25 Surprising Facts About Disney’s Most Famous Characters
Your favorite cartoons growing up have some interesting backstories.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
A Disney deep dive
From the classic to the brand-new, many of the most beloved film characters of all time come from Walt Disney Studios. But when it comes to many of these Disney characters, there’s more than meets the eye—both in the lore of the characters themselves and behind-the-scenes surprises. Here’s what Mickey Mouse was almost called, which of your favorite characters were nearly bad guys, and more fun trivia about the Disney characters you know and love. Share these facts the next time you’re waiting in line at the parks! Or just check out these fascinating facts about Disneyland.
Mickey Mouse was almost named Mortimer
When Walt Disney suggested the name to his wife, Lillian, she didn’t think the name matched the character’s personality. He later came up with Mickey Mouse, and the rest is history. Mortimer Mouse eventually became Mickey’s taller, more arrogant nemesis, sporadically appearing in print and short films since 1936. Check out these vintage photos of Mickey and Minnie Mouse.
Mickey and Minnie have the same birthday
In 1933, Walt Disney stated that Mickey’s birthday was October 1, 1928, since that was “the day on which his first picture was started,” waltdisney.org reports. But in 1978, Dave Smith, founder of the Disney Archives, changed the date to November 18, 1928, the premiere of Steamboat Willie. The 1928 animated short officially debuted Mickey and Minnie Mouse to the world, which meant that date was Minnie’s birthday, too. Do you know why Mickey, Minnie, and many other Disney characters wear gloves?
Snow White’s voice actress snuck into the premiere of the film
If you’re a Disney fan, you likely already know that making 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the first full-length animated movie ever, was a massive gamble for Disney. Against all odds, it paid off, and Snow White was a gigantic success, kickstarting Disney’s animation domination. But, not only was the woman who voiced Snow White herself, Adriana Caselotti, not credited in the film or in its advertising (in fact, none of the voice actors were), she wasn’t even invited to the film’s premiere! As she told Animator, she and the voice actor for the prince, Harry Stockwell, tried to attend the premiere—but because neither of them had tickets, the woman at the door wouldn’t let them in. So they just snuck in when she wasn’t looking, and sat way up in the balcony so no one would notice them!
Robin Williams almost said no to the role of Genie
While in the early days of animation, voice actors were kind of an afterthought, today film studios often cast big stars as their voice actors! And if there was any single casting decision that brought about this change, it was the casting of Robin Williams as the Genie in 1992’s Aladdin. Disney knew Williams was the man for the job, but Williams was reluctant to be a cog in a giant merchandise-selling entertainment enterprise. But Disney wanted him for the role so badly that they made animations of the Genie performing his stand-up routines. He said yes, on the condition that his voice not be used in any of the marketing for the film—or worse, toys and “stuff.” Disney did not honor his requests, triggering a bit of a feud between Williams and Disney executives that would last several years! (They eventually patched things up and Williams returned for an Aladdin sequel.)
Several Disney characters have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
On November 18, 1978, Mickey Mouse became not only the first Disney character to get a star, but the first-ever cartoon character to get one. Six more stars have since been awarded to Disney characters: Snow White (1987), Kermit the Frog (2002), Donald Duck (2004), Winnie the Pooh (2006), Tinker Bell (2010), and The Muppets (2012). When you meet cast members at Disney, make sure you follow these unspoken rules.
Anna and Elsa are technically not Disney princesses
OK, so this is a little confusing. People generally say “Disney princesses” to refer to any princess in a Disney movie, but technically, there’s an official, branded lineup. The 12 “official” Disney princesses, as listed on the website, are Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora/Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and Moana. No Anna and Elsa to be found—but how can that be when Frozen and its sequel are far and away the most successful, highest-grossing Disney movies involving princesses? Well, it’s because of that success. Frozen was profitable enough to become a franchise of its own—Anna and Elsa don’t need the official Disney princess branding as they’re already successful enough Disney characters on their own. And hey, as of Frozen 2, neither of them actually is a princess anymore—Anna is a queen and Elsa is a goddess/spirit—so now it makes narrative sense not to have them on the list, too.
Maleficent and Cinderella’s stepmother are the same person
In real life, that is. Actress Eleanor Audley voiced both Lady Tremaine, Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, and Maleficent, the villain in Sleeping Beauty. Audley also had a prolific career in television, appearing on shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Dick Van Dyke Show before her death in 1991.
Pocahontas is the only Disney princess based on a real person
But that doesn’t mean the Disney movie accurately portrays what happened in real life. According to Smithsonian Magazine, Pocahontas’ real name was Amonute. Pocahontas was just a nickname meaning “playful one” or “ill-behaved child.” She was a child when she met John Smith, not an adult as he was, and they didn’t have a romantic relationship. This has landed it on our list of the most historically inaccurate movies.
Only two Disney princesses have supernatural powers
Do you know your Disney characters well enough to name the two princesses that have powers? While Disney princess movies tend to focus the plot on some sort of magic, the main leading ladies rarely possess magical abilities themselves. The two exceptions are Rapunzel with her healing, glowing hair and Elsa with her icy powers. (And if you’re only talking about “official” Disney princesses, there’s only one!)
Sulley has a ton of hair
The big blue protagonist in Monsters, Inc. has more than 2.3 million individual hairs. Since each one needed to be animated, it took about 12 hours just to produce a single frame with Sulley.
And Dalmatians have a ton of spots
More than 6,400,000 spots appear on the dogs in the movie 101 Dalmations. Each puppy has 32, their mother Perdita has 68, and their father Pongo has 72.
The crab from The Little Mermaid isn’t named Sebastian
As revealed at the beginning of the film, his full name is Horatio Thelonious Ignacious Crustaceous Sebastian. We can understand why he shortened it.
Ariel almost didn’t sing “Part of Your World”
This showstopping tune (and its now-iconic final splash shot!) was almost cut from The Little Mermaid! Walt Disney Studios’ chairman at the time, Jeffrey Katzenberg, worried that kids would get bored during the slow song—and even saw it happening during test screenings. But the man who wrote the lyrics for the song, Howard Ashman, told him what a big mistake it would be to cut the song. It’s “Part of Your World” that makes the audience fall in love with and root for Ariel, he argued—without it, her character, and the movie as a whole, wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. So, thankfully, the song stayed! Do you know the potential real-life reason so many Disney characters—including Ariel—don’t have moms?
The Beast has the features of many animals
Animator Glen Keane told animatedviews.com that he created the titular character from Beauty and the Beast with the legs of a wolf, the tail of a dog, the body of a bear, the head of a buffalo, the eyebrows of a gorilla, the muzzle of a wild boar, and the mane of a lion.
Jackie Chan played two popular Disney roles
Yes, you read that right. In the Chinese translation of Beauty and the Beast, Jackie Chan voiced the Beast, and in the Chinese version of Mulan, he dubbed Captain Li Shang. He sang for both roles. Did you know you can learn these impressive words just by listening to Disney songs?
The man who voiced Donald Duck had more than just one role
Clarence Nash is most known for voicing Donald Duck (a role he played for 50 years); his nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie; and Daisy Duck in some of her earliest appearances. But he also appears in other animated shorts and films as the voice of random barnyard animals, including a chirping bluebird, a horse, a bear, additional dogs in 101 Dalmatians, and, of course, ducks. Learn some secrets Disney park employees won’t tell you.
Dumbo was almost on the cover of TIME
When Disney’s fifth animated film was released in the summer of 1941, it was met with praise from critics and audiences alike. It made almost $2.5 million by the time the holidays came around. TIME had plans to honor Dumbo on the cover of its December 29, 1941, issue as “Mammal of the Year” (instead of “Person of the Year”). But after the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, news had to take priority, according to waltdisney.org. However, the precious pachyderm was still honored in the “Cinema” section of the magazine. Find out if a Disney film was the most popular movie the year you were born.
Lady from Lady and the Tramp is based on a real dog
That dog was also named Lady, a Springer Spaniel that belonged to a Disney writer named Joe Grant. After seeing sketches of the dog, Walt Disney told Grant to create a storyboard with them but ended up scrapping the idea. It wasn’t until Disney read a story called “Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog” about a dog “from the other side of the tracks” that he revisited the story with Grant’s original sketches. These are the 20 things you didn’t know were banned from Disney parks.
Walt Disney didn’t like the spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp
It may seem crazy, considering that brief scene has become iconic in pop culture, but when Disney first heard the idea about two dogs sharing a bowl of spaghetti, he “wasn’t convinced that it would be a very clean-cut scene,” former studio archivist Steven Vagnini told Yahoo Movies. “As you can imagine, if you have two pets and they eat a plate of spaghetti, it’s hard to envision that being too graceful.” Luckily, an animator created a mock-up of the scene and convinced Disney to give it the green light. If you’re an expert on these Disney characters, you can probably ace this Disney trivia game.
The villain from Up was inspired by a real guy
Remember Charles Muntz, the heroic-explorer-turned-twist-villain, voiced by Christopher Plummer, of 2009’s Up? Well, he shares some intriguing parallels with a real-life “villain” in the story of Disney. In the 1920s, the very early days of Disney animation, a man named Charles Mintz (subtle!) entered a contract with Walt and Roy Disney to produce cartoons starring a character called Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. But secretly, Mintz was hiring away many of Disney’s animators to work for his company, Winkler Productions—and Walt tried to find another distributor for Oswald, with no success.
But it ended up being a blessing in disguise—Walt stopped working on Oswald cartoons altogether and instead, he and Ub Iwerks, his chief animator, created a new character—Mickey Mouse, perhaps you’ve heard of him?—and kept his creation under wraps. Fast-forward 80 years and a Pixar film features a villainous explorer trying to find and capture a rare, valuable animal character (“Kevin” the bird), named Charles Muntz. Yeah, we’re pretty sure that’s not a coincidence!
Winnie-the-Pooh’s name has an adorable origin…
When you really stop to think about it, this Silly Old Bear has a rather odd, even giggle-inducing name. But there’s a reason he’s known as “Pooh.” In the first-ever Winnie-the-Pooh book, by A. A. Milne, the narrator explains that Pooh would often have flies buzzing around his nose. And to get them off, he’d try to blow air at them, making a pooh! sound. In the intro to the 1977 Disney film The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, you can see him do this—true to his origins! Find out whether these popular Disney park rumors are true or not.
…but the real-life story is even cooler
While the “Pooh” designation has an “in-universe” explanation, the “Winnie” part comes from a real-life bear—and it’s a pretty incredible story! A. A. Milne brought his son, Christopher Robin, to the London zoo, where young Christopher’s favorite animal was a black bear named Winnie. Christoper Robin then ended up naming his own teddy bear Winnie after the real bear. But it’s Winnie‘s origins that are really interesting! A veterinarian named Harry Colebourn, on his way to World War I, purchased a bear cub from the hunter who’d killed its mother. Naming the bear “Winnie” after his hometown of Winnipeg, he brought her with him to England, where she became beloved by his entire regiment! But when he was shipped off to the front, he donated Winnie to the London Zoo, where she remained and would eventually become beloved by one Christopher Robin, inspiring the enduring fictional tale. Find out which Disney characters you can’t meet in the parks anymore.
Woody was almost a villain…
Not many animated franchises have captured the hearts that Toy Story has. It’s garnered four feature films, several shorts, and even the most popular ride in the Disney parks! But when Pixar was drafting the film in 1993, before its release, they considered taking its hero, flawed-but-lovable cowboy doll Woody, in a different direction. This character choice made it as far as a test screening—with Tom Hanks’ voice! That scene where Woody accidentally knocks Buzz out the window? Originally, Woody pushed him, entirely on purpose. He also lorded over Andy’s room and bossed the other toys around. He wasn’t an outright villain—he was still intended to be the redeemable protagonist of the movie—but as the footage shows, he was pretty darn unlikeable! Luckily, viewers of the test screening made it clear that these actions by the film’s “hero” just didn’t work, and Woody—and the film itself—was transformed for the better.
…and so was Bing Bong
Pixar’s emotional—literally—2015 film Inside Out has no shortage of moments that’ll make you cry. One of the most devastating is when Bing Bong, Riley’s imaginary friend, allows himself to be forgotten so that Joy can save the day. But while Bing Bong turns out to be a hero through and through, the writers initially planned to have him be a fairly antagonistic character! A deleted scene from the early production of the film shows him rebelling against Riley growing up, fighting to keep her a kid so that he can stay in her life. He antagonizes the construction crews who are “expanding Riley’s mind” and encourages Joy to join him. Inside Out has one of our favorite funny foreign-language titles of well-known movies.
…AND so was Elsa
We’re noticing a bit of a trend here! But Elsa, Queen of Disney herself, one of the most beloved, most dressed-up-as, most sang-along-to Disney characters in history? Say it isn’t so! Well, it is! The original story of Frozen was much more directly based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen—i.e. a villainous sorceress traps the kingdom in an eternal winter. The Disney powers-that-be were fully planning on going in this direction with the film, but pitches were landing with a resounding thud. After lots of workshopping, brainstorming, and soul-searching, the filmmakers landed on the idea of Elsa as a lonely queen-to-be, terrified of powerful magic everyone keeps insisting she repress, and a record-shattering modern classic was born.