Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ Villain Was Inspired By Iconic Drag Queen Divine

Does The Little Mermaid’s evil sea witch, Ursula, remind you of someone? The villainous octopus character was actually inspired by the iconic drag queen, Divine. It puts a whole new perspective on how you watch Disney movies, too.

‘The Little Mermaid’ is one of Disney’s most beloved classics

Inspired by a Hans Christian Anderson story by the same name, Disney’s The Little Mermaid has been hailed as an animated movie classic. The story’s premise centers around Ariel, a mermaid princess who rescues a human sailor and falls in love. To follow her heart, she seeks out the ocean’s most dreaded villain, Ursula the sea witch, in her quest to turn her fins into legs so she can be human.

But as most villains do, there’s a sacrifice and underhanded catch to the deal. Ariel must give up her voice and make her human prince fall in love with her within three days. If she fails, she’ll turn back into a mermaid and relinquish her soul to Ursula.

Ursula is as terrifying as her name implies. She’s loud and boastful, and her half-human-half-octopus form makes her a huge on-screen presence. She realizes in making this deal with Ariel, she has the bargaining power to get King Triton’s trident and power in exchange for the soul of his daughter.

Ursula then takes steps to make sure Ariel doesn’t make her human prince fall in love with her, including using Ariel’s voice and taking human form herself to become direct competition for the mermaid princess. You’ll have to watch to see how the animated adventure unfolds.

Who inspired Ursula’s look?

Divine Drag Queen
American actor, singer, and drag queen Divine (1945 – 1988) performs at The Embassy Club 2/19/83. | Steve Rapport/Getty Images

According to the AV Club, Ursula took on many forms before animators and movie producers settled on the octopus-based sea witch. Early renditions had her drawn as a giant, evil manta ray, with inspiration from Joan Collins. Another idea of a “beautiful but deadly” scorpion-like fish was also scrapped.

One animator, Rob Minkoff, started sketching an oversized and slightly “vampy” creature with strikingly similar effects to the drag queen, Divine. The eye makeup, the jewelry, and the quasi-glamorous sketch originally featured a shark tail and pink mohawk. But as renditions changed, the octopus villain came to life, and the rest is history. Divine didn’t actually get to play Ursula but admitted they would have loved to play the part.

Other Disney characters inspired by real-life people

Ursula isn’t the only cartoon character in the movies who came to life with inspiration from real-life people. Brightside compiled a list of 12 other Disney characters who were loosely, if not entirely, based on real people. Someone famous also inspired The Little Mermaid’s Ariel – Charmed star Alyssa Milano. Animators wanted to create a sweet, beautiful, and contemporary young woman who, in real life at the time, was Milano.

The four comedic vultures in The Jungle Book movie were based on the Beatles. Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty may look a little like Eleanor Audley. And the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland bears a striking resemblance to the hilarious Ed Wynn.

Now that you know Ursula was inspired by Divine and some of these other character inspirations, you might want to circle back and rewatch some of your favorite Disney movies to spot more real-life similarities.

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