Top 10 Animated Characters Based on Real People

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Top 10 Animated Characters Based on Real People

VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Johnny Reynolds
Some of the most famous animated characters of all time have been based on real people. For this list, we'll be looking at characters from animated movies and TV shows whose creators looked to real people for inspiration. We won't be including characters who originated in comic strips or those whose inspiration was the person who voiced them. Our countdown includes Edna Mode from "The Incredibles" (2004), Butters Stotch from "South Park" (1997-), Betty Boop, Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" (1989), and more!
Transcript
Script written by Johnny Reynolds

Some of the most famous animated characters of all time have been based on real people. For this list, we’ll be looking at characters from animated movies and TV shows whose creators looked to real people for inspiration. We won’t be including characters who originated in comic strips or those whose inspiration was the person who voiced them. Our countdown includes Edna Mode from "The Incredibles" (2004), Butters Stotch from "South Park" (1997-), Betty Boop, Ariel from "The Little Mermaid" (1989), and more! Did you know about these inspiration instances? Which one is your favorite? Let us know in the comments below.

#10: Mr. Magoo

Various

Although he’s not nearly as popular as he once was, Mr. Magoo is still a delightfully quirky character. Debuting in 1949, the nearly blind old man is always getting into dangerous shenanigans that nearly get him killed. Co-creator and animation director John Hubley partially based Magoo on his uncle. But he also looked to comedian W.C. Fields for inspiration. Although personality didn’t play into the creation, the resemblance is uncanny, particularly Fields’ jowls, nose, and eyes. Fields turned out to be a perfect model. Magoo rose in popularity incredibly quickly, receiving five Oscar nominations for Best Animated Short throughout the ‘50s, winning twice.

#9: The Vultures

“The Jungle Book” (1967)

Mowgli runs into all manner of interesting and dangerous animals throughout his adventure, including Buzzie, Flaps, Ziggy, and Dizzy. The vultures, with their moptop haircuts and Liverpool accents, are a very obvious parody of the Beatles. But it almost was them. Disney had asked the Beatles to cameo in the roles, though the group turned down the offer. If they hadn’t, the vultures’ song, “That’s What Friends Are For,” would’ve been more in line with their musical style. When it came time to remake the film, director Jon Favreau tried to get surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr to appear. But they turned down the opportunity again, so the vultures didn’t even appear.

#8: Chuckie Finster

“Rugrats” (1991-2004)

As one of the very first Nicktoons, “Rugrats” helped begin an era of which many of us are forever linked. It did a fantastic job at making the real world feel otherworldly through the eyes of toddlers. Part of what brought it to life was the bizarre score, composed by Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh. The creators were apparently so grateful of Mothersbaugh’s work that they based a character on him. While he isn’t nearly as anxious as Chuckie, the artist’s style played a big part in Chuckie’s design. Mothersbaugh frequently wore big, square glasses and had his hair dyed bright red at the time. The musician has an incredible legacy, though Chuckie Finster is one of the coolest parts of it.

#7: Betty Boop

Various

There are few cartoon characters who can match the iconicism and longevity of Betty Boop. But when it comes to the real-life inspiration for the character, things get a bit messy. The dim-witted flapper girl was created by Max Fleischer in 1930. She was developed as a caricature of several similar performers of the era, like Clara Bow and Helen Kane. However, Kane believed Fleischer ripped off her style to the point of suing him for infringement. The court ended up ruling in Fleishcher’s favor as Kane’s style was not her original creation. Among testimonies from similar performers, evidence was given that showed Kane had constructed her style after seeing the act of an African American performer, Esther Jones.

#6: Aladdin

“Aladdin” (1992)

From its songs to its humor, “Aladdin” is one of the most beloved releases in Disney’s long catalog. And it has a charming, adventurous hero at the heart of it. Before everything was finalized, Disney thought of making its central character much younger. At first, he was made to resemble the boyish Michael J. Fox. But supervising animator Glen Keane and his team ultimately decided this wasn’t good enough. Aladdin was aged up with the animators taking elements from Tom Cruise instead. It’s hard not to see the resemblance after knowing it, from the infectious confidence to the winning smile. We feel a little bad for Michael J. Fox, as having a beloved Disney character based on you has got to feel pretty great.

#5: Butters Stotch

“South Park” (1997-)

Honestly, there are far worse characters in “South Park” you could be the basis of than Butters. The naive and sheltered Butters Stotch wouldn’t become an important character until the show’s later seasons, but it’s now hard to imagine the show without him. His creation comes from a place of love; he’s based on Eric Stough, who has been the show’s producer and animation director since its inception. Stough has been friends with creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone since before the show existed. In addition to Butters’ upbringing, his name comes from an actual nickname given to Stough. Parker and Stone used to call him “little buddy,” which eventually evolved into Butters.

#4: Ariel

“The Little Mermaid” (1989)

Even among Disney’s princesses, Ariel is one of the most beloved. Disney strove to make her more relatable through her desire to be free from her overbearing father, though her handful of adorable animal companions also helped. For her appearance, Disney drew, literally, from Alyssa Milano, who was starring on the sitcom “Who’s the Boss?” at the time. Glen Keane, who would use Tom Cruise as inspiration for Aladdin not long after, used photos of Milano from the show for Ariel’s face and hair. As a way to thank her for helping bring Ariel to life, Disney asked Milano to host “The Making of The Little Mermaid” TV special, to which she accepted.

#3: Mr. Burns

“The Simpsons” (1989-)

There are a ton of characters from “The Simpsons” who were based on real people. Rainier Wolfcastle is clearly a parody of Arnold Schwarzenegger. For the money-hungry Mr. Burns, things got a little more personal for creator Matt Gronening. Groening based him partially on the mannerisms of his old high school teacher, Mr. Bailey. However, Burns’ greed comes from oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller. As far as his appearance goes, animator David Silverman looked to Fox founder Barry Diller; not a very flattering depiction. Silverman also modeled Burns’ body after the praying mantis, which is clear in how Burns positions his hands. All of these features combined to create one of the show’s best supporting characters.

#2: Edna Mode

“The Incredibles” (2004)

In a Pixar film packed with super-powered characters, it’s remarkable that their costume designer became one of the most popular. Part of it is thanks to director Brad Bird’s hilarious performance. Bird has denied that any one person inspired Edna’s creation, but there are several obvious influences. She was designed as a mix of James Bond’s Q and Edith Head, an eight-time Oscar winning costume designer. Edna’s look is extremely similar to Head. Artist and co-designer of Edna, Teddy Newton, also stated that 1995’s “Unzipped” was helpful; the documentary chronicles the strenuous behind-the-scenes of fashion industry icons Isaac Mizrahi and Polly Mellen. Regardless of where the inspiration came from, we’re just grateful Edna exists.

#1: Ursula

“The Little Mermaid” (1989)

Ariel isn’t the only character from the film to receive help from the real world. Disney also sought inspiration for its now-iconic villain, the sea witch Ursula. Her design and personality were based on legendary drag queen Divine, who starred in cult films like “Pink Flamingos” and “Hairspray.” Howard Ashman, one of the film’s songwriters and producers, was old friends with Divine. While Ursula went through many design changes, it was one from Rob Minkoff that first drew comparison to the star. And the team knew the design was a near-perfect fit. Divine’s larger-than-life persona, eye makeup, and body type were all given to Ursula. Sadly, he’d never see Ursula as the star passed away one year before the movie released.
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