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Though they are sometimes viewed as homogenous, Disney princesses have different designs, personalities, and stories. Surprisingly, one movie star was a major influence on three of them. One of her movies managed to inspire elements of two of the most popular Disney films of the 1990s.

The Cinderella Castle lit up
The Cinderella Castle | Todd Anderson/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

The inspiration behind one of the surprisingly few princess movies made by Walt Disney

Although princesses would someday become a major part of the Disney brand, Walt Disney only made three princess movies during his lifetime. In order, these films were Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty

The title character of Sleeping Beauty — variously called Sleeping Beauty and Briar Rose — is supposed to be breathtakingly beautiful. After all, one of the good fairies supernaturally bestows the gift of beauty on her early in the film. Fittingly, Sleeping Beauty, a film released in 1959, was inspired by one of the great cinematic icons of the 1950s: Audrey Hepburn. According to D23, the title character was drawn to resemble Hepburn. Both Hepburn and Sleeping Beauty have delicate features and a very tiny waist.

“Once Upon a Dream” from Sleeping Beauty

How Audrey Hepburn inspired the first Disney princess movie of the 1990s

Hepburn’s influence on Disney lasted long beyond her time in the Hollywood spotlight. By 1991, Hepburn was no longer a huge movie star, but USA Today reports she influenced the design of a major Disney character: Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Belle arguably resembles Hepburn more than Sleeping beauty does, as Belle and Hepburn both have brown hair. 

In addition, YourTango reports Belle’s dress was inspired by a dress Hepburn wore in one of Hepburn’s most famous movies: Roman Holiday. This is fitting, as Roman Holiday is the most famous 1950s princess movie that wasn’t made by Disney. Subsequently, Roman Holiday would have a huge influence on another popular 1990s Disney film.

The Roman Holiday trailer

How ‘Roman Holiday’ inspired ‘Aladdin’

Finally, Roman Holiday was a major influence on Aladdin — specifically Princess Jasmine’s subplot. The classic romantic comedy stars Hepburn as Princess Ann, a princess sick of her royal duties who pretends to be a regular person so she can go out on the town.

As she goes around Rome, she meets and falls in love with a photographer played by Gregory Peck. The plot of the film bears some striking resemblance to that of Aladdin, as Jasmine is a princess sick of her role in life who disguises herself, goes out on the town, and falls in love with a commoner. The main difference between the romance subplots of the two movies is that the couple in Roman Holiday doesn’t stay together whereas the couple in Aladdin does. Perhaps this speaks to a desire for happy endings among younger audiences who watch Disney films.

“A Whole New World” from Aladdin

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Hepburn is definitely not the 1950s actress who referenced most often in pop culture today. For example, Marilyn Monroe outshines her. However, Hepburn’s influence lives on through three of Disney’s iconic princesses.