From Mickey Mouse to the Disney princesses to Pixar, Disney parks are full of classic characters, and more are being added all the time. There are actually three distinct types of Disney icons, depending on where their origins lie.
Let's take a look at the different kinds of iconic characters that populate Disney theme parks.
1. Original Creations
At the center of all the Disney theme parks is, of course, Mickey Mouse. His symbol appears all over every corner of the parks, and he is THE most popular Cast Member. Mickey first starred in Walt Disney’s silent animated short film Plane Crazy, but he didn’t become a massive success until the sound-infused short Steamboat Willie. Disney even received an Academy Award for the creation of Mickey Mouse on November 18, 1932.
In 1935 the series switched from black-and-white to full-color, and spin-offs followed for supporting characters like Donald Duck, Goofy, and Pluto. They, along with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, are arguably the central stars of Disney parks everywhere. Though the Walt Disney Company has launched numerous franchises since Mickey, Walt’s first major creation and his supporting characters remain the most significant icons of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and all the rest.
Disney didn’t create its princesses from scratch, but it might as well have, for copyright purposes. Starting with its first full-length feature film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1938, Disney began adapting popular fairy tales into animated movies. Films such as Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Cinderella soon followed.
Even though they were adaptions of public domain stories, the fairy tales brought to the screen by Disney have become firmly associated with the Mouse. The movies were only loosely adapted from the original fairy tales; the Magical Chip Bag Blog describes how radically different the original Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, etc. were from their Disney cousins. For Cinderella, it explains:
Cinderella was a French story from 1634. The original story did not have pumpkins, glass slippers, or a fairy godmother. Some say that in the second installation the slippers were supposed to be fur but the English translated it wrong, into glass and it just stuck. In the first story Cinderella would visit her mothers grave where a tree grew. It gave her three wishes, same as the ones she got from the godmother, She has to leave the ball and leaves the slipper behind. The prince goes around and gets to her house. Her step sisters try cutting off their heels and toes to get their feet into the shoes. Birds from the wishing tree try to peck out their eyes and warn the prince. He goes back to the house and Cinderella finally gets to try the slipper which fits. Disney later added mice to the story.
Even though they weren’t the original versions, the Disney animated films are what people identify with. When somebody mentions Cinderella, most think of a rated-G movie containing pumpkins and fairy godmothers, not the French short story from 1634.Perhaps more important than story details is how Disney defined the appearances of the Disney princesses and other fairy tale characters. Compare the Cinderella from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the Cinderella from the 1950 Disney film:
The changes are drastic. And which do children and adults alike consider the real Cinderella? I’m willing to bet the majority of people would point to the right picture. That is extremely beneficial to Disney. They have come to own Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Peter Pan, etc. as much as anyone can own public domain characters. There is no chance that you’d see Cinderella at Universal Studios because, if she were to have any appeal to park-goers, it would have to be at least partially inspired by the 1950s movie Cinderella. And that Cinderella is firmly under the control of the Walt Disney Company.
Fairy tale characters are completely ingrained in the Disney parks experience. Fantasyland is home to most of the rides inspired by them, such as Peter Pan’s Flight, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Snow White’s Scary Adventures, among other attractions. And what little girl goes to Disneyland and doesn’t meet her favorite Disney princess? Walt Disney’s feature films animating fairytales along with movies Disney made after his passing like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and The Beauty and the Beast defined important roles in the Disney parks.