John Travolta shouldn’t have felt so bad for messing up Idina Menzel’s name when he introduced her to sing “Let it Go” at the 2014 Oscars. Menzel, after all, was just the latest in a long line of virtually unrecognizable actresses who’ve voiced iconic Disney princesses through the decades. And like her, the following performers should be way more famous than they actually are.
13. Snow White – Adriana Caselotti
Adored by everyone from woodland animals to the seven dwarfs, the pure and innocent Snow White of 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is despised only by the pathologically jealous Evil Queen. She famously wishes to replace her own stepdaughter as “the fairest of them all.”
The daughter of an opera-singing mom and a music-teacher dad, Adriana Caselotti was an 18-year-old MGM chorus girl when Walt Disney chose her to voice Snow White. Not only did she earn less than $1,000 for the job, but the role also stunted Caselotti’s career; she reportedly signed a contract limiting her from voicing other projects. Caselotti later, however, worked as an opera singer and penned a book called Do You Like to Sing?.
12. Cinderella – Ilene Woods
In the ultimate rags-to-riches love story, Cinderella conquers her cruel stepmother and ugly stepsisters by finding true love at the ball in 1950’s Cinderella. But she couldn’t have done it without the help of the Fairy Godmother, a handful of seamstress mice and, of course, those unmatchable glass slippers.
She had her own radio show at 15, but four years later the still-teenaged Ilene Woods was nevertheless amazed to beat 300 other hopefuls to nab the role of Cinderella. Woods, who went on to sing for Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, eventually married Ed Shaugnessy, the drummer from the The Tonight Show. Tragically, though, the star would eventually forget that she had played the iconic princess, after falling victim in later life to Alzheimer’s disease.
11. Princess Aurora – Mary Costa
After pricking her finger on an enchanted spinning wheel, Princess Aurora falls into a deep, unbreakable slumber in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty. The evil fairy Maleficent’s curse, as everybody knows, can only be broken by love’s true kiss.
However, few people know that former choir girl Mary Costa trained with a famous maestro at Los Angeles’ Royal Conservatory of Music – and sang with rising legends Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin – before Walt Disney picked her to play Sleeping Beauty. Later she would have a thriving opera career before going on to give motivational speeches in her later years. What’s more, Costa amazingly continued replying to fan mail until her 86th birthday.
10. Ariel – Jodi Benson
Mermaid Ariel’s curiosity about the world above the sea turns into longing after she falls in love with Prince Eric in 1989’s The Little Mermaid. In desperation the young mermaid seeks out the scheming Ursula, who agrees to turn Ariel into a human being in exchange for her beautiful singing voice.
Before she was plucked by Disney to play Ariel, Jodi Benson sang a song on Broadway called “Disneyland” – a tune she described as “the first piece of the puzzle… the first step of the journey, so to speak.” After The Little Mermaid, then, Benson went on to play Ariel in two more Disney features as well as a TV series. And while continuing her musical stage career, Benson was also asked to play the role of Weebo in Flubber alongside Robin Williams, as well as the voice of Barbie in Toy Story.
9. Belle – Paige O’Hara
Belle is the kind-hearted heroine of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast: a character who offers herself as the Beast’s prisoner in return for her beloved father’s freedom. As he finds himself falling for his beautiful prisoner, the cursed Beast has the opportunity to transform himself back into a prince – but only if he can win Belle’s heart as a monster.
Broadway actress Paige O’Hara was also a long-time Disney nut when she auditioned for the starring role in Beauty and the Beast, aged 30. O’Hara was cast for her Judy Garland-inspired singing tone; Belle herself, meanwhile, was reportedly modeled on her voice actress’ appearance and quirky mannerisms.
8. Jasmine – Linda Larkin and Lea Salonga
Feeling imprisoned by a looming marriage and desperate to see the outside world, Princess Jasmine sneaks out of her palace one day and becomes instantly smitten with the goodhearted and handsome peasant boy Aladdin in the 1992 movie of the same name. Jasmine famously goes on to learn about “A Whole New World” thanks to Aladdin and the hilarious Genie.
But somewhat less well-known is the fact that it actually took two actresses to play Princess Jasmine. Seasoned actress Linda Larkin did all the character’s speaking parts, though she had to deepen her voice to get the tone Disney execs were looking for. It was Filipina singing talent Lea Salonga, meanwhile, who belted out Jasmine’s tunes. She went on to have a successful singing career and was once named among People’s 50 Most Beautiful People.
7. Pocahontas – Irene Bedard and Judy Kuhn
1995’s Pocahontas features the free-spirited daughter of a Powhatan tribal chief, who warns her against getting too close to British explorers. But when Pocahontas meets voyager John Smith one day as he ventures through the woods, sparks fly. The young princess subsequently feels motivated to stop a battle between the British and her own people.
Pocahontas was voiced by Native American actress Irene Bedard, whose natural beauty actually inspired the character’s own appearance. Bedard later went on to start her own production companies dedicated to sharing Native American stories. Pocahontas’ singing, meanwhile, was taken on by seasoned Broadway actress Judy Kuhn, whose rendition of “Colors of the Wind” earned her an Academy Award. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kuhn’s Broadway career has continued to flourish since.
6. Mulan – Ming-Na Wen and Lea Salonga
When the Huns invade in 1998’s Mulan, Fa Mulan decides to bravely disguise herself as her father, who is too ill to fight. The courageous princess ends up leading her dad’s army into glory, earning herself the honorable distinction as one of China’s greatest ever heroines.
Ming Na-Wen, who launched her acting career by voicing Mulan, later won a repeat role in ER and, more recently, a part in ABC action drama Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Wen’s daughter Michaela is growing up to be just like mom too, having taken on a recurring voice role as Princess Jun on Disney Channel’s Sofia the First. Disney, meanwhile, loved Princess Jasmine’s soprano so much that it asked Lea Salonga back to sing the tracks in Mulan – and again for the movie’s 2004 sequel.
5. Tiana – Anika Noni Rose
In 2009’s The Princess and the Frog, Tiana features as a waitress on a mission to turn a frog back into a human prince. Unfortunately, however, it’s she who turns into a frog after she plants a smooch on the amphibian.
After starring in 2006’s Dreamgirls alongside Beyoncé and Jennifer Hudson, Anika Noni Rose took center stage by beating the two megastars – as well as Alicia Keys and Tyra Banks – to land the highly coveted role of Disney’s first black princess. The former Tony Award winner has had a flourishing acting career since, having starred as Sara Tidwell in Bag of Bones and, more recently, Kizzy in the Roots remake.
4. Merida – Kelly Macdonald
Merida is the fiery Scottish princess and talented archer in 2012’s Brave who courageously breaks from tradition by refusing to pick a suitor for marriage: a decision that leads to her mother being transformed into a bear by a devilish curse. It then becomes up to the courageous princess to use her bow – and one wish – to save her mom and the very future of her kingdom.
Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald had already starred in Trainspotting, Nanny McPhee and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 when she was chosen to play Princess Merida. The former Glaswegian barmaid decided to give acting a try after stumbling upon an ad for open casting for Trainspotting. And after winning the role as Ewan McGregor’s teen seductress in the 1996 film, Macdonald never looked back – she went on to land several roles including, most recently, that of Claire Maddox in Ricky Gervais’ movie Special Correspondents.
3. Rapunzel – Mandy Moore
Rapunzel, from 2010’s Tangled, is a beautiful princess born to the king and queen but cruelly taken away by Mother Gothel. The wicked Gothel wishes to keep the girl in a bid to stay forever young by using the magical healing qualities of Rapunzel’s hair. Locked away in a tower prison for many years, Rapunzel grows her magical locks long enough to braid a ladder for her own escape – into the arms of a prince.
Reese Witherspoon was set to play Rapunzel first – and future Frozen stars Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel both wanted the job – but in the end it was actress and professional singer Mandy Moore who landed the role. Growing up loving Disney as a kid, Moore described playing a Disney princess as “the ultimate fantasy.”
2. Anna – Kristen Bell
In 2013’s Frozen – Disney’s biggest ever animated feature – Princess Anna is left with a white streak in her ginger locks after her big sister Elsa’s mysterious freezing powers nearly kill her in a childhood accident. Anna later helps her sister to save the frozen kingdom that she exiled herself from.
Musical theater-trained Kristen Bell said that playing a Disney princess was “the first goal” she ever had; indeed, listening to recordings of a young Bell singing Disney tracks influenced casters to choose her for the role of Anna. It also helped that Bell had magical vocal chemistry with co-star Idina Menzel – the pair met when they both tried out for the role of Rapunzel a few years earlier.
1. Elsa – Idina Menzel
Princess Elsa is the heir to the throne but accidentally freezes the kingdom of Arendelle with her untamed magical powers – on the day of her own coronation. Exiling herself, Elsa eventually learns how to “Let it Go” and tame her amazing gift so as to save the kingdom and return to her beloved family.
In keeping with the largely anonymous reputation of Disney princess voice actresses, Broadway dazzler Idina Menzel got her name famously messed up by John Travolta when he introduced her to sing “Let it Go” at the 2014 Oscars. Fortunately Menzel wasn’t fazed – the mark of a Disney legend in the making – and is set to star as Elsa again in Frozen’s much-anticipated 2018 sequel.