Disney movies are known for their amazing animation, brilliant character designs, and spectacular visual appeal. Disney has been a powerhouse in animation since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, and their work has improved significantly since their beginnings, bringing to life stories like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Frozen, and Moana.
Disney’s characters and stories are now beloved and well-known, but they were not always exactly like they appeared in their final films. Disney’s writing and animating teams rarely started with a fully developed idea of how their stories would progress or what their characters would be like. Most Disney movies went through multiple revisions before the scripts and designs were finalized.
Concept art reveals the Disney movies that almost were, featuring characters often completely removed from the familiar characters who viewers know and love, leaving fans to wonder what these movies would have been like if they had never been changed.
Princesses were made more active or passive, aged up or down, and revised entirely to suit their intended stories better. Amazing conceptualized scenes were cut for narrative purposes. Entire scripts were thrown out in favor of different stories.
Here are the 20 Disney Concept Art Designs Better Than What We Got.
20. Young Moana – Moana
The character of Moana also went through a series of developmental changes. Early concept art from Ryan Lang shows a younger, smaller Moana who would have been the protagonist of the film. Moana went through several important changes before the final story emerged.
Writer John Musker explained about developing Moana, “We wanted this action adventure heroine. We really did want her to feel like she had legs that could really swim and scale a tree and jump off a cliff.”
“She could really believably carry all that stuff, and it wouldn’t look like she’d be overpowered by her own environment but that she could physically take charge and command a boat across the ocean. That she wouldn’t be knocked over in those mighty oceanic breezes,” he said.
This younger Moana may have been changed to create a stronger-looking heroine more prepared for ocean travel. This concept art of a younger Moana still creates an interesting concept, as she seems to more in control of her ocean powers here. Perhaps in future projects, Moana will develop a combination of her strong physique from the movie and the heightened awareness of her powers shown in the concept art.
19. Scar Attacks Mufasa and Simba – The Lion King
Scar was always a villain who got others to take care of the dirty work. He arranged for Mufasa’s death via wildebeest, although he did personally ensure that Mufasa would not escape. He also got rid of Simba by convincing him Mufasa’s death was his fault, advising Simba to leave the kingdom. Scar used deception and strategy for his ends far more than he used force.
The early concept art reveals a different Scar. In the first piece, he fights Mufasa, and Scar seems to be a larger, more threatening foe than the eventual emaciated movie version. In the second piece, Scar chases a young Simba, apparently intending to kill Simba himself.
The Lion King was an experiment for Disney at the time, as it was the first Disney film not based on any source material. The writers went through several versions of the script, with the early version taking on a more serious and less musical tone.
The writers finally decided to turn it into a musical and introduce more comedy. It was definitely the right decision given the spectacular final product, but this bolder version of Scar would have been interesting to see.
18. Early Tiana – The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and The Frog broke new ground for Disney by featuring a black princess leading the story for the first time. However, the development of the movie caught a lot of flak for its tone-deaf and sometimes distasteful handling of the story for the first black princess.
African-American media outlets criticized decisions like Tiana’s original occupation as a chambermaid and the use of a voodoo witch doctor as the villain. Disney eventually hired Oprah Winfrey as a technical consultant to advise how to change the story to make it more acceptable.
Although the story development was fraught with issues, the concept art includes some intriguing design elements. One design shows Tiana with beautiful long and somewhat wild curls. Another design experiments with Tiana’s dress and hair designs, some of them more fitting for the 1920s setting of the film.
17. Baymax Watches a Horror Movie – Big Hero 6
Baymax quickly endeared himself to Disney fans in Big Hero 6, becoming a fan favorite and leaving viewers very satisfied with their care. In this adorable scene that only appeared in concept art, Baymax, Hiro, and Aunt Cass seem to be watching a horror movie together, and it looks like Baymax was not prepared for this experience.
Artist Ryan Lang explained this concept piece was “a painting done early on as an end piece to the movie, where Hiro is happy and Baymax is more of a family member.”
Given that the final ending was much more tear-inducing and Baymax’s return was given only a few seconds at the end of the movie, this scene could have been more emotionally satisfying. However, with a Big Hero 6 TV series premiering this week, maybe fans will get to see more moments like this in the near future.
16. Early Kida – Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is one of Disney’s underappreciated classics, and Princess Kida is the definite star of the film. When developing her character, the production team wanted her to be different from the other Disney princesses, emphasizing her skill and strength as a warrior.
In her final animated version, Kida has white hair and wears an outfit similar to a bikini top and a sarong skirt. Her slightly different masked warrior outfit is similar to this. These early designs show the development of Kida’s appearance.
One design abandoned Kida’s white hair for a more natural-looking brunette color with blue highlights and an elaborate style, and the outfit is similar to her final design, though with unnecessary cleavage. Another design shows Kida looking similar to her final version, but clad in something more like armor.
Both her more natural style and her armored design would have played well on screen. The armor design would have made more sense for her warrior exploits, as an experienced warrior would likely want more cover for battle.
15. Early Elsa – Frozen
The story of Elsa’s journey to accept herself and her powers made Frozen a smash hit, but this was not always the story that Disney wanted to tell. Originally, Elsa was an older, more confident snow queen inspired by Bette Midler. This Elsa was the villain of the story, unrelated to Anna, playing a more Ursula-like role in the story, but director and writer Jennifer Lee thought the story required a change.
Lee stated, “They kept calling her the ‘villain.’ But there came a point where we said, ‘We can’t use that word anymore.’ You care about someone who’s been forces to hide who they are. Elsa’s not a villain, she just makes some bad choices because she’s in a very difficult situation.”
The change came through when the songwriters tried to capture how isolated the Snow Queen would feel, eventually creating “Let It Go”. The entire story was changed around the song to center on that aspect of Elsa.
As great as the final story became, an evil Bette Midler Snow Queen would still have been amazing to see, and these designs from Claire Keane show the confident, sassy Snow Queen fans never got to see.
14. Rapunzel’s Hair – Tangled
This spectacular image of Rapunzel’s hair appeared in the early promotional material for Tangled, but never showed up in the actual movie. Although Rapunzel was often at her window, musing over the lights in the kingdom or the outside world in general, Rapunzel never climbed out on the roof and let the full length of her hair blow wild in the wind.
Rapunzel also seems to be wearing a green dress that did not appear in the film. Maybe Rapunzel does have more than one outfit after all.
The more daring image of Rapunzel’s longing to be in the world and the rare full view of her hair would have made a fantastic visual in the film. However, it’s probably best for Rapunzel it was cut, as that probably would have caused massive tangles in 70-foot hair.
13. Early Beast – Beauty and the Beast
When bringing the Beast to life for Beauty and the Beast, supervising animator Glen Keane had trouble finding the right source for the Beast’s look. He knew he had to look like a familiar creature, and he had to be both appealing and frightening.
Keane and his team went through a lot of trial and error perfecting the Beast. These early sketches draw from different animal sources, more resembling a lion and a gorilla than the final version, which was largely based on a buffalo head.
“Nothing seemed to be clicking for me,” Keane said. “If you would come into my office, you would see all sorts of photos on the walls of, like, a gorilla. What is it about that gorilla that I love?” He finally decided to make the Beast an amalgamation of the features of several animals.
Still, these early sketches also show intriguing versions of the Beast, and they both present a more gentlemanly view of the Beast. These concepts may have been more like the relatively well-mannered and educated version from the 2017 remake. Some of these early designs can be seen in the animated film as gargoyles and sculptures in the castle.
12. Edwardian Jane Porter – Tarzan
Tarzan featured a tough Jane Porter (mostly) ready for the rigors of the jungle– a scientist who intentionally went into the wild to study gorillas. Early concept art shows that the original Jane may not have been quite so prepared. She is shown here in elaborate Edwardian style, seemingly even less suited for the jungle than her movie version.
This early version of Jane may have followed the Edgar Rice Burroughs books more closely, with Jane shipwrecked in the jungle. Over the course of the novels, Jane went through a more difficult and dramatic character development from the damsel in distress to a capable adventuress who has no problem surviving the jungle on her own and getting herself out of trouble.
While Jane the scientist was a great adaption of her character and the rest of the story is a noticeable improvement on the books, this early version could have allowed for more character development in Jane’s part of the story.
11. Yzma’s Inca Design – The Emperor’s New Groove
Yzma and her lovable sidekick Kronk were the highlight of The Emperor’s New Groove, injecting amazing comedy into their villainous plans. The entirety of Emperor’s New Groove was a comedic masterpiece, but it wasn’t always this way.
The Emperor’s New Groove started out as an entirely different movie, The Kingdom of the Sun, an Inca-themed version of The Prince and the Pauper. In this story, Yzma was an evil sorceress who tried to summon a dark spirit to block out the sun and achieve eternal youth, a plan that still involved turning the emperor into a llama at some point.
The story didn’t work for Disney executives or test audiences, and production was almost shut down. The writers quickly overhauled the entire story, turning Yzma into a mad scientist. Yzma was much improved by the change, but her early Inca-inspired designs would have paid more homage to the setting and atmosphere.
10. More Human Te Ka – Moana
One of Moana‘s most interesting aspects was the volcanic demon, Te Ka, who stood in the way of Moana and Maui’s journey to return the heart of Te Fiti. Te Ka put Moana and Maui in danger and turmoil at every attempt on the island, at one point breaking Maui’s magical fishhook and almost causing them to give up on their efforts.
In the end, Moana realized that Te Ka is actually Te Fiti in the form she became after the island’s heart was stolen. Once Moana returns the heart to Te Ka, she turns back into Te Fiti.
At one point in the concept art, Te Ka’s real identity as Te Fiti was not that big of a secret. Ryan Lang’s art reveals an early Te Ka that retains her human features and expresses a wider range of emotions. It’s a long way from the terrifying lava demon of the movie, but it could have allowed Te Ka to be developed as a character of her own rather than a plot device.
9. Early Jasmine – Aladdin
When Princess Jasmine was developed for Aladdin, she wasn’t always the doe-eyed innocent girl that appeared in the final film. Early concept art shows several distinct designs for Jasmine, but with a common theme of a slightly older, more mature princess.
The earliest scripts focused less on Aladdin and Jasmine’s romance on the whole, putting more weight on Aladdin trying to make his mother proud of him, an aspect that was later cut completely.
Jasmine was also different in development. In early scripts, Jasmine was supposed to be a more active character. In one scene, she confronted the Sultan and demanded that they talk. When Jasmine was trapped in the hourglass, she was originally supposed to use the jewel in her headpiece to cut through the glass and escape, but this was changed to have Aladdin rescue her at the last minute.
8. Demonic Hades – Hercules
When considering how to present Hercules‘ sarcastic villain Hades on screen, the production team went through a few versions of the character. Before deciding on his blue-flame design, concept artists envisioned a more demonic Hades.
Though the character looks very different, there are some definite things to love about this version of Hades — the crossed leg rocking green socks and red heels, the sunglasses, the fact that he’s welcoming you to the Underworld with “Hi!”
Before James Wood inhabited the role, Jack Nicholson was considered for Hades, and that inspiration clearly shows in this concept art. Eventually, Nicholson asked for too much money to do Hercules, so he was dropped.
John Lithgow was briefly attached to the project before directors decided the combination did not work. It was only when James Wood signed on that Hades developed into a comedic villain, as early versions of Hades were meant to be more serious and dark.
7. Mulan Scene – Mulan
The writers and animators of Mulan were tasked with adapting their story from the ancient Chinese poem Ballad of Mulan. The script was rewritten many times, but the character of Mulan stayed constant through the development.
Most of the male filmmakers working on the film had daughters and wanted to create a different kind of Disney heroine who was the hero of her own story– a strong role model for their girls.
They were clear from the outset that Mulan would not need a prince to save her. She also had a look different from the other Disney princesses. They abandoned the Barbie-style figure and young, overly feminine face for a design better suited for a woman joining the army as a man.
Animators were not so certain of the art they should use to bring Mulan to life. Animators were influenced by Chinese and Japanese art, and Chinese artist Chen Yi mentored the animators on creating the style. This concept art shows a more Chinese-inspired scene for Mulan, drawing heavily upon ancient Chinese art, creating a striking visual true to its source material.
6. Mother Gothel Confronts Flynn Rider – Tangled
At a major turning point of Tangled, Mother Gothel tracked down Rapunzel on her trek to the kingdom while Flynn was off collecting firewood and tried to get her to return to the tower. When she refused, Mother Gothel gave her the crown Flynn had been seeking and challenged her to see if Flynn really cared about her, setting a plan in motion to make Rapunzel think Flynn betrayed her.
Concept art by Paul Felix shows a different version of this scene. Instead of talking to Rapunzel, Mother Gothel confronted Flynn Rider while he was in the woods alone. Mother Gothel certainly seems prepared to kill Flynn, hiding a knife behind her back, but other concept art pieces suggest that Gothel made some kind of deal with Flynn during this scene.
This scene would have been another terrifying show of how far Gothel was willing to go to keep Rapunzel’s power for herself, revealing her complete ruthlessness long before the epic concluding scenes.
5. Kuzco’s Early Inca Design – The Emperor’s New Groove
When The Emperor’s New Groove was still Kingdom of the Sun, Kuzco was also a drastically different character. These early designs show the prince and pauper versions of Kuzco, both heavily Peruvian-influenced.
In the early script, the look-alike emperor and peasant changed places for fun. Yzma discovered the switch and turned the emperor in disguise into a llama and threatened to reveal the peasant’s identity unless he obeyed her.
The llama-emperor went through a journey of humility and fell in love with a llama herder named Mata. Mata and the emperor had to undo Yzma’s evil plans and eventually lived happily ever after.
Kuzco’s story was vastly improved by the overhaul, but these colorful Peruvian-style costumes would have made a more visually interesting character design.
4. Early Seven Dwarfs – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was one of Walt Disney’s early successes, beginning Disney’s long journey as an animation powerhouse. In these early years, Disney and his team were still figuring out the process, starting with a variety of situations and gags for the story.
Walt Disney’s main attraction to the story was the lovable and comedic dwarfs, and he tasked the writers to come up with more comedy for the dwarfs. Their names were chosen out of a pool of about fifty suggestions and could just has easily have been Jumpy, Dizzey, Puffy, or Nifty.
Several concept artists contributed to the film, coming up with different designs for the characters. This design features an early concept for the dwarfs, smaller and a bit mouse-like, somehow even cuter than their film counterparts.
3. Elsa in Her Ice Palace – Frozen
After the idea of the Bette Midler-inspired Snow Queen was rejected, Frozen was reworked to feature Anna and Elsa as siblings, but the story did not flow easily.
The production team still envisioned Elsa as the villain of the story, intentionally freezing Anna’s heart. It was also going to focus more on the sibling relationship of the “heir” and the “spare,” and the pacing was more like an action-adventure.
With the creation of the song “Let It Go”, the writers began to turn Elsa into a more sympathetic character, and they had a major breakthrough turning Hans into the real villain of the story. Once that was decided, the production team began to focus on Elsa’s fear of her power and her loneliness.
That feeling comes through in this beautiful concept art for Elsa, featuring a dark-haired Elsa in flowing robes sitting alone in her ice palace, isolated from the rest of the world in her throne room.
2. Young Pocahontas – Pocahontas
Pocahontas was heavily criticized for its blatant historical inaccuracy. Disney ended up with an adult Pocahontas sharing a romance with John Smith, whereas the real Pocahontas would have been about 12 years old during these events. The movie was not always imagined this way, though.
Early concept art features a young Pocahontas. In fact, the pitch for Pocahontas used an image of Peter Pan‘s young Tiger Lily. However, with the success of Beauty and the Beast, Disney executives wanted another sweeping romantic epic.
Studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg pushed for Pocahontas to be older and for her relationship with John Smith to be more adult. He told supervising animator Glen Keane to make Pocahontas “the most idealized and finest woman ever made.”
This concept art reveals the Pocahontas that almost was, the more accurate and less romantic story of a young girl caught between her loyalty to her people and her wishes to help the settlers who are supposed to be her enemies.
1. Belle Reads to Enchanted Objects – Beauty and the Beast
When Disney was developing Beauty and the Beast, the studio brought on screenwriter Linda Woolverton and tasked her with creating the story with a feminist twist. Woolverton had to defend her ideas against the male-dominated story department that fought her over most of her decisions.
At one point, story artists took Woolverton’s scene of Belle using a map to indicate places where she wanted to travel and changed this scene to Belle baking a cake, a decision that Woolverton considered regressive. She finally compromised with the story artists that Belle would be reading, and Woolverton was able to incorporate Belle’s love of books into creating her intelligent character.
Belle’s love of books became a significant aspect of her developing relationship with the Beast, but in concept art for this unused scene, Belle also seems to be sharing a story with the enchanted objects.
The enchanted objects are solely focused on Belle and the Beast’s relationship in the film and focus little on their own relationship with her. This scene would have put some focus on Belle’s growing friendship with the other characters.
What do you think? Do you wish you’d seen this Disney concept art on the big screen? Let us know in the comments!
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