Sometimes it feels like Disney can do no wrong. They were already the biggest animation conglomerate on the planet before venturing into live-action movies. Now they own Star Wars and Marvel, in addition to innumerable successful franchises, both on the big screen and on TV.
Disney's success was never a matter of luck. Right from the start of the company, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves showed the world what artistic heights can be reached by cartoons in the hands of a passionate team of storytellers. Since then, there's been no turning back, and Disney has always stuck to its credo of telling simple, emotionally engaging stories filled with fantastical backdrops and colorful characters.
It is these characters that stick on in your mind and keep you coming back to the mouse empire for more. Disney has mastered the knack for presenting their cartoon characters in a way that they seem almost flesh and blood to us. No matter how bizarre their origins (we're looking at you, talking cutlery from Beauty and the Beast) or how outlandish their central premise (the Genie from Aladdin who makes 21st-century references in 10th-century Agrabah), we have no trouble thinking of them as people just like you and me, but somehow a cuter, cuddlier Disney-fied version of us.
But that doesn't mean these characters jumped onto the drawing pages in the final form that audiences got to see. In fact, some Disney cartoons in the concept art stage were downright disturbing, such as:
Scar from The Lion King is a great villain. He's a sophisticated mastermind who doesn't like to muddy his own paws, preferring instead to let the hyenas do his dirty work for him. Even his physique is noticeably smaller and weaker than his bigger, more physically intimidating brother Mufasa.
But early concept art for the film showed a more threatening Scar in what would have been a much more serious film. He was as big if not bigger than Mufasa and clearly did not mind carrying out his own cruel handiwork, like attacking Mufasa and going after Simba.
A lot of the younger fans are not aware that 101 Dalmatians is not an original Disney story since the plot and characters are so quintessentially Disney. But the film was an adaptation of the book by Dotie Smith. One crucial difference is that in the book, the character of Cruella De Vil was much younger, the same age as Roger and Anita.
Early concept art gives us a glimpse of a younger Cruella, looking much more glamorous and beguiling. The film's makers finally decided to scrap this version of the character and make her closer in age to Maleficent and other Disney villainesses.
It's hard to imagine Zootopia as anything other than the story of young police cadet Judy Hopps finding her place in the big city and learning to become self-reliant and to let go of her prejudices.
But the original version of the story was something much different.
The original script was written in the fashion of a darkly-comedic buddy cop film, with Nick the fox starring as the jaded secret agent and Judy his rookie sidekick. That's right, Nick was originally the protagonist of Zootopia. And there was going to be a lot more hardcore action in the movie as well until the makers decided to go in a different direction.
This piece of early concept art takes us back to the very first Disney animated film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The artwork shows an early look of Snow White's mother, who had an obsession with remaining the fairest maiden in all the land, even if it meant ending the life of her better-looking stepdaughter Snow.
But let's be honest, it's hard to believe this version of the wicked queen could ever have been the fairest anything. The toughest of them all, sure. We could confidently back her in a one-on-one slugfest with other maidens in the land, but we're pretty sure she wouldn't be winning any beauty contests.
We've already talked about how Elsa's role changed drastically as the script for Frozen was being written. She was originally the villain of the piece, and this early concept art shows us just how evil she would have been. Everything about her screams evil, from the way she's leering at young Anna to the Maleficent-inspired headdress she's sporting.
But what puzzles us the most about Elsa is the mongoose-like creatures in her fur.
Are they coming out of her body? Are those a part of her clothing? Have they been hanging on to her so long she's forgotten about them? Even Anna seems too distracted glancing at the creatures to focus on what Elsa is saying.
Lilo and Stitch was Disney animator Chris Sanders's most beloved work. The two best friends appeared in movies, tv shows and every other medium you could care to name. Originally, Stitch was intended to be an alien gangster who was on the run from the police. He came to Earth and became Lilo's pet to escape his pursuers.
That idea was then heavily reworked to give us the Stitch we know and love. But in this early concept work, we can still see the more dangerous version of the character in play. Not quite as cuddly as he would later become.
It's hard to imagine the genie from Aladdin as anything other than the rollicking, blue-hued, all-powerful wingman we all wish we could have. Everything about his appearance in the film screams good-natured joviality. But this early version of the character was going to be a bit more sinister.
For one thing, there were the horns.
Also, the wickedly long fingernails. This version of the genie was scrapped to make his more family-friendly, but elements of the more sinister design made their way to Jafar's genie form near the end of the first movie.
Dwayne Johnson made heads turn in his role as the demigod Maui in Disney's Moana. Not only was the world's biggest action star working in a children's film, but he was actually singing all his own songs in the movie as well!
Naturally, Disney had the shrewd idea of capitalizing on Johnson's stardom. The initial concept art for the character of Maui shows he greatly resembled his voice actor, right down to the shaved head and the shape of his skull. Eventually, Maui was redesigned to stand out on his own instead of simply being the cartoon version of The Rock.
The Princess and the Frog broke new ground by introducing Tiana, Disney's first princess who was black. But what many don't realize is that Tiana was originally supposed to have a much more humble station in life.
She was originally envisioned to be a maid!
Of course, some had a big problem with giving Tiana such a stereotypical occupation. Disney had to discard their original idea and come up with a fresh new approach to the character. They even hired Oprah to oversee the story development process.
Frozen creators had a completely different idea for Elsa's role in the movie in the beginning. As you can see from the early concept art, Elsa was originally going to be more like Maleficent, an evil older character with magic powers who puts up all kinds of obstacles to Anna's journey.
Thankfully, the makers soon realized that making Elsa a sympathetic character made for a much more interesting story. The final version of the character retained her magic powers, but became the central character of the story and subsequently a role model for millions of tweens all over the world.
Beauty and the Beast animators had the thankless job of creating a character that looked frightening enough to earn the nickname 'Beast', but also handsome enough to be believable as a Disney prince.
The final figure they came up with managed to be both.
But early attempts at creating the character show a much more fearsome being who straight up looks like a villain. He just seems to lack that innate sense of nobility that the final version of the Beast always managed to suggest. Bella would've had a hard time falling in love with this version of her prince.
We've already talked about one early interpretation of Hades for Hercules when Jack Nicholson was supposed to voice the part. After James Woods got the role, the artists came up with this new look for the god of the underworld.
Here, Hades looks like the evil old witch bent over from old age about to offer a poisoned apple to the heroine, Megara. It's not the most intimidating of looks. The guy looks like he can't make it across the room without using a walker. The makers finally decided to go for a less hunchbacked look.
Jasmine from Aladdin may have been the subject of innumerable fantasies among teen boys who grew up watching the movie, but she was hardly the most commanding princess in the Disney stable. She was introduced as a young and often naive girl who had occasional bouts of rebellion but ultimately relied on Aladdin to save the day.
But early concept art shows a Jasmine who was much older and more mature. Jasmine was also initially supposed to play a more active part in the proceedings, such as using the jewel in her headcase to break through the hourglass Jafar trapped her in.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves was Disney's first big triumph and built the foundation for the company we know today. Walt Disney's main attraction to the fable of Snow White was the presence of the dwarves, who he believed could be used to provide lots of comic relief and cuteness to the movie.
Thus, early concept art for the dwarves shows them as tiny, mouse-like and even cuter than the final version we got. It's hard to imagine these dwarves as hardened miners, but they'd be a big hit as plush toys.
Moana is one of the new line of Disney Princesses who take matters into their own hands and take on the villains themselves instead of waiting around for their prince. Moana is a strong young woman who is an able sailor and an athletic adventurer, not to mention the whole 'being able to control the ocean' thing.
But an early concept photo shows a Moana who is much younger.
This early version of Moana was ultimately rejected for being too young to carry out many of the more arduous tasks that we see the heroine perform in the movie.
Another time that Disney pulled the age reversal card on their heroine was during the making of Pocahontas. Disney had just come off a huge success with their previous film, The Beauty and the Beast. They were looking to make another grand romance and decided to turn Pocahontas into one.
Early Pocahontas drawings showed the character much nearer her historical age of 12. But after receiving the 'romance' dictum from higher-ups, the makers were forced to make Pocahontas older and depict her sharing romantic chemistry with the character of John Smith. So much for historical accuracy.
While Beauty and the Beast is most commonly known for its romance between Belle and the Beast, it was also one of Disney's earlier conscious attempts to add a feminist narrative to their stories. A female writer was brought in to help give Belle's character a most independent spin.
Thus, Belle was shown to be a creative thinker and a lover of books.
In this concept art photo, we see an extension of Belle's fondness of reading where she is shown reading from a book to the enchanted furniture in the Beast's castle, who are listening to her raptly.
The robot protector Baymax is one of the most popular characters of recent times from Disney. He is a friend and protector to Hiro, and aside from looking like a cuddly plush toy, is also a massively powerful piece of technology.
While Baymax's return to Hiro's personal life at the end of the movie was only given a few moment's attention, the art from this deleted scene shows the robot as much closer to Hiro's family, even watching what appears to be a horror movie with them while Hiro seems amused by his behavior.
Moana carries a twist at the end of the story. The main villain in the movie is Te Ka, a volcanic demon that attacks Moana and Maui at every turn while they are on their way to return the heart of Te Fiti. It is finally revealed that the demon Te Ka is actually Te Fiti in the form she was turned into after having her heart stolen.
Early concept art shows Te Ka looking a lot more like Te Fiti in human form. This version of the villain would have spoiled the big twist at the end of the movie, and so the makers decided to give Te Ka a more monstrous appearance.
James Woods gave us an awesome Hades in Hercules. He was a cunning, sarcastic mastermind who added plenty of menace and humor to the film. But imagine this: Jack Nicholson as Hades! That is what we would have gotten if Nicholson hadn't asked for too much money.
He was subsequently dropped from the film.
At the time when Nicholson was attached to the role, Hades was planned to resemble him a great deal, complete with a sick pair of sunglasses and that devilish grin that moviegoers knew so well.
It's impressive to consider that Disney managed to create a sympathetic character out of a futuristic robot with no features other than his eyes to convey emotion with. The way Wall-E moves and communicates is completely different from anything we've seen so far.
But he still manages to make us root for him.
An earlier design for the robot was going to keep him much more grounded in reality. This version of Wall-E was heavily inspired by the actual Mars Rover. It would have been a more plausible but perhaps ultimately less engaging version of the robot.
Ursula from The Little Mermaid is possibly Disney's more memorable villain, and a lot of it had to do with her sinister design, heavily inspired by an octopus. Through these early concept pictures, we see that the final look for the sea-witch was heavily changed over time.
One early drawing makes her look like your least favorite aunt who happens to be a half-fish. Another look is apparently that of a biker chick who needs to catch up on her sleep. And then don't forget about the 'wearing a bathing cap at all times' look.
Alice in Wonderland has always swung wildly in the court of public opinion as an innocent tale of childhood wonder to a disturbing allegory for oncoming adolescence and corruption of innocence. The originally planned adaptation for the story by Disney was going to favor the latter interpretation and looked to John Tennis's illustrations for inspiration.
This version of the Wonderland saga looks like something Stephen King would come up with. Yes, that is the Mad Hatter's head stuck on a pike that Alice encounters. There are also hands pointing in different directions, belonging, we can only assume, to the Hatter's enemies.
Gaston is the burly, intrepid outdoorsman who's ego and desire for Belle drives him into conflict with the Beast. While the Beast is a fearsome individual, Gaston is no pushover himself, and very nearly manages to end the Beast in a one-on-one battle near the end of the movie.
The early version of Gaston looks like he would have fainted upon seeing the Beast for the first time.
Initially, Gaston was imagined as a spoiled, delicate and fussy nobleman rather than the hulking athlete we saw in the film. But then the early Gaston would hardly have posed a threat to a guy who's very nickname is 'The Beast'!
Woody and Buzz are the toy duo that every kid dreamed of owning. The cowboy doll and the spaceman action figure shared such great chemistry in the movies that kids didn't even care that their wildly different backgrounds made them incompatible playtime partners.
The original design for Woody imagined him as a sarcastic ventriloquist dummy, in the style of the popular Howdy Doody. Buzz, on the other hand, was originally intended to be his slow-witted sidekick with a suit that made him look pudgier than he actually was. A lot of the initial designs are still present in the final versions of the characters.
The Emperor's New Groove is rightfully remembered as one of the funniest films Disney has ever made. And some of the best bits belonged to Yzma and her sidekick Kronk. The duo may have been villains, but their bumbling plans to gain power made for some grade-A comedy.
Yzma was not always supposed to be the funny one.
The movie was originally meant to be an adaptation of The Prince and the Pauper, and Yzma was going to be an evil sorceress who summons a demon to block out the sun, while also turning the emperor into a llama.
Mother Gothel catches up with Rapunzel in the forest after her escape from the tower with Flynn and tries to make her come back with her. After Rapunzel refuses, Gothel gives her the crown that Flynn had been seeking and challenges Rapunzel to use it to find out if Flynn truly cares for her.
An early concept art shows the scene could have gone much differently.
Here, Gothel confronts Flynn instead of Rapunzel. We're not sure what she was planning to do with the knife hiding behind her back, but we're pretty sure she wasn't looking to cut him a piece of birthday cake.
With Mulan, Disney ventured into the creation of stories about a distant culture that most western audiences are not overly familiar with. As such, Disney had to find a way to spin the story of Mulan into something that would not baffle audiences with too many obscure alien cultural references and contexts.
An early version of the character shows her more closely resembling the portraits drawn by Chinese and Japanese artists. We can imagine it would have been difficult creating an entire movie out of this style of drawings, but it shows the inspiration that gave us the version of the story we finally got to see.