brought us some of the most beloved faces ever to grace our screens. But it takes more than a well-trained artist to bring these guys to life. A great deal of the character comes from design, but an even larger amount comes from performance. Disney has had quite a list of talented actors and actresses behind some of their animated heroes and villains, even a few Hollywood A-Listers. No matter what kind of performer they are, be it a leading lady or comical character-actor, there are many occasions where the artist will incorporate the actor into the character's design.
As the saying goes, art imitates life, and vice versa. There are plenty of Disney big-wigs out there who were not only inspired by the great performers that gave them a voice but were designed around them too. It can be anything as simple as an eyebrow furrow or a certain smile to something as complex as a body shape or facial likeness. Whatever the reason, the gifted artists at Disney have used the actor as their model more times than viewers may know, and we're here to look at some of these examples today. Whether you recognize the famous faces or not, you will certainly know the character they portray. From far away kingdoms to the hustle and bustle of Zootopia, we bring you some famous faces and the characters they inspired.
18 JOSH GAD AS OLAF
Animating an actor-inspired character is nothing new to Disney, but animators really have to pay attention to detail when undertaking this task. Josh Gad of Book of Mormon fame provided the voice for everyone's favorite snowman, Olaf, from the movie Frozen. Olaf gets his wide eyes and big, goofy grin from Gad, but he also gets his facial expressions from the actor's improvisational humor.
While Gad's performance is certainly humorous and infectious, creating Olaf's facial movements was an animator's nightmare. Since many Gad's lines were improvised, they had to pay crucial attention to his lips to match the animated movement. Thanks to this character, Gad has gained a much larger following and even more work for Disney, even if it took a little extra effort.
17 JACK MCBRAYER AS FIX-IT FELIX
30 Rock actor Jack McBrayer had a lovable supporting role as the hero opposite Wreck-It Ralph in the fictional arcade game of the same name, Fix-It Felix Jr. A sort of homage to Mario from his Donkey Kong days, Felix is a blue-clad carpenter with a magic hammer who fixes everything he touches. A goody-goody all over, McBrayer's infectious pleasantness saturates him in the sort of demeanor a guy like him should have.
It's not just a voice Felix shares with his actor. Both character and performer share the same crop of blonde hair, toothy grin, and cheery disposition. Stretch the character out and he'd be a carbon copy of McBrayer himself. We'd be happy with either one of them fixing our windows any day.
16 JOHN C. REILY AS WRECK-IT RALPH
And where would Wreck-It Ralph be without its titular character? With his large form, plaid shirt, and fearsome fists, Ralph fits the bill for a retro-gaming baddie. That being said, he didn't get his large form and messy hair all on his own. His face, hair, and bodily features all come from his voice actor, John C. Reilly.
Early sketches of the character had him looking like something out of Monsters Inc. but thankfully, the artists at Disney looked to the performer for inspiration. We couldn't believe what a great fit Reilly was for this destructive dude. His vocal abilities were able to blend harshness with hilarity as he brought the big guy to life.
15 VERNA FELTON AS VARIOUS
In the early days of Walt Disney Pictures, they didn't call on big-name actors to bring their characters to life, they had their own group of regulars behind the mic. One such regular was Verna Felton, who was quite a frequent cast member at the Disney studio. You might not know her name, but you will certainly recognize a few characters she has played.
Felton portrayed Mrs. Jumbo in Dumbo, the Fairy Godmother, the Queen of Hearts, Aunt Sarah from Lady and the Tramp, and Flora the good fairy from Sleeping Beauty. The latter two had a very significant resemblance to Felton, as they both had a similar hairstyle and facial design. With an impressive list of roles, she truly is a Disney team player.
14 JAMES WOODS AS HADES
James Woods gets a special mention on this list for not only inspiring a character but changing nearly everything about him entirely. Originally, Jack Nicholson was to play a much darker, more demonic looking version of the Lord of the Dead. But after a contract dispute with Nicholson and a last-minute audition with Woods, we now have the snarky, fast-talking, devil with the blue hair we all know and love.
Woods' performance turned the character upside down, taking him from a malicious antagonist to one of the most quotable comedic villains in the Disney canon. The character was heavily influenced by Woods' "Hollywood agent" take on the character. This adaptation of the Greek god gives a whole new meaning to "deal with the devil."
13 DANNY DEVITO AS PHILOCTETES
While we're on the subject of Hercules, his goatish sidekick and personal-trainer does look a bit familiar, doesn't he? It should come as no surprise that Phil was in fact inspired by the tough-talking comedy stylings of Danny DeVito. The short-fused satyr's look and attitude were pulled right from the actor's own physicality and short stature.
Before DeVito was tearing it up with the Always Sunny crew, he was helping a young Herc get jacked up and ready for Mount Olympus. The resemblance is so uncanny, we gotta give props to the artists and designers. If there's ever a live-action remake, we know who we want reprising his role.
12 ROWAN ATKINSON AS ZAZU
While some know him as Mr. Bean and others as Blackadder, all know the great Rowan Atkinson as Zazu, Mufasa's right-hand bird. If you needed a rich, pompous, Brittish voice in the '90s, you went to either John Cleese or this famous comedian. He was cast as the movie's dry-witted character, but the design evolved when Atkinson was behind the mic.
If the large, black, bushy brows and the slicked back feathers on his head didn't tip you off, one line in the film might. Those familiar with Atkinson's dark-comedy sitcom might have picked up one of his lines. "Mad as a hippo with a hernia" was based on a similar joke told by Edmund Blackadder. It's funny, but possibly under the radar to some.
11 PHYLLIS SMITH AS SADNESS
For some, Phyllis Smith might not be recognized outside of The Office, but if you're familiar with Pixar's surreal and splendid Inside Out, you know her voice as Sadness. There are more than a few similarities between Phyllis from The Office and Sadness from Riley's head. The glasses, the sweaters, the vocal delivery, all come together. It's Smith playing her A-game.
At times, it seems like Sadness is more inspired by Smith's character from Dunder Mifflin than the performer herself. All the same, it's still quite the resemblance. All she's missing is the audiobook affinity and the rainy day cliches.
10 DWAYNE JOHNSON AS MAUI
Who knew a WWE star would make a great Disney character? Everyone knows the demigod, Maui, from Disney's Moana is voiced by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but they might not know he was the inspiration even from the early production days. Let's be honest though, if there was anyone worthy of playing a demigod, it's The Rock.
In the original sketches, Maui was to have a shaved head with an expression that looked a bit too much like Johnson's, minus the face tattoos of course. Though he exchanged the ink for some gorgeous locks, Maui still has that smolder and swagger only The Rock can bring. With an upcoming Jungle Cruise movie, it doesn't look like Johnson will be leaving Disney anytime soon.
9 ADRIANA CASELOTTI AS SNOW WHITE
In the early days of animation, Disney and his artists would often use live actors or models to create their animated characters. Inspired by rotoscoping technology, Disney went a more intimate route and had the actors in the art studio. One of the first actors to become a character model was an actress named Adriana Caselotti, who would bring to life Disney's first princess, Snow White.
Her facial features, movement, voice, and even her fingertips helped bring Snow White to life. Though her voice might seem like Betty Boop today, one look at this actress immediately brings Snow White to mind. There's a reason Walt Disney picked her as inspiration, she looks like she'd be right at home at a Disney Park.
8 ED WYNN/JERRY COLONA AS THE MAD HATTER/MARCH HARE
We had to include these two together, how could we not? Similar to how Caselotti modeled and voiced Snow White, comedians Ed Wynn and Jerry Colona served as voice actors and character models for the hosts of the Mad Tea Party scene in Disney's Alice in Wonderland. They even went as far as to record a live performance of the whole scene, complete with table and tea sets.
Both characters take heavy inspiration from their performers. The Hatter has Wynn's nose and facial structure, and the Hare has Colona's eyes and thick eyebrows. The vocal performance is fantastic, but the live performance is absolutely incredible. You practically forget you're watching actors instead of animated characters.
7 ED ASNER AS CARL FREDRICKSEN
We have to admit, Ed Asner fits into the grumpy-old-man role a bit too well. It seems the creative minds at Pixar had the same idea when they cast him as the old curmudgeon with the floating house in UP. Though lacking the dapper collection of ties, we can certainly see the resemblance between Asner and Carl.
The large nose, wiry brows, and wide mouth certainly fit the bill. His facial expressions and gruff but lovable performance really sell us on the character. Asner might be getting up there in years, but we can certainly see him taking a trip to Paradise Falls.
6 CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER AS CHARLES MUNTZ
Oscar winner Christopher Plummer is indeed a welcome addition to the Disney entourage. His velvet voice and impeccable performance are perfect for any character with a touch of class. He was the voice and direct inspiration for Up's antagonist, Charles Muntz.
Looking at the actor and character side-by-side, we can't help thinking that Pixar skipped the whole sketch and design process and just animated the actor. The likeness between the two is uncanny. They both have the same face, body language, and even the same pencil-thin mustache. Give Plummer a giant blimp and an army of dogs and he's ready to go steal an exotic bird.
5 BOBBY DRISCOLL AS PETER PAN
Disney knew what he was doing when he brought in Bobby Driscoll as the titular lead in Peter Pan. Driscoll performed many times before as a young kid in other Disney titles such as Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, and Melody Time. After his appearance as Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, it seems like Peter Pan was the next logical step.
Driscoll's impish features and smart-alecky attitude were perfect ingredients for the boy who never grew up. Like many Disney actors, he appeared in performance tests for his character, but he also made public appearances as Peter Pan to promote the picture. The film is considered the best of the actor's career and based on what we've seen, we happily agree.
4 ELEANOR AUDLEY AS LADY TREMAINE
You might not know this actress, but you'd know her voice and face. Elenor Audley is the performer behind Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, and the vocal talent behind the Haunted Mansion's own Madame Leota. With that many titles, we had to put her on our list.
With the exception of Leota, Audley was a powerful influence on her characters, particularly the wicked stepmother and Disney's Mistress of All Evil. While some of her traits were used in creating the latter role, everything from the hair, stare, and scowl was used to give Lady Tremaine her sinister presence. Add it to Audley's vocal performance with the cruelty and confidence of a Bond villain, and you've got one wicked woman.
3 KATHRYN BEAUMONT AS ALICE
Veteran actress Kathryn Beaumont will forever be Disney's Alice. As a young girl, she was practically a living incarnation of the Lewis Caroll character. She would later go on to voice Wendy Darling in Peter Pan, which is why the two characters have the same facial features, but Alice is where her journey began.
With her big, bushy, blonde hair and sweet smile, of course, she'd be a perfect fit for the curious character. Her performance was so genuinely charming, she reprised her role as Alice for the Disney TV Specials, One Hour in Wonderland and Operation Wonderland in the '50s. She's also played Alice in more recent years in Mickey's Mouseworks, House of Mouse, and even in Disney's Kingdom Hearts.
2 ROBIN WILLIAMS AS THE GENIE
This should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the actor, but the role of the Genie in Disney's Aladdin was practically catered to Robin Williams's comedic persona. The test animation for the character was even tested over a piece of the comedian's stand up. As expected, it was a perfect fit, Williams accepted the part, and the rest is history.
Not only did the design match Robin Williams's facial structure and expressions, but it was able to keep up with his cornucopia of many voices. The role lives in the world of animation as one of the finest displays of Disney artistry. And we have the designers and one wild performer to thank for it.
1 JEREMY IRONS AS SCAR
Unlike some characters, the original design of Scar was in production long before a voice was cast. In the original sketches, Scar bore a striking resemblance to Shere Khan. He was broader, more muscular, and had a more pronounced chin with a smoothly sinister smile. Then a new player was added to the game to totally turn that all around.
When Jeremy Irons was introduced, the Disney artists through the original idea out the window and watched as the award-winning actor worked his magic behind the mic. Scar was slimmed, grew his mane out, and developed Irons' darker eyes, elegant features, and goatee. One look at the face of this fearsome feline and we can't help but picture him in a Die Hard sequel.