Since 1928, Disney has been an animation juggernaut, producing hit after hit in its exceptional and extraordinary career. Thanks to Walt Disney and his legacy of animators, artists, writers, and storytellers, we've been left with a lifetime of amazing animated friends that we all hold dear. As surprising as it sounds, our favorite characters didn't just come into the world by way of Disney magic. Artists had to sketch, color, and animate (sometimes multiple versions) just to get them from the page to the screen. Characters take loads of time to develop, figure out expressions and attitude, not to mention their overall look and how they'll behave on screen. They certainly go through quite an arduous process.
That all being said, some characters are likely to be easier than others. A character like Mike Wazowski has a more simplistic design than someone like the Cheshire Cat, for example. There are loads of sketches and cells of test versions of famous faces floating around the Disney studios, and we just so happen to have some with us today. Though you might know these characters one way, they certainly did not start out like that. Some were just too complicated, some were less interesting and became more developed, and others had their persona shifted in the complete opposite direction. Some needed a little revision, others needed a complete revamp. Whatever the reason, these characters have come a long way before being featured on the silver screen. Let's take a peek into the sketchbook and have a look at some of the precursors to our favorite Disney characters.
26 MANELESS MAUI
A common practice in animated films is to base the character's design on the voice actor. This mighty demigod from Disney's Moana gets his voice from Dwane Johnson, and in early designs had his shaved head and skull shape, along with some tribal face tattoos to keep with the Polynesian culture. That would have certainly been a Disney first.
Looks like Maui's having trouble with his look. Thankfully, Disney went a different direction and gave Maui his luscious locks, but still kept The Rock's familiar expressions. But at least we still have this interesting first draft to make us smile.
25 SHERWOOD FUR-EST
Disney's Robin Hood went through developmental limbo in its early days. Originally a western in conception, the story went through several adaptations before the film we know today. But no matter what it went through, it still kept the anthropomorphic animal theme. Pictured here is a fluffier take of our favorite swashbuckling fox. He's cute but not as dashing as his final design.
This early draft influenced the final design with the feathered hat and color palate. It's certainly nice to see how a good design became a great character. This Robin is certainly a fun ball of fluff.
24 LIKE DRAGON FIRE
Marc Davis is the name behind many famous Disney femme fatales, particularly the Mistress of All Evil, Maleficent. This is one of the final drafts but notice her undertones. Davis wanted to emphasize fire in her character, so the red became flames when she moved.
Unfortunately, the design team didn't like how red clashed with the cooler-colored backgrounds. This resulted in her colors going from red and black to black, purple and green. This might be why Disney artists use the same shade of lime to point out their evil characters. It might be a stretch, but it's a colorful thought.
23 THE DE VIL AND MARC DAVIS
Maleficent was just one of the deadly Disney dames Davis drew. Here we have some early sketches of Cruella De Vil of 101 Dalmatians. Originally, she was to have been around the same age as Roger and Anita as she was in the book by Dotie Smith. Obviously, Davis took a different design for the film.
These are wonderful designs, easily at home in the film, but there's certainly a vampiric quality to them. Beautiful and deadly, we can't help but think of Lily Munster. Young or Old, Cruella is still one outrageous character with a design to match.
22 WALL-E THE ROVER
Ah, Wall-E, a beautiful piece of Pixar that proves robots can love. The designs of all the robot cast members are incredibly creative, but Wall-E wasn't always the cute little recycling center we know him as. In this design, we can see heavy influences from the Mars rover and other more realistic craft.
An interesting take to be sure, but the more realistic design kinda takes away some of the character's whimsy. It's not the cute and curious design we know, but we can certainly appreciate Pixar's eye for details. We simply just prefer our wide-eyed Wall-E.
21 IN THE JUNGLE, THE MIGHTY JUNGLE
These two certainly look familiar, don't they? It's still Simba and Nala, but at the time of this design by Chris Sanders, the film was "King of the Jungle" and it had a different design and direction. The layout was more akin to The Jungle Book, as this artwork certainly shows.
"King of the Jungle" became The Lion King when the team decided to set it in the more accurate setting of the savannah instead. The setting moved, the story changed, and the rest is history. It is nice to see the overall color and design strategy was still kept.
20 WILDE TIMES
Before it was the Oscar-winning and thought-provoking masterpiece it is today, Zootopia had several different stories. This piece of artwork comes from the original "spy-thriller" plot, in which Nick Wilde was a hard-boiled secret agent and Judy Hopps was his rookie sidekick. Not quite a buddy cop movie, right?
The original story was a more darkly comedic turn than it was the feel-good flick of the summer. Nick and Judy both used dart-guns, and there was even a scene of Nick getting electrocuted. Thankfully, Byron Howard and Rich Moore went the direction they did.
19 BEFORE THE BELLTOWER
A great deal of inspiration for Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame came from the 1939 film of the same name. At one time, Quasimodo's design was influenced by Charles Langdon's interpretation. This piece of artwork is directly influenced by Langdon's look and pose with the gargoyles in the earlier film.
Not quite the warm-hearted and sympathetic design we know from the '90s classic, but it's still nice to see Disney pay homage to one of the classics of the '30s. Quasimodo even calls out sanctuary like Langdon. We're just glad we got a much more lovable hunchback.
18 A FIREY FROLLO
Of course, we can't talk about this film without talking about Frollo. Frollo was perhaps the most difficult character to adapt and develop. He went from a bishop to a nobleman, to finally a judge, all in varying ages. Here, we see a sort of Rasputin-ish version of the character at the climax of the film.
Bringing this sinister minister to life was no easy feat. Frollo's concept and design changed so much so many times, no two look exactly alike. We highly recommend Googling the images to see more, but this one, to us, is what stuck out the most.
17 BEASTLY DESIGNS
Like Frollo, the Beast from Beauty and the Beast was one of the most difficult characters to design. At one point he was a werewolf, then a boar, a lion, and even a wildebeest. The Disney artists eventually did the smart thing and blended all these conceptions together to give us the big burly guy we know and love.
This sketch was one of the first attempts at a sort of mixture of different creatures. There's some dog, lion, and even bear mixed together in this shaggy design. It's certainly different from what we saw dance with Belle in 1991.
16 NOT A CHANCE IN HADES
Some designs are great, some designs need improvement, and then there are designs like this one. Don't worry, we're asking the same thing you are. "What were they thinking?" This is certainly not the hades we know.
Until James Woods stepped in as the voice actor, Hades went through the ringer. Originally, Jack Nicholson was supposed to voice a more devilish version of the character, complete with firey horns. This looks more like Satan in his pajamas after a rough day at work. Not exactly the most flattering interpretation, but we can appreciate how twisted it is.
15 TRITON IN GOLD
The Little Mermaid marked the starting point of the Disney Renaissance, so it's not surprising that the artists took inspiration from Dutch and Danish painters in their designs. They were bringing Hans Christian Anderson's most famous piece to life, after all. Here we have an unused version of King Triton heavily inspired by that culture.
This younger, more Neptune-looking version, was one of the earliest models used for the character. It's certainly an artistic design, but he seems more a god of the sea than an overprotective dad. It was just a step in the right direction from day one.
14 SOMETHING FISHY
Of course, how could we forget everyone's favorite sea-witch? Ursula was certainly a fun character to design, as demonstrated by this trio of sketches. These shots alone capture a whole creative process of character development, and we are thoroughly impressed.
From silly to sinister, these designs are absolutely bombastic, certainly more colorful and eye-popping than the black, blue, and white version. They certainly make the current design seem a bit watered down. We certainly would've liked to see Ursula with that fish-finned mohawk.
13 DARK WONDERLAND
At one time, Walt Disney wanted a completely accurate and faithful adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. He even commissioned artist David Hall to compose the overall look for the film. Hall used John Tenniel's illustrations as inspiration, and the result was pages of nightmare fuel.
The original version of the film took a twisted turn straight down the rabbit hole. The film was so dark, in fact, that the last scenes would have been at Alice's execution before waking up from a nightmare. For those curious enough, Hall published a book of his unused Alice. Trust us, it's no un-birthday party.
12 AND STRAIGHT ON TILL MORNING
Not all of David Hall's artwork was the stuff of nightmares. After Alice, Disney began working on Peter Pan. A favorite of Walt's, great care and effort was put into the design of the story and the characters. This is particularly noticeable here with Hall's more angelic version of Peter.
This version was heavily inspired by the play, making Peter more of a spirit or something out of Shakespeare. Peter was originally meant to have been blonde and have a less troublemaking demeanor, but the voice talent of Bobby Driscol changed that. It was scrapped, but it's still worth appreciation.
11 TOYING AROUND
Buzz and Woody have been Pixar's dynamic duo since they first premiered back in 1993. But before they were the lovable pair we know today, they were not the best of friends. Woody was originally a sarcastic ventriloquist dummy in the style of Howdy Doody, and Buzz was a smaller and slightly unintelligent action figure.
Of the two, it seems that Woody's design carried over the most, with the pull string and patchwork shirt. But Buzz's debonair expression and rounded suit shape sure seem familiar. It seems these guys have really gone to infinity and beyond, at least in design.
10 FAIREST OF THEM ALL
Animation of any sort is not easy, but can you imagine being the first to animate an entire film? There were bound to be a few foul-ups during Snow White, but this version of the Evil Queen is a lot different -- even more comedic -- than you might expect. She certainly puts the rough in rough sketch, as she looks ready for a brawl!
This is obviously a test run for the villain, making her as intimidating as possible. It's not exactly the Disney masterpiece it would become, but this version is certainly good to show an artist's progression.
9 NEVER HAD A FRIEND LIKE HIM
The Genie from Aladdin essentially had two creators, Robin Willaims, who provided the voice and dialogue, and Eric Goldberg, who did the creation and animation. Goldberg went through several designs for our favorite pop-culture reference machine, but this was by far the strangest. It's so bizarre, it's hard to believe this was what the Genie almost looked like.
On what planet is this thing a genie? The turban and the beard are understandable, but where did those horns come from? This is one of those pics that really had us so bewildered we obviously had to include it on this list.
8 GRINNING GRAND VIZER
Villains are always the most fun to design, aren't they? There were many influences on the sorcerer of Agrabah, including Boris Karloff and Vincent Price. But the overall design came from the character Jafar in The Thief of Bagdad film from 1940.
The "Jafar" design on the left was combined with the sorcerer design on the right to give us what we know today. From the right, we can see the pure sinister nature of the character hidden behind the elements on the left. In the end, we're left with the smooth, snake-like villain we love to hate.
7 WRECKED RALPH
When thinking of an old-school video game villain, what comes to mind? Perhaps names like Bowser, Donkey Kong, M. Bison or other virtual villains make the list? Ralph's earlier designs seemed to have lingered in the monstrous department
Looking more like Monsters University dropouts, these designs were nowhere near the overall-wearing tough guy that came after. That might have had a lot to do with John C. Reilly in the voice role, but it's anyone's guess. These early drafts are unique and certainly creative, but they still miss the mark, comparative to what we got.
6 SOMETHING STITCHED TOGETHER
Chris Sanders has appeared a few times on this list, but we can't forget his most famous character. Sanders not only created and animated the blue troublemaker but voiced him too. Originally, Stitch was a wanted space gangster who had to become a little girl's pet to escape the police. We'd see that flick for sure.
Stitch's original design was a strange green hybrid of koala and bulldog, shown here. This is the more "Disney-fied" design, but it was altered when the location of the film was changed. Hard to believe such a cute little guy came from this behemoth.
5 IS THAT YOU SHERE KHAN?
This is the last Sanders piece, we promise. We couldn't leave this one out simply because of its uncanny resemblance to another Disney character. There's a fine line between being inspired by another character and doing a literal palate swap.
This is practically Shere Khan minus the tiger stripes, there's no other way to put it. Look at that smile and facial structure. Does this look anything like the Scar who dances in a lair of green smoke? He looks like he's going to sing with some buzzards and then go chase a man-cub. To quote Timon, "Talk about your fixer-upper."
4 LET YOUR ARTIST BE YOUR GUIDE
Ward Kimball, one of Disney's first lead animators, was almost entirely responsible for the design and direction of Jiminy Cricket. Originally, Jiminy was way more insect-like, sporting multiple limbs and antenna along with his top hat and umbrella. This was one of Kimball's first leading projects, so his heart truly went into the design.
Here's a four-limbed version inspired by the insects of the Silly Symphonies. This version would later become the Jiminy in the film, taking on a more small-man appearance than an insect. It's rumored that Jiminy became a caricature of his animator, but that's up for interpretation.
3 A MUCH NEEDED REVISION
Who plays darts like Gaston, breaks those hearts like Gaston, had some really embarrassing art like Gaston? Before he was burly and brawny, he was a French aristocrat pining for Belle. Though this design has a similar body structure to the more masculine version, it's definitely not the same character.
The powdered wig, the frilled sleeves, and beauty mark are certainly unbecoming of a noble hunter. Its hard to believe this guy was almost the Beast's adversary. There's not much of a contest if your opponent loses his wig in combat. Thank Walt the artists went in the opposite direction.
2 A TRUE ICE QUEEN
Before she was Disney's most marketable royal, Elsa was the villain of her story. Originally, Frozen would have been closer to Hans Christian Anderson's original story than the final product. Elsa's heart would have been corrupted by her powers, and "Let It Go" was to have been a villain's power ballad.
This concept seems to have taken some tips from Cruella with her living mink coat, and possibly a few from Maleficent with her giant headdress. The blue skin is what truly sells it, though. This Elsa is not the arctic beauty we're used to.
1 THE TRUE ORIGINAL
As Walt always said, it was all started by a mouse. The sketches were done by Walt in a moving train car after a problematic affair with Universal. These Mickey precursors were designed out of necessity rather than creativity. He was close to losing everything to his name, and Mickey would save it all.
These images serve as a reminder of an icon's history. Since these humble origins, Mickey has become a household name. The version we know today was designed by Disney cartoonist Ub Iwerks, but these sketches were the bedrock on which the company was built.