Many generations have grown up watching Disney movies and they all hold a special place in our hearts. Even as adults, many of us can’t help but smile at the thought of one of these precious films. But something that makes them even more special is knowing all the behind-the-scenes work that is put into making them. There are so many cool facts about them that most people don’t even know about, so today we’ll be counting down 22 fascinating facts about our favorite Disney characters – some of which are crazy!
#22. Mickey’s Original Name
Disney’s mascot, the loveable Mickey Mouse, made his first appearance in a cartoon titled Steamboat Willie in 1928 and has become the most famous cartoon character to date. But what most people don’t know is how he was created. Originally, Mickey was created as a replacement for another Disney character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a character Walt Disney lost in a legal battle with Universal Studios.
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After breaking ties with Universal, Disney and two colleagues developed Mickey Mouse. Disney was inspired by a tame mouse he had at his desk in his studio in Missouri, and he initially named him Mortimer Mouse. It doesn’t sound bad, right? But it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Mickey. It wasn’t long before Disney decided to change its name to Mickey, which sounds so much better.
#21. Elsa’s True Character
Disney’s super successful Frozen was released in 2012, but it is actually based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, a fairy tale published in 1844. The original story has magic, trolls, and lots of snow, but other than that, it is completely different from the Disney version. The Snow Queen is a cold, strange creature that actually kidnaps a boy and makes him live in her snow castle.
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In the original draft of Frozen, the writers wanted to translate the evil nature of the Snow Queen into Elsa, who was supposed to be a huge evil villain, kind of like Maleficent or Cruella de Vil, and she was not going to be related to Anna. But upon listening to an early version of Let It Go, the movie’s iconic song, the writers had a change of heart and made Elsa the main protagonist and Hans the villain.
#20. Pocahontas’ Look
The Disney classic Pocahontas is based on the real-life story of a woman of the same name, who was the daughter of the chief of the Powhatan tribe that lived in what we now know as Virginia, United States. When the British settled in Virginia, Pocahontas facilitated communications between them and her tribe and ended up moving to Britain and marrying an Englishman.
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The Disney film tried to retain as many details from the real Pocahontas as possible, which broke several records within the company. Pocahontas is actually the first Disney character to sport a tattoo, and the only Disney princess to do so. She has only one, a red tattoo on her right arm, but it is believed that the real Pocahontas had many more, as that was extremely common within natives.
#19. Aladdin’s Pants
Aladdin takes place in the fictitious city of Agrabah, which is set near the Jordan River. Therefore, the theme of the film is based on Arabic culture. From the names of the characters to the architecture and the clothes, the creators had to carefully adapt and capture all of the aspects of the culture to provide an accurate representation of it, but that wasn’t an easy job.
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Particularly, the pants that Aladdin wears, which are known as harem pants, were very hard to animate. They are long, baggy pants caught around the ankle, and the fabric flows as the wearer moves and the wind blows. One of the animators, Glen Keane, was having trouble with this and ended up watching MC Hammer videos to capture the movement of his pants, as he is known for wearing very big, puffy, baggy pants.
#18. Mary Poppins And Vaccines
You are probably wondering what in the world Mary Poppins has to do with vaccines, and we’ll get to that in a second. Disney was adamant that Julie Andrews played the main character of this movie classic, but she was not interested at all at the beginning. So Walt Disney thought they should come up with a song so good and catchy that should make her change her mind.
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The Sherman Brothers, who were in charge of the musicalization of the film, struggled to come up with such a song. But one day, Robert Sherman‘s kids got the polio vaccine and told him that the experience hadn’t been bad, because the medicine had been hidden inside a sugar cube. This inspired him to write the iconic A Spoonful of Sugar song, and Julie Andrews got on board when she heard it.
#17. Hollywood Walk Of Fame Stars
The Hollywood Walk of Fame consists of over 2,000 stars embedded in the sidewalks of the Hollywood Boulevard, each engraved with the name of a famed Hollywood celebrity. To get your name on one of those stars, you gotta be big in the show business, and some of the celebrities we all know and love don’t even have one! So, it’s safe to say it is super exclusive.
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Yet, our friend Mickey Mouse became the first cartoon character to ever get a star in 1978 and the first of a handful of Disney characters to do so. He was followed by other beloved Disney characters such as Kermit the Frog, Snow White, Donald Duck, Tinker Bell, Winnie the Pooh, and The Muppets. We are still waiting for Minnie and Goofy to get what is rightfully theirs as well!
#16. Dopey’s Voice
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first animated full-length feature film made by Walt Disney. It was released in 1937 and broke several records as it became one of the most successful movies of all time. In the movie, we follow the story of Snow White, a princess who escapes her evil stepmother and is taken in by an adorable group of seven dwarfs.
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Each dwarf has his own personality and a name that describes him; for example, Grumpy is a dwarf that is always…grumpy. But one of the dwarfs, Dopey, stands out, as he is the only dwarf who cannot speak. Originally, he was voiced by legendary voice actor Mel Blanc and had many lines, but Walt Disney didn’t like the end result and decided to cut all of his speaking parts altogether.
#15. Dumbo’s Biggest Achievement
Dumbo was Disney’s fourth feature film and was released in 1941, becoming a huge commercial and box office success. The story revolves around an elephant called Dumbo, whose real name is Jumbo, but because of his huge ears, he is ridiculed and nicknamed Dumbo as in dumb. But the sweet elephant’s ears are so big that they actually allow him to fly.
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Time magazine planned on featuring Dumbo in the cover of that year’s issue of their Man of the Year award as the Mammal of the Year. However, that same year Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese air forces, and as the event shook the nation, Time featured General Douglas MacArthur instead of Dumbo, who was bumped from the cover.
#14. Sulley’s Hair
The super successful Monsters, Inc. was released in 2001 and was Disney-Pixar’s fourth feature film. The famous animation studio released the first ever computer-animated feature film, Toy Story, and became known for its state-of-the-art animation techniques. Over the years, the quality in its animation improved drastically, and that can be seen in Monsters, Inc. perfectly.
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Animating Sulley, one of the main characters of the movie, took an incredible amount of time and effort. The tall, fluffy, blue monster is completely covered in hair, so animators actually created 2.3 million individual hairs to bring Sulley to the big screen. Just making one single frame involving Sulley took animators a whopping 12 hours. Can you imagine?!
#13. Tinkerbell’s Actress
Tinker Bell is one of Disney’s most beloved and famous characters, so much so that she actually got her own spin-off film franchise many decades after her first appearance on the big screen as Peter Pan‘s sidekick. But the adorable pixie charmed audiences without speaking a single word during the whole film. Therefore, there was no actress playing her.
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However, in the Disney parks, Tinker Bell is one of the most demanded characters to appear and greet visitors. Disney’s Magic Kingdom has had a firework show every single day for decades, which closes with Tinker Bell flying over the Magic Castle hanging from a wire. The first performer to take on the role was Tiny Kline, who was hired at 71 years old. Who wouldn’t want to be that healthy at such age?
#12. Ursula’s Model
It is no secret that animators take inspiration from real life in order to create all the characters we know and love. For example, The Little Mermaid‘s main character, Ariel, was based off of American actress Alyssa Milano, and Rocko from Nickelodeon‘s Rocko’s Modern Life was inspired by Woody Allen. So who was it that inspired The Little Mermaid‘s iconic villain, Ursula?
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Animators changed Ursula’s look multiple times because they struggled to find the perfect prototype for her. That was until dark comedy Pink Flamingos came out, which features a flamboyant drag queen named Divine as its main character. The producers were inspired by her look and decided to adapt it to create Ursula. Everything screams Divine except for the tentacles!
#11. Bambi’s Voice
Part of what makes cartoon characters special is not only the animation or the colors but also the voice of the actors behind them. As such, many of them have become legendary, like Mel Blanc who played iconic cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and Clarence Nash, who voiced Donald Duck for over 50 years. Without them, there would be no characters.
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Curiously, the actor who voiced Bambi, Donnie Dunagan, became a war hero many years after the film. At the time, he was just a child actor, and he later grew up to become a soldier, eventually being decorated for his service during the Vietnam War in the Marines. He kept his work as an actor a secret because he was afraid people wouldn’t take him seriously if they knew he had played such a frail, sweet character. Nowadays, he’s not afraid to embrace his past.
#10. The Beast’s Look
Beauty and the Beast was released in 1991 and became the first ever full-length animated film to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. We are all very familiar with the main characters: the smart and beautiful Belle, and the grumpy but loveable Beast. But have you ever wondered what kind of beast he actually was? Well, we’ve got the answer right here.
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The Beast was actually inspired by seven different animals, believe it or not. He has the wild mane of a lion, the thick, strong brows of a gorilla, the beard and head shape of a buffalo, the tusks of a boar, the legs and tail of a wolf, and the body of a bear. And who’s the seventh animal? The human! Aside from his way of talking and walking, his humanity is contained in his expressive blue eyes, which is the only part of the prince he once was that remains.
2016’s Moana follows the story of a young girl who embarks on a mission to save her village after a demigod named Maui steals goddess Te Fiti‘s heart and unleashes a curse that threatens all the inhabitants of Ancient Polynesia. Maui was voiced by famous actor and wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and you can see that the character design resembles him.
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Just like Johnson, Maui is very tall and built. The only difference is that The Rock is actually bald. While animators originally wanted to base Maui completely off of Johnson and make him bald, Tahiti consultants advised them not to do so. As part of Hawaiian mythology, the demigod Maui was usually depicted with hair, so the animators decided to completely change the character.
#8. The Making of Lady and the Tramp
Lady and the Tramp has become a cult classic since its release in 1955. The film is about Lady, a cocker spaniel that ends up lost in the streets and meets a stray dog known as the Tramp. The two quickly become buddies and then fall in love as they try to get Lady back home.
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One scene, in particular, has become a part of pop culture, where both dogs are eating spaghetti together and as they are each eating the end of a noodle, their mouths unite in a kiss. But Walt Disney actually hated the idea because he thought it was not going to be a clean-cut scene. Luckily, producers ended up convincing Disney to leave the scene in the movie, and the rest is history.
#7. Mickey and Minnie’s Actors
Mickey and Minnie are truly one of the most legendary couples in cinematic history. But what went on behind the scenes with these characters is truly unbelievable. Wayne Allwine started voicing Mickey in 1977. At that time, there was no actress playing Minnie, as the loveable mouse didn’t get a speaking role from 1974 to 1986. But when Disney needed a new actress, Allwine’s world changed forever.
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Actress Russi Taylor stepped in as the voice of Minnie mouse in 1986, and when she met Allwine, sparks flew. The two fell deeply in love, and not only played a couple but actually became one. In 1991, the happy couple got married, and they remained married until he passed away in 2006. They voiced Mickey and Minnie together as husband and wife for over a decade.
#6. Woody’s Nature
We all know that a movie’s original pitch or first draft can be changed drastically over time. After being passed from studio to studio, from directors to producers, and more, what the writer originally intended can be changed or even completely erased in the final product. In the case of Toy Story, the Woody that we all know and love today was a completely different character initially.
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Woody was originally written as the villain. He was supposed to not only be completely evil but also be a different type of toy: a ventriloquist dummy. He was going to look scary and bully all the other toys, who would eventually revolt. But director Kohn Lasseter thought the whole thing was just too creepy and decided to change Woody into the character we know today.
#5. Unheard Lines of the Genie
One of the most legendary roles of the fantastic Robin Williams was the character of the Genie from Aladdin. At the time, Disney was finally gaining back the success it had lost for many decades, and the company was recovering from its losses. Because of that, they couldn’t offer Williams the high salary he usually got from his movies, but because he believed in the movie, he took the job nonetheless.
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Williams brought his famous charisma to the recording studio, where he spent hours improvising lines for the Genie that weren’t even close to the original script. As the talented comedian he was, the dialogue just flowed naturally out of him, and producers got a total of 16 hours of improvised lines from him. Only a fraction was used in the movie, of course.
#4. Eve’s Creator
WALL-E follows the story of a robot who was created to clean up the Earth after it had been completely contaminated and abandoned by humans. The humans send another robot, EVE, which stands for Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator, to Earth, where she meets WALL-E. He looks rusty and old, while EVE has a very modern, slick design, and there’s a reason for it.
Photo: Courtesy of Pixar Planet
As EVE was supposed to be an extremely futuristic, clean-looking robot, Pixar animators sought inspiration from Apple, a leader in the technology market. The director of the film, Andrew Stanton, contacted Steve Jobs (Apple’s former CEO) and asked him to help him get in touch with Apple designer Jonathan Ive, who came up with the famous look of the iMac, the iPhone, and the iPod. Together, they created EVE.
#3. Ariel’s Family
The Little Mermaid was the first big movie that Disney released after several years of hardship. That is why the creators of the film were extremely careful when developing it and thought out every single detail regarding the movie, so nothing in it was accidental. For example, Ariel has her distinctive red hair because the creators didn’t want her to seem like a ripoff of the movie Splash, a mermaid movie from 1984.
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Not only that, but Ariel’s father is Triton, a Greek mythology figure. Triton is a demigod and the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, who is at the same time the brother of Zeus. And on what movie does Zeus appear? That’s right, Hercules. Hercules is Zeus’ son, which makes him and Triton cousins. And what color is Hercules’ hair? Oh yes, red.
#2. Almost Characters
Disney has had its fair share of big celebrities playing characters in its movies. Huge stars have appeared on Disney films, such as Robin Williams playing the Genie in Aladdin, Jeremy Irons as Scar in The Lion King, and Louis Armstrong as King Louie in The Jungle Book.
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However, many stars actually rejected roles on Disney movies. Producers of The Jungle Book really wanted to have The Beatles play the vultures in the movie, and although they insisted multiple times, the successful musicians said no. Marlon Brando was also approached several times to play Bill Sykes in Oliver & Company, but he said no because he thought the movie wouldn’t succeed.
#1. Mickey and Minnie’s Birthdays
At this point, everyone in the world knows who Mickey Mouse is, and we are also extremely familiar with his group of friends. Mickey usually appears alongside his girlfriend, Minnie Mouse, his dog Pluto, and his best friends, Donald Duck and Goofy. They each have their own stories and their own films and cartoons, and as such, they also have a birthday.
Photo: Courtesy of El Espanol
Originally, it was established that Mickey’s birthday was October 1, 1928, the date on which his first film began production. However, this date was later changed. Although the first film showing Mickey, Steamboat Willie, was released on November 18, 1928, two other films had been produced before. His birthday was changed to the date of the premiere of Steamboat, which is also Minnie’s birthday since she also made her debut on that film.