Real People Who Inspired Iconic Cartoon Characters

Sherri Stoner, for example, may not be a household name, but she provided the inspiration for two of your favorite cartoon characters: She was a writer and producer for a lot of ’90s animation classics—she even provided the voice for a character in “Animaniacs”—and she also served as a reference model for both Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.”

Read on to discover the real-life people behind 11 of your favorite characters—once you see these, you won’t be able to look at these cartoons the same way again!

Betty Boop (Inspiration: Helen Kane)

Betty Boop was one of the earliest cartoons with sex appeal—a quality later imitated by characters like Jessica Rabbit in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”—but she was actually created as a parody of a real-life actress that you may or may not have ever heard of: Helen Kane.

Kane was a popular actress and singer in the 1920s who not only looked like Betty Boop, she also sounded like her. Her catchphrase, apparently, was even “Boop oop-a-doop.” Sadly, Kane wasn’t a big fan of the impression, and she even sued the cartoon creator (along with Paramount Pictures) in 1932. Still, most folks only know Ms Boop, and not the inspiration for the character.

Ariel from “The Little Mermaid” (Inspiration: Alyssa Milano)

While Sherri Stoner, as we mentioned earlier, provided many of the reference points for the character of Ariel in Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” the main inspiration for the mermaid who longs to be a human was none other than Alyssa Milano. At the time of the movie, Milano was a young actress on a popular ABC sitcom called “Who’s the Boss,” and had the same big eyes, expressive personality, and petite frame. (Ariel’s bold red hair, however, was apparently modeled on astronaut Sally Ride.)

Ursula the Sea Witch from “The Little Mermaid” (Inspiration: Divine)

The famously evil sea witch, Ursula, who preys on the sweet and unassuming Ariel was actually based on another famous character—the drag queen Divine (real name: Harris Glenn Milstead), who burst into the limelight in the early ’70s thanks to some starring roles in John Waters films like “Mondo Trasho” and “Pink Flamingos.” (Seriously, once you see Ursula and Divine side-by-side, it’s eerie.) Sadly, Divine passed away in 1988, so she never saw Ursula take the screen when “The Little Mermaid” was released in 1989.

Edna Mode from “The Incredibles” (Inspiration: Edith Head)

Hilarious, pint-sized stylist-to-the-superheroes Edna Mode in Pixar’s “The Incredibles” was based on another larger-than-life style legend: costume designer Edith Head. Over the course of Head’s career, she earned a stunning 35 Academy Award nominations for her work—which included Hitchcock classics like “Vertigo,” “Rear Window,” and “The Birds,” among more than 430 others—and ended up with eight Academy Awards. Like Mode, who has a certain swagger about her tenure in the “superhero costume design” industry, Head wasn’t exactly humble—she famously once said, “I hate modesty.”

Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” (Inspiration: Sherri Stoner)

Sherri Stoner was an animation regular through the ’90s, working for Disney as both a writer and producer, including stints on “Animaniacs” and “Tiny Toon Adventures.” During her tenure there, she also ended up serving as a reference model for characters like Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” and, most noticeably, Belle in the 1991 Disney classic “Beauty and the Beast.” Apparently some of Belle’s little idiosyncrasies were directly inspired by things Stoner did, like brushing her hair from her face.

Aladdin from “Aladdin” (Inspiration: Tom Cruise)

When we first heard this one, we were skeptical, but once we started looking back at photos of Aladdin—and some of his cocky mannerisms, not to mention those big, expressive brows—we had to say that the resemblance to a young Tom Cruise is pretty striking. Apparently, the Disney animators behind the 1992 film initially looked to Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future” as a source of inspiration for the mischievous Aladdin before settling on a young Tom Cruise, who had a bit more sex appeal.

Pocahontas in “Pocahontas” (Inspiration: Irene Bedard)

Native American actress Irene Bedard not only voiced the title character of Pocahontas in the 1995 Disney film, she also provided the major inspiration for the heroine’s look and movement. (Let’s face it, the resemblance is uncanny.)

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