Most villains come from the imaginations of writers and animators, but some Disney villains have very real origins. Disney has created some of its most iconic villains from Hollywood’s elite. This often happened back in the days when actors in computer animation were called in for reference so animators could capture their movements.
Once used as a reference, animators took the traits of their actors and put them into their most sinister characters. From makeup styles to mannerisms, nothing was off limits to these designers when it came to crafting the perfect villain.
Chernabog – Fantasy (1940)
During Fantasia “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence, a dark, evil figure rises from the top of the mountain. With a spread of his enormous wings, we see the face of the villainous Chernabog. He is considered one of Disney’s most powerful and forgotten characters, but according to d23.comChernabog is based on Hollywood horror icon Bela Lugosi.
Lugosi, best known for his role as Dracula, shot landmark films for Disney during the early stages of film development. One of the animators later decided to remove Lugosi’s test shots, but the similarities are still apparent.
Lady Tremaine – Cinderella (1950)
In the centuries-old history of Cinderella, the titular character is forced to live and serve his evil stepmother and two evil stepsisters. The wicked mother-in-law CinderellaLady Tremaine, was inspired by voice actress and Disney legend Elenor Audley, according to rotten tomatoes.
Audley was known for her statuesque figure and intimidating demeanor and was called upon to voice the film’s antagonist with her unique voice. The animators were inspired by his distinct look and decided to design the face of the character that surrounded him.
Captain Hook – Peter Pan (1953)
In the Disney adaptation of Peter Pan, Captain Hook is a flamboyant villain whose mission in life is to get rid of Peter Pan. According to Disney Archives, the inspiration for Hook’s signature style is a combination of the two men who brought him to life.
Hans Coried, who voiced the sea captain, was used for reference shots during the film’s early animation stages. However, similarities between Captain Hook and Frank Thomas, the animator who drew him, have been hinted at.
Maleficent – Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The evil fairy Maleficent made her first Disney appearance in Sleeping Beauty. In the film, Princess Aurora is forced into hiding with her fairy godmothers to avoid the curses placed on her as a baby. When it came time to create one of Disney’s most iconic characters, the film’s animators brought in one of their former villains.
Eleanor Audley voiced the role of Maleficent and was used as a reference in movements and facial features. According to AtlanticAudley’s facial expressions were copied for Maleficent’s characteristic cold stares and an evil grin.
Cruella De Vil – 101 Dalmatians (1961)
Disney’s vision of Cruella De Vil was brought to moviegoers in 101 Dalmatians in 1961. She is known for her lust for furs and her evil nature. The animators wanted to stay true to the novel that led to the film, but they also wanted Cruella to look truly evil.
Hollywood star Tallulah Bankhead was used to bring Cruella to life. The animators recreated Bankhead’s highly arched eyebrows and facial expressions, as well as his smoking style. Time The magazine mentions that the film’s creators even considered Bankhead’s notorious reckless driving style when creating Cruella.
Madame Leota – The Haunted Mansion (1969)
On The haunted mansionat Disneyland, fans were enchanted by the mysterious woman in the crystal ball. Madame Leota performs a “spirit calling” seance and induces paranormal music. Throughout The Haunted Mansion ride, many Imagineers have depicted many happy lairs, including Madame Leota.
Leota Toombs, one of Disney’s first female Imagineers, helped complete the ride, according to the New York Times. Toombs is the woman in the crystal ball. However, it is not she who speaks. Elenor Audley was called again to express the clairvoyant spirit. Graves can be heard at the end of the ride, encouraging guests to hurry back.
Ursula – The Little Mermaid (1989)
When Ariel decides she wants to become human, she enlists the help of Ursula, the Sea Witch. The animators considered several different versions of what Ursula should like. After several concepts, the designers opted for a campy and voluptuous character.
Similarities were immediately drawn between drag legend Divine and the Sea Witch. As development progressed, the animators shaped the character around Divine’s signature style, according to audiovisual club, from voluminous hair to her blue eyeshadow. Divine was considered the voice of the villain but sadly died before he had the chance.
Scar – The Lion King (1994)
When Scar learns that he is no longer in line for the throne as King of the Jungle, he exiles himself from his pride. He conspires to get rid of his brother and his nephew to take his throne. When developing Scar, the animators wanted him to be dramatic and speak differently than other lions. He had to have a commanding presence as a performer on stage.
Actor Jeremy Irons has been cast as the lion. His theatrical experience became the perfect scar for Disney’s The Lion Kingand as production continued, the animators modeled Scar’s mannerisms and facial expressions after Irons’ studio work.
Dr Facilier – The Princess and the Frog (2009)
In The princess and the Frog, Prince Naveen has had enough of his lavish lifestyle. During a visit to New Orleans, the prince sees Dr. Facilier, who promises to fulfill his dreams but turns him into a frog.
Dr. Facilier is the shadow man, and most people try to avoid him. Disney animators were inspired by Michael Jackson fluid dance style for the villain’s musical numbers, according to Things. They also modeled the long, lean figure after Jackson. Facilier’s voodoo-inspired style comes from Baron Samedi, a spirit of the Haitian voodoo religion.
Charles F. Muntz – Up (2009)
Carl Fredrickson sets off for Paradise Falls in his balloon-powered home in the beloved film, At the top. He and his sidekick, Russell, meet his childhood hero Charles F. Muntz on his travels. After spending time in Muntz’s Zepplin, Carl realizes that his childhood idol may not be the man he thought he was.
Inspired by aviation pioneer Charles Lindburgh, Muntz wears a leather aviator jacket and helmet with flight goggles. In early depictions of Muntz, he sports the same haircut as Lindburgh. Walt Disney himself also inspires Muntz. The filmmakers wanted Muntz to have the same imaginative spirit like Disney but gave it a wicked twist.
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