These days, I have the honor of sharing a house with two Disney princesses.
Well, they’re actually my daughters, ages 5 and 3, but don’t try to tell them they’re not royalty. Each new Disney movie we introduce to them takes over our home for weeks at a time. Last year, it was Frozen. Right now, we’re living in Moana’s world.
My 3-year-old is especially into it, and she’s spent most of this week trying to convince my 1-year-old son to play Maui while she runs around him singing “How Far I’ll Go” at the top of her lungs.
Growing up, I wasn’t much into Disney Princesses, but becoming a mother changed that for me. There is nothing quite as sweet as watching my youngest daughter's face light up when she hears her favorite Disney song. And the day my oldest set her sights on Frozen pajamas, I couldn’t help but indulge her love of Disney. Through their love of the Disney Princesses, I’ve developed a soft spot myself.
So, I got to researching, and I learned that there was a lot I didn’t know about the world of Disney royalty...like how much goes into being a Disney Princess at Walt Disney World, for instance. I even got to talk to one.
Think you know your Disney Princess facts? Well, check out these ten facts I was surprised to learn.
Walt Disney’s family tried to talk him out of his very first Disney Princess.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Disney’s first full-length feature film. When his dream to retell the Grimm Brothers' fairytale was still just that, Disney experienced a lot of pushback from the people he was closest to.
Both his wife, Lillian, and his brother, Roy, didn’t think that the movie would do well, according to History.com. They believed a full-length film about dwarves wouldn’t be able to keep a viewer’s attention. Boy, were they wrong! Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs went on to make $8 million when it was released to the public in February of 1938.
The story of Snow White’s voice is actually really sad.
The voice of Snow White is iconic, and that’s actually how Disney planned it when they made the movie.
In 1935, Adriana Caselotti was hired to do the voice of Snow White. According to a 1987 article in Animator, the then-18-year-old actress agreed to do no voiceover work going forward, for Disney or otherwise, in order to keep "the illusion" of the character alive. While this surely kept Snow White's voice special, and perhaps that illusion alive, this effectively ended her film career at 21 years of age.
Even sadder, perhaps, is just how little she was paid. Caselotti believed she was working on a short film, she claimed, and was paid a total of $970 for the role (about $16,000 today), according to The New York Times.
After her role as Snow White, Caselotti mostly found odd jobs in the business. She was the voice of Juliet during the Tin Man’s song in The Wizard of Oz and made an appearance in It’s a Wonderful Life. Both were uncredited. Later in life, she is said to have sold autographs in an attempt to earn more from her Disney role, according to her profile on D23.
A certain child actress was the inspiration for this princess.
In an interview for The Wendy Williams Show, Alyssa Milano shared that she was the inspiration for The Little Mermaid. Ariel’s creator, Glen Keane, had hoped to create a character who personified the typical teenage girl growing up in the '80s, and he thought the young Milano fit the bill.
Using live actors as references while creating new characters is common practice in Disney animation, according to Daily Mail. While animating The Little Mermaid, Keane relied heavily on a lesser known actress, Sherri Stoner, as the live model for Ariel.
Everyone’s favorite song almost never made it’s debut.
Speaking of The Little Mermaid, did you know that “Part of Your World” came dangerously close to getting cut from the movie altogether?
According to an IGN interview with directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the song didn’t do well with kids during early test screenings of the movie. When the kids spent a lot of time squirming during the song, talk of cutting the song (or cutting it down) arose. Thankfully, when the movie was closer to completion, another test audience of children were brought in. Their response was much better, and “Part Of Your World” escaped being cut.
If the shoe fits...
If playing a Disney Princess at one of their themes parks is one of your dreams, you have some stringent requirements to live up to.
“They take playing the princesses very seriously and have strict rules regarding height and size," says Amanda Turner, who worked as a Fairy Godmother-in-Training at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. "Snow White and Tiana's costumes can be bigger, going up to around a size 10, I believe."
One current Disney Princess, who wished to remain anonymous, shared a little about what is expected of a princess, or “character performer,” at Walt Disney World. For starters, most non-masked characters are between a size 2 and a size 10 and between 5’3” and 5’7”.
There are exceptions to this rule, as characters like Tinkerbell, Alice and Wendy are on the short side. Their actresses can be under 5’0”.
According to the character performer, the requirements aren’t specific to size, but overall resemblance to the character.
“You have to look like the character, basically," she said. "I think the casting directors are looking for certain qualities for each princess. I do two princesses that look very much alike, so I know I will never be a Snow White because I don’t have the right face shape for it.”
The Disney Secrets
Once you’re Disney royalty, there’s an interesting guideline to abide by. Disney Princesses (and all character performers) must be careful, in a specific way, about how they talk about their work online.
It’s called character integrity … you’re taught that, no matter what, you’re supposed to keep the magic alive.
"If you find Instagrams of people who do work here, you can easily tell they work here," the character performer explains. "You’ll never see someone post a picture saying, ‘This is me playing Ariel!’ Instead, they’ll say, ‘Oh, doesn’t Ariel look nice today?’ or ‘Please direct all comments to Ariel.’”
And when it comes to talking to press, Disney prefers their employees refrain from sharing too much about the company secrets, especially if they’re not happy with their experience. But, it isn’t like there is something to hide—at least that’s not what our anonymous contact at Disney says.
“It’s a job, it’s not all sunshine and butterflies all the time, but what we get to do … changes people's lives. If you’re having a bad day at work, and say your manager is being rude and not helpful, you have to remember that you can go on set and hug children for living … You get paid to hug children!”
You look very familiar.
If you are a musical film fan, you may have noticed that Snow White strongly resembles Marge Champion, a dancer and actress who is best known for playing Ellie May Shipley in the 1951 musical Showboat. That’s because Champion was hired as a teen to be a dance model for Disney, she told Entertainment Weekly. Although it was not her only gig at Disney, she is most well known for being the movement model for the animators creating Snow White.
At first, just like the voice of Snow White, Champion was kept under the radar by Disney—it was roughly seven years before her involvement in the movie was public knowledge. After wrapping up her career as an MGM dancer and actress, she retired in New York, where she now works as a choreographer, according to IMDb.
In one case, being a princess was incredibly easy.
Let’s be honest, being a princess may sound romantic, but most Disney Princesses (the cartoons, not the real ones) don’t have an easy gig. They get tricked into eating poisoned apples by witches, get their voice stolen by evil octopuses, and are relentlessly tortured by their step sisters.
Yet there is one princess whose job I would gladly take. Aurora from Sleeping Beauty goes down as the princess with the cushiest job ever.
She literally spends the majority of her movie sleeping, and she only has 18 minutes of screentime during the one hour and 16 minute film.
Rapunzel made a cameo in this modern favorite.
In 2013, Frozen took the world by storm. Nearly four years later, preschoolers everywhere are still singing the songs and talking their grandmas into buying them sparkly, light-up Anna and Elsa tennis shoes that their mom will hate. (I’m speaking from experience here.)
If you’ve seen Frozen as many times as I have and still haven’t noticed that Rapunzel made a cameo in the film, it might be because you’re blocking out that time in your life when you couldn’t get through a day without talking endlessly about Elsa and Anna with your kids. Whew. Anyway.
“Rapunzel is my favorite princess, and she is in Frozen at the beginning when Anna is singing ‘For The First Time In Forever,’” shares Disney superfan Kristinia Burrini.
Rapunzel’s cameo isn’t the only fun fact Burrini shared. Rapunzel’s Tower in Disneyland has a little known feature—if you’re there after dark, you just might catch the princess’ hair glowing!
The voice of Cinderella got the job by paying it forward.
Cinderella had to overcome a few hurdles to become the classic Disney movie it is today. Perhaps the biggest challenge the creators faced was finding someone to play the voice of the princess.
The creators listened to between 300 and 400 audition tapes, which were all rejected, according to The Guardian. Eventually, they chose Ilene Woods for the role. Her big secret? She never auditioned!
Woods had actually recorded the demo tapes for the film as a favor to her friends Mack David and Jerry Livingston. David and Livingston were writing songs for the movie and simply needed help getting the songs on tape for Walt Disney. After hearing the tapes, Disney knew his search was over and offered Woods the job.