Our favorite animated Disney movies didn’t just spring into existence. A whole bunch of talented people had to draw the characters and the settings, voice the characters, record music, and even pose as reference models.
We’ve dug deep into the Disney archives to bring you images that will change the way you look at Snow White or Peter Pan. You’ll never watch The Little Mermaid the same way again. Keep reading to see what life was really like for the kids on the set of Mary Poppins (yes, I know only a portion of that movie was animated).
Disney Draws The OG Bambi
This is the one and only Walt Disney sketching three-month-old fawns, Bambi and Faline. These adorable baby deer were brought into the studio to help animators capture their look and movement.
When Faline got a bit older, she used her lady deer charm to lure an older buck to the studio. That buck was great inspiration for adult Bambi.
Staging Peter Pan IRL
A lot of the scenes in Disney’s Peter Pan were performed by real actors. Animators used these actors to help them capture realistic human movement. The reference actress for Tinkerbell used oversized props so animators could get her proportions right.
Some people think Tinkerbell was based on Marilyn Monroe, but Monroe definitely didn’t pose as a reference model for the movie.
The Carousel Scene From Mary Poppins
Legendary Disney designer Blaine Gibson created the carousel horses in Mary Poppins. Gibson also created a bunch of classic Disneyland rides, like Pirates of the Carribean, The Haunted Mansion, and the Hall of Presidents.
Each horse’s face is actually a caricature of its rider. Did you notice the extra large chin on Dick Van Dyke’s pony?
The Inspiration For Cinderella And Sleeping Beauty
If you’ve watched the early Disney movies Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, you may have noticed that Cinderella and Aurora look pretty similar. That’s because actress Helene Stanley was the live action model for both princesses.
Imagine being so pretty and poise that Disney wants to use you for not one, but two classic princesses? Must be nice.
The Real Lion King
While making The Lion King, animators spent a lot of time at the LA Zoo, the San Diego Zoo, and the Tippi Hendren Shambala Preserve studying big cats up close.
You can only get so close to zoo lions, though. One day Disney went all out and invited a group of real, trained lions from a local animal ranch to visit the studio.
The Fairest In The Land
Way back in the 1930s, Disney hired dancer Marjorie Belcher to be the reference model for Snow White. Marjorie later changed her name to Marge Champion.
After her stint as Snow White, Marge was also the reference model for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio and Hyacinth Hippo in Fantasia.
Bow Wow Wow She’s A Lady
The real dog behind Lady from Lady and the Tramp was an actual show dog whose show name was “Lady Nell the Second.” She was owned by Disney writer and artist Joe Grant.
Walt Disney saw some of Grant’s sketches of Lady, and that’s what first got him interested in making a movie about a canine love story.
Kathryn In Wonderland
When Disney announced that they were making an animated version of Alice in Wonderland, over 200 young actresses lined up to audition for the role. Ginger Rogers was one of them. Eventually, the role went to 14-year-old Kathryn Beaumont.
Beaumont also voiced Wendy in Disney’s Peter Pan.
The OG Maleficent
When animators needed a reference for the evil and powerful Maleficent, the turned to Eleanor Audley. Audley voiced and modeled for the Sleeping Beauty villain.
Obviously, maleficent’s massive chin was added later. Audley also modeled for the evil stepmother in Cinderella. Keep reading to see what stop-motion films look like when they’re not in motion.
Part Of Our World
If you watched The Little House on the Prairie TV series, you might recognize this familiar face. Actress Sherri Stoner was the physical reference for both Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Belle in Beauty and the Beast.
I guess in this way, Ariel sort of was part of our world.
The Voice Of Snow White
Adriana Caselotti kept a wishing well in her yard in Los Angeles for many years as a tribute to the character she voiced in 1937. Even years after she made the film, she still remembered every lyric of “Some Day My Prince Will Come.”
This lady was a real Disney icon.
Well, This Puts Things Into Perspective
Disney’s stop-motion feature The Corpse Bride only had 30 characters, but because those characters change their positions and facial expressions over the course of the film, over 300 different puppets were needed to bring the story to life.
The most expensive puppet cost the team about $30,000.
Cinderella’s Singing Voice
Cinderella’s voice is a key component of her character. While Helene Stanley gave Cinderella her movements, it was voice and radio actress Ilene Woods who gave her her voice. Animators based their vision of Cinderella on the mannerisms of both women.
Sometimes it really does take two to tango.
The Boy Who Never Grew Up
Bobby Driscoll was the model and the voice actor for Peter Pan. He was the first child star that the studio ever really produced. He also starred in other Disney movies like Song of the South and Treasure Island.
Sadly, like so many other child stars, Bobby’s life ended prematurely when he overdosed on drugs in his early 30s.
Bring Your Lion To Work Day
Back to that whole ‘real lions showing up at Disney studios’ thing… one Lion Kinganimator said, “We all gasped when this seven-year-old male showed up…His name was Joseph, and he was gigantic.”
Joseph was super calm, cool, and collected, though. He had recently starred in a Michael Jackson music video.
The Pinocchio Premiere Was A Disaster
Walt Disney had this great (read: not so great) idea to hire eleven little people to dress up like Pinocchio at the 1940 premiere of the film.
Things didn’t go so smoothly. A few of the Pinocchios got a little bit drunk and ended up stripping on top of the theatre’s marquee. Police had to get involved. The whole thing was a mess.
I Wanna Be Like You
King Louie from The Jungle Book sings a super catchy tune called, “I Wanna Be Like You.” It was actually Louis Prima and his band who were behind that song.
Animators also used footage of the group recording the song as reference material for drawing the characters’ movement in the film.
Behind The Scenes Of Mary Poppins
The child actors in the movie Mary Poppins didn’t always know what was going to happen in a scene before it was filmed. This little trick helped filmmakers capture the kids’ honest reactions.
The child actors weren’t told that Mary’s medicine would change color, or that she would pull so many crazy objects out of her bag.
What Ursula Almost Looked Like
This is an early concept drawing for The Little Mermaid‘s manipulative villain. Ursula’s face and hairstyle were almost more terrifying than her evil plan.
Thankfully, animators decided that this look wasn’t quite what they were going for. They decided to base her image on the drag queen Divine instead.
Time To Wake Up
When they say they need reference footage for everything, they really mean everything. They even took shots of real actors performing true love’s kiss.
Although, Prince Philip model Ed Kemmer didn’t plant one right on Helene Stanley’s mouth. Animators had to use their imaginations for that part.