The Fascinating Real-Life Inspirations Behind Disney Villains

The Disney brand is known for its attention to detail. Since the company was founded in 1923, the Mouse House has taken great care when it comes to the finer points, including those of its animated characters, changing the way fantasy films are viewed and created. Technology has evolved, but Disney still aims to base its animated figures on real people, complete with personality quirks and naturalistic mannerisms. In the past, Disney animators often studied these real-life models acting out scenes from films for inspiration. With Disney’s Maleficent in theaters this weekend, starring Angelina Jolie as the eponymous, horned villainess, we decided to explore the fascinating real-life inspirations behind other Disney villains. These are the famous men and women who shaped some of Disney’s most iconic characters.


Eleanor Audley as Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty

Angelina Jolie isn’t the first live performer to don the horns as Disney’s Maleficent. Eleanor Audley, who voiced the character in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, became the live-action model for Maleficent. Audley was a popular 1950’s television actress, and the studio put her haughty-sounding voice and severe expressions to good use. Animators studied Audley in costume (headdress, robes, and all) while creating the wicked character, bringing one of Disney’s greatest villains to life. Nine years earlier, Audley performed the role of the evil stepmother in the studio’s Cinderella, so she was rather adept at playing bad.