15 Disney Actors Talk About How They Brought Their Characters To Life

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Vote up the stories that explain how voice actors embodied their characters.

In 1937, Walt Disney Animation Studios released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, its first fully animated feature film. In the nearly 90 years since then, animated films, especially those from Disney, have entertained children and adults alike. Villains like Cruella de Vil, feisty heroines like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and wisecracking sidekicks like The Little Mermaid's Sebastian the Crab are some of the most memorable characters in Hollywood history.

The voice actor who portrays an animated character might be quite famous or relatively unknown - a veteran of many years in the business or a relative newcomer. But no matter their background and experience, they do not appear on-screen in their human form. Instead, they must use tools like their voice, their mannerisms, their personality, and their background to develop an animated character that will both meet the expectations of the film's creators and resonate with the audience.

Here, 15 Disney voice actors talk about how they went about creating some of the most memorable animated characters in Disney history.


  • 1
    51 VOTES

    Auli'i Cravalho As 'Moana' Remembered How Much She 'Loved The Mythology Of Maui That She Grew Up With'

    Moana marked the feature film debut of Auli'i Cravalho. Just a high school freshman at the time the film was being cast, the native Hawaiian told Harper's Bazaar she saw a lot of herself and her culture in the story of Moana:

    I've grown up on an island all my life - so has she - and we're both deeply connected to our culture. I go to an all-Hawaiian school, so even the mythology and the folklore of Maui is something I grew up with. I love that Disney has taken the time and effort to do research about us and extensive research about our culture and find those wonderful stories about Maui. And I'm connected to Moana through my age; my 16th birthday was the day before our film was released. Her journey is something I feel as well - that journey to find yourself. 

    The young actor expanded on her knowledge of Polynesian culture in an interview with Mom Endeavors:

    I kind of describe Maui’s mythology and the folklore of it as my bedtime stories. Because they really were. The stories of him pulling oceans out of the sea or slowing down the sun. I not only heard it before going to bed but also at my school.

    As a novice actor, Cravalho admitted she hadn't been sure what to expect working on the film:

    I definitely had a learning curve. The most challenging part was figuring out how to be comfortable in a recording booth. I wasn't sure how to act with cameras on me - they usually put cameras [in the booth] so the animators can watch and add more lifelike facial expressions to the character. I wasn't used to that whole "lights, camera, action" thing - I thought it was only for Beyoncé!

    51 votes
  • 2
    43 VOTES

    Jonathan Groff Of 'Frozen' Related To Kristoff Not Being 'The Typical Disney Leading Man' 

    Jonathan Groff has won a Grammy Award, been nominated for an Emmy and two Tony Awards, and was a key cast member on Glee. But he may be best known for voicing the roles of Kristoff and (reindeer) Sven in the blockbuster animated Disney films Frozen and Frozen II.

    Frozen marked the first time the actor had ever been in an animated film. In 2013, the actor spoke about how he thought the film would give the little kids in the audience a chance to see a different interpretation of "true love." He explained:

    Anna and Kristoff are not your typical Disney couple... It's a very unexpected romance... it starts as a business relationship, they morph into friends, and then they start to have feelings for each other. I think it's great that kids will see them really getting to know each other before they fall in love.

    In an interview with Tribute Movies, the actor talked about how he viewed Kristoff:

    Probably my favorite thing about him is that he's not your typical Disney leading man. He's got a stockier body, which I can relate to. And he's scrappy, he's got a sense of humor, and I think he's the perfect foil for the character of Anna... because Anna's not your typical Disney leading lady, either.

    As for how the character resembles the actor:

    I think a person can relate to Kristoff because I guess he's got a sense of fun about him, he's got a sense of humor about him, and I appreciate that. And I think I can relate to that.

    43 votes
  • 3
    36 VOTES

    Paige O’Hara Of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ Related To Belle Being ‘Odd’ And An ‘Old Soul’

    1991's Beauty and the Beast was the first animated feature film to earn an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture. The actor voicing the film's intelligent, strong-willed heroine, Belle, had her own first in connection with the movie - Beauty and the Beast was Paige O'Hara's feature-film debut. The actor explained in a 2013 interview with NBC Chicago:

    I was working in New York as a Broadway actress, and I read about the part in The New York Times, and my agent got me an audition. I auditioned five times, and it was one of those roles - and there have only been a couple - where I actually felt that I had the job before I was offered it.

    Although O'Hara was 30 when she auditioned while Belle was only supposed to be 18, the actor's age actually worked in her favor:

    [T]hey said, "We want your voice. We want her to have a womanly quality to her, even though she's only 18 years old. We want her to be mature beyond her years."

    O'Hara told BoxOffice that, of all the roles she'd done, Belle was the closest to herself:

    I think that's partly why I got the job - it was such an easy fit for me. I understood her. And consequently, the artists and director of Beauty and the Beast, when I would try to make her younger, they'd say, "No - she's an old soul. Don't try to make her sound younger like Snow White. We want her to have the soul of a person much older than her years." So that was kind of amazing that it really did just fit like a glove.

    The actor explained to NBC Chicago that she saw Belle as a bit "odd," in that she had different goals and interests than her peers - which was something that O'Hara could relate to:

    I understood that, that she [Belle] was not the norm. I wasn't the norm, either. I was very focused on my career, on my performing all through my childhood and my teens. My friends were getting involved in drugs or whatever, and I was just not interested. I had a one-track mind, and I think that Belle was like that a lot.

    The actor elaborated to BoxOffice:

    I loved the fact that she wasn't searching for a man for her dream life - she was searching for knowledge and adventure and a better life for her father and herself. That makes her a very contemporary person for that time period, and the fact that she was a bookworm - in that era, a lot of women didn't even know how to read. I'm certainly a little bit of a geek in that way, and I totally just embrace her.

    36 votes
  • Although he was also a fine dramatic actor, Robin Williams is revered for his comedic genius and his ability to portray a variety of eccentric and off-the-wall characters. One of these characters was Genie, which he played not only in Aladdin, but also in the second of two direct-to-video sequels. 

    In 1996, Williams described to TV Guide how he ad-libbed impressions of people like Woody Allen and Sylvester Stallone during his voice sessions on Aladdin and the King of Thieves:

    I went into a room and started improvising, and these guys kept on throwing ideas at me... It just got wild. They let me play. That's why I loved it - it was like carte blanche to go nuts. Of course, there were times when I'd go tasteless, when I knew the mouse was not going to approve: "Oh, come on, boy. Rub the lamp, the big spout. Don't be afraid!"

    One reason why Williams enjoyed playing Genie was because he wasn't the lead:

    When your name's above the title, there's a lot of pressure on you. [But] when you're a supporting actor, you're free to do the character.

    92 votes
  • As Kristen Bell revealed in a 2013 interview, growing up, she had dreamed of being a Disney princess, and once she became an actor, she hoped to someday be in one of the studio's animated musicals. She got her wish when she was cast as Anna in Frozen:

    I wanted it to be a specific type of Disney princess. She had to be one that I wanted to see, who was way more awkward than the normal princesses... My whole goal was that I didn’t want to play someone with good posture, which is all you see. Growing up, I was awkward, and I talked to myself a lot, and I ate dinner next to the dog. I was goofy and klutzy and often too energetic. I often spoke before I thought, and I wanted to see someone like that.

    Bell explained that Frozen's directors gave her the freedom to integrate her personal quirks into the character. In fact, developing the character of Anna was very much a collaborative process:

    It wasn’t that I asked them to rewrite her so much as I offered up wild suggestions around every corner. It was a surprisingly collaborative process, actually, because they wanted the movie to be very truthful. And I was put in a position where they were ready to hear my opinions on the subject... In the first draft of the script, she was written more, in my opinion, prissy. She was kind of specific and very girly. And to me, it just wasn’t appealing.

    The actor explained that they found who the character was when Bell was improvising the scene when Anna first meets Hans:

    There’s this typical Disney moment when they’ve come too close physically, and they kind of recognize it, and they both have a crush on each other. And... someone has to speak. I guess I felt like Anna would say something that I, Kristen, would say - that I have said in real life - which is nonsensical rambling... And I think I said, "This is awkward. You’re not awkward. Me, I’m awkward. You’re gorgeous. Wait, what?" Words just spill out of her mouth too quickly, and she has to backtrack. In that moment, I think we all kind of realized, "This is it." She’s funny, she’s appealing, she’s likable - this is the girl you want to see go on this adventure.

    31 votes
  • Kelly Macdonald admitted to the New York Daily News that she didn't have much knowledge or interest in Disney princesses while growing up in Scotland. Instead, she was more like Calamity Jane - well, the Hollywood version of the Old West legend, anyway. She related:

    Princesses were not really my thing. I would go around pretending I was on my horse. I was such a tomboy looking back.

    She used this childhood behavior to flavor her portrayal of the fierce medieval Scottish princess Merida in Brave - the first Pixar film in which a female heroine was the central character. She told The Hollywood Reporter she thought Merida had a lot in common with Calamity Jane:

    She’s [Calamity Jane] out on a horse, she’s a bit of a tomboy, but she sings. Thankfully, Merida doesn't sing.

    The actor told THR that she was drawn to Merida's "energy" and "feistiness," as well as the fact that there's no hero to bail her out:

    I also liked that she gets it wrong. She makes her own mistakes, and then she doesn’t need a Prince Charming to come and makes things better. She makes her own trouble, and then she gets herself out of that trouble, and I think that’s a very good message.

    27 votes