Everybody loves cartoons. They represent our childhood, and provide entertainment for both kids and grown-ups all over the world. Cartoons are capable of reaching our youth and teaching them the lessons that we may sometimes forget. Cartoons can also influence how one child can see the world and himself by exposing them to different perspectives. Indeed, cartoons have the ability to pull us into a whole new world without forcing us to leave our homes. With a click of the remote, we are quickly transported.
Cartoons, like all other works of art, are inspired by real-life people. Since art is a reflection of the real world, cartoons use real-life references to get their own messages across. Developing a character is difficult on its own, and animators and artists need some real-life inspiration to help them push the process along. From voices to looks, to even mannerisms, real-life people can influence the creation of something or someone new! Isn’t it fascinating?
In this article, we compiled a list of artists and actors in the real world that have helped inspire characters in different cartoons. Here are 15 real people who were an inspiration for these cartoon characters. Read on!
15. Frank “Rocky” Fiegel (Popeye)
Our favorite spinach-chomping sailor has roots in a man who loves getting into fistfights as well. Frank “Rocky” Fiegel was a sailor that was the epitome of a rough-hewn man. He was brutish, he drank like a fish, and he fought like a champ. Frank Fiegel ended up as the inspiration behind the character of Popeye, from the well-loved series, Popeye the Sailor Man.
A native of Chester, Illinois, Frank was known for starting fights with other men. He was known to have inordinate strength but was kind to children and his friends. And just like Popeye, Frank was toothless and smoked a pipe as well! His headstone is engraved with the figure of Popeye as he first appeared in Thimble Theatre.
14. Edith Head (Edna Mode)
The quick-witted designer to the superheroes, Edna Mode from the movie The Incredibles is sensible, guarded, and just a little bit kooky. Filled with guts despite her size, she helps the Parr Family be the incredible family of supers that saves the day. Little do people know that the inspiration behind her character is just as super.
Edith Head was probably Hollywood’s most prolific costume designer, garnering a record of eight Academy Awards for Best Costume Design. Her close relationship with dazzling clients made her a household name in fashion and costuming, and elevated her career to stardom. She had worked with directors like Alfred Hitchcock for film and TV, dressing stars such as Grace Kelly and Hedy Lamarr. Edna Mode even has Edith’s signature blunt bangs and glasses combo!
13. Helen Kane (Betty Boop)
Betty Boop is reminiscent of flirty pinup cartoons and swingin’ jazz music, with her big doe eyes and curvy cartoon figure. Drawn in different outfits for various cartoons, Betty Boop’s tiny voice and “sexy baby” aesthetic swept across America. Behind the cartoon was a woman named Helen Kane. She was a young star who was not quite as pleased with the rendition of her.
Helen Kane was a singer and actress who rose to fame in the 1920s. Her usual catchphrase in songs was “boop-boop-a-doop,” hence the name of the cartoon character made in her image. But Helen wasn’t happy with the Betty Boop character, claiming that it was nothing short of a caricature that mocked her and her career. She then went on to sue the creators of Betty Boop for $250,000 because of “unfair competition.”
12. Woody Allen (Rocko)
Fans of the cult hit cartoon and comic Rocko’s Modern Life will remember Rocko Wallaby as a paranoid and shy young animal wearing a blue shirt with purple triangles, who had the disposition of a nervous old man. Despite his nerves, Rocko is a lovable character. He’s armed with a sense of caution and a small voice, and ready to take on the world. Rocko’s Modern Life aired on the TV station Nickelodeon, a station aimed for kids and young adults.
Rocko was described by the show’s creators as “having the personality of a young, anthropomorphic Woody Allen.” Woody Allen is a famed filmmaker, actor, and writer who always looks a bit apologetic with his soft features. If you watch a few interviews of him, and then watch a few episodes of Rocko’s Modern Life, you will surely see the similarity between them. It might have been an homage to the brilliant filmmaker, because after all, who wouldn’t be a fan of the man?
11. Divine (Ursula)
Anyone who has seen The Little Mermaid will remember the terrifying villain Ursula. From her icy grey hair to the tips of her black and purple tentacles, Ursula may be one of the best villains that Disney has to offer. She is garish, loud, and scheming, and her eels, Flotsam and Jetsam, just add to her fear factor. But behind her fearsome facade is a well-loved drag queen who has helped change the course of drag culture itself.
Divine is a drag personality known for being as loud and vulgar as Ursula is. In fact, Ursula’s entire character is inspired by Divine. She even inspired the whole “club kid” drag scene as well. Howard Ashman, the writer behind the characters of The Little Mermaid, said that he wanted a villain that took root in the character of a real life person. Divine was of course thrilled, as his dream was to play the role of a Disney villain. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could lend his voice to the character, but his legacy will live on forever in Ursula.
10. Maurice Tillet (Shrek)
We all know Shrek as the ogre who fell in love with Princess Fiona, and the proud owner of a swamp home. He describes himself as an “onion-like” person to his trusty sidekick, Donkey, who in turn likens him to a parfait. Shrek is arguably Dreamworks’ most popular character, as seen in his constant presence as a meme years after the release of the titular movie. But little do the people know that Shrek is based on an actual person — in fact, he’s based on a wrestler!
Maurice Tillet is a Russian-born French professional wrestler who had the ring name “The French Angel.” Maurice Tillet had a disease called acromegaly, which meant that his bones would overgrow and thicken. Despite this, he was a kind and a gentle man… except when he was in the ring of course! Shrek was based on his physical appearance. If one was to hold up a picture of both side by side, you would certainly see the similarity.
9. Alyssa Milano (Ariel)
The main inspiration for Ariel in the 1989 Disney film The Little Mermaid was none other than Who’s the Boss’ Alyssa Milano. She had the expressive, big eyes and bubbly personality that matched perfectly with Ariel. Her petite frame and graceful gait inspired the Disney illustrators to pattern the mermaid character after her. Ariel’s flowing, red hair was modeled after astronaut Sally Ride since Alyssa’s brunette locks would have looked washed out in the underwater scenes.
In a 2013 interview on a famous talk show, The Wendy Williams Show, Alyssa revealed the secret of Ariel being modeled on her younger self. Disney saw Alyssa as the epitome of a teenage character and they were quick to copy her for their beloved Princess Ariel. Wild!
8. Sherri Stoner (Belle)
Belle is the beautiful oddball resident of a small French village in Beauty and the Beast. Her signature blue dress and bookish charm caught the eye of the brutish Gaston, and the kindhearted but hesitant Beast. Belle is also one of Disney’s most beloved Princesses. In league with Cinderella, Snow White, and Aurora.
Sherri Stoner inspired this lovely princess and ended up being her character model. Before joining the process of creating Belle, Sherri Stoner was an actress and writer, starring in TV shows and working extensively in animation. She wrote and produced cartoon shows, which helped her land the role of the book-smart princess. One of her physical mannerisms, which is brushing the hair away from her face, became one of Belle’s, as well!
7. Tom Cruise (Aladdin)
Ah, everyone’s favorite thief-turned-prince. Aladdin swings onto the scene with roguish charm and a golden heart. He meets the Genie who grants him three wishes. These wishes allow him to meet Jasmine, the Arabian princess who wishes to see the world. Armed with rags and his good looks, Aladdin is arguably one of the few most memorable Disney princes.
Modeled after the dashing Tom Cruise, it’s not a surprise that Aladdin is a certified cutie. Tom Cruise is an actor who has appeared in many films, like Mission Impossible and The Last Samurai. His fare mostly includes action, so he was the perfect model for this Disney prince. The resemblance is striking, especially when it comes to the hair and the sparkling smile!
6. Irene Bedard (Pocahontas)
Pocahontas was a groundbreaking Disney princess, due to her being outspoken about the racial equality. She broke the mold that Disney princesses were nothing but fluff, and that they needed saving by a prince. In the movie, she ends up saving John Smith, an English soldier looking for the New World. Besides the real Pocahontas, there is another inspiring woman who helped bring this character to life.
Irene Bedard is a Native American actress who has advocated for positive tellings of Native American stories. She was the character model and the voice of this titular Disney princess. And she proved that princesses can bring meaningful conversations to the screen too! Before being part of the process of creating Pocahontas, Irene starred in TV shows and movies as a representative of her heritage.
5. Marge Champion (Snow White)
Snow White was Disney’s first ever princess to be brought to the silver screen. Finding the perfect design and model for her was a long, arduous process, and the animators were the best of the best. From her pale skin to the hem of her gown, she had to be perfect, because she was to be one of Disney’s hallmark characters. Snow White’s signature wavy bob and rose-red lips were finally brought to life with the help of one woman.
Marge Champion was one of Hollywood’s most revered dancers. The daughter of the choreographer who taught Charlie Chaplin his moves, Marge went on to dance across TV screens nationwide. She was fourteen years old when she auditioned to be a part of the process to create Snow White. Her grace and poise lent an added beauty to Snow White’s character, which was then immortalized with the help of animation. Imagine being a Disney princess at fourteen!
4. The Beatles (The Jungle Book Vultures)
They might be minor characters, but the vultures in the comedy cartoon The Jungle Book, based on the novel of the same title, are inspired by some pretty swell guys. If you remember, there were four of them with different “hairstyles” or feathers. They also had a slow, British accent and a casual air to them as they pointed Mowgli in some direction. Do these characteristics ring a bell?
The inspiration behind the four vultures was none other than The Beatles. The four Brits of classic rock helped bring the nonchalant characters alive, from their signature bangs to their English lilt. The producers of The Jungle Book thought it would be a clever homage to their favorite rock outfit. So Beatles were immortalized in the only way the animators knew how.
3. Margaret Kerry (Tinkerbell)
Anyone who has seen the swashbuckling film Peter Pan knows who Tinkerbell is. She is Peter Pan’s more temperamental partner in crime, who has a penchant for being jealous of Wendy and sprinkling fairy dust. Small as a thimble and sharp as a tack, Tinkerbell is a darling character. She is also a little mean!
She was inspired by model and actress, Margaret Kerry. Before taking on the role of a Disney character model, Margaret Kerry used to dance in comedy shorts and films. Slowly but surely, her career in Hollywood grew, and thus she caught the eye of Disney producers. She went on to become a character model for the then-growing company. Her slim build and playful attitude perfectly encapsulated the image of Tinkerbell’s character, and the rest was history.
2. Mickey Rooney (Archie Andrews)
Archie Andrews is the well-loved redhead of Riverdale and the love interest of both Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge. Clumsy but well-meaning, it’s no wonder why the ladies love him. His red hair and freckles are his most noticeable features, not to mention his klutzy attitude. It comes as no shock how this guy was inspired by a man no less adored.
Mickey Rooney was a popular actor, comedian, and vaudevillian. His career spans an impressive ninety years, and he was one of the few actors from the silent film era to still be around for the new millennium to come in. One of his roles, Andy Hardy, inspired the character of Archie Andrews, as he played a lovesick teenager. From then on, Andy Hardy continued to be an inspiration for the series, even forming the basis of the love triangle in the comic series.
1. Clark Gable (Bugs Bunny)
What’s up, Doc? Bugs Bunny is a quick-witted and quick-tongued rabbit who always seems to be out of Elmer Fudd’s frustrated reach. Characterized by his buck teeth and the half-eaten carrot that he always holds, Bugs Bunny is the most popular character of the entire Looney Tunes franchise. Surpassing even Tweety Bird and Taz the Tasmanian Devil.
Bugs Bunny’s familiar smirk and quick talking were inspired by none other than Clark Gable in his performance in the movie It Happened One Night. Clark Gable is known is the “King of Hollywood,” starring in stage plays and silent films. His best-known role was that of Rhett Butler in the Civil War drama, Gone With The Wind. His mannerisms in It Happened One Night, talking fast while chomping on a raw carrot, would later inspire the character of our favorite grey bunny.