Walt Disney Studios has given us many new and modern classic characters of all time but if you think you know all about them, you might be wrong. Here are some lesser-known facts about Disney characters and movies.
When it comes to Disney characters, there’s more than what meets the eye—both in the lore of the characters themselves and behind-the-scenes surprises.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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 is 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.
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!) All of the Disney princesses, though, have the power to grace us with some inspiring words to live by.
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!
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.