From The Jungle Book’s Baloo and Bagheera to The Lion King’s Simba, Disney has always excelled at making animal characters that humans can relate to. But what if they were actually humans? What would they look like? Well, one artist set out to answer that question – and the results are spectacular.
Pugletto is an artist from Wisconsin who regularly posts art on social media channels like Twitter, Tumblr and DeviantArt. She loves Disney and Disney fan art, but she had one problem with it.
Specifically, Pugletto found a real lack of diversity in most Disney fan drawings, even those which reimagined its iconic animal characters as humans. “I was actually scrolling through DeviantArt one day and just got really frustrated about the amount of Simbas with white skin and flowing red hair,” the twentysomething artist told Cosmopolitan in June 2015.
“The way I see it, The Lion King is a story that takes place in Africa,” she added to the magazine. “[So] I reimagined the characters as humans the way they would look if they were from Africa.”
That includes the The Lion King’s hyenas, too: here, thanks to Pugletto’s skills, they’re awesome, Mad Max-style punks. It’s a stunning way to redress characters that some movie reviewers and fans have labeled stereotypical, if not rather racist, for how they are portrayed in the 1994 animated movie.
Indeed, when a character is anthropomorphic, it can be easy to forget the established facts about them – Pugletto, however, is nothing but accurate with her details. Sebastian from The Little Mermaid, for example, is a Jamaican crab who speaks with a Jamaican accent; Pugletto, therefore, gave the character features that reflect his Jamaican heritage.
Disney’s almost-forgotten New York-set 1988 flick Oliver and Company should have a diverse cast too, according to Pugletto. “Dodger is brown. He’s probably SE Asian or Latino… This is NY. C’mon,” she wrote on her Tumblr page.
And Lady and the Tramp, too, prompted Pugletto to put some serious thought into the possible origins of the characters. As she explained on Tumblr, “Chicano Lady and the Tramp… Lady and the Tramp’s narrative, I think, could very easily coincide with the ups and downs of Latino/Chicano ideas of class and wealth.”
But it’s The Lion King, still one of Disney’s most popular movies, that makes up the bulk of Pugletto’s “If Disney Were Human” art. Her rendition of a human Scar on his throne, for example, received much praise on DeviantArt – and for very good reason.
As did this cute depiction of the main The Jungle Book characters: Baloo and Bagheera are drawn as humans, and Mowgli is the wolf cub. What a different story that would have made!
One of the first entries in Pugletto’s series, meanwhile, was the entire The Lion King cast depicted as humans. The redesigned characters are, rather ingeniously, subtly reminiscent of the original animals: lions, baboon and bird.
Meanwhile, over in The Jungle Book – which is set in India, don’t forget – Shere Khan and Kaa continue to have the animal traits which made them so scary in the movie. Look at Kaa’s snaky smile, for one…
The Aristocats, on the other hand, is set in Paris, but that doesn’t mean everyone has to be the same color. Here, Thomas O’Malley has orange hair, since he’s an orange cat, but dark skin.
And perhaps Disney could take some tips from Pugletto’s reworkings – certainly, it sometimes faces some serious criticism for not doing enough to show diversity in its movies. And it took until 2009, after all, for it to add a black princess – Tiana from The Princess and the Frog – to its line-up of characters.
Things are changing at the company, however. 2016 will see Disney release Moana, featuring Disney’s first ever Pacific Islander princess, and the animated series Elena of Avalor, featuring a Latina princess.
That’s not to say there isn’t still work to be done: Disney’s princesses and their princes to date are overwhelmingly portrayed as white. Pugletto’s awesome anthropomorphized animals, though, prove that Disney can be diverse without losing even an iota of its magic.
And that aim is at the heart of Pugletto’s Disney works. As she explained on Tumblr, laid her mission statement out. “My goal with this series was, and still is, to abolish this myth that you need to destroy a character design’s integrity in order to diversify and expand your horizons.”
The artist continued, “[A] character can still retain their personality and spirit regardless of what race or ethnic background you assign to them… “[H]umanizing” any anthropomorphic character as anything but white is somehow inaccurate or takes away from source material, as though there were anything set in stone on the blank slates of a story set in contemporary NY or under the sea.”
That being said, Pugletto’s not afraid to have a little fun with the idea of making animals human and vice versa sometimes. These Disney dogs, for example, are actually the four main characters from Frozen, species-swapped.
“Y’all woulda watched the s**t out of this movie about magical ice dogs, don’t even lie,” Pugletto mused on Tumblr. Honestly, we’d watch any of the movies that the artist has reimagined, especially if her awesome skills have been put to good use in the process.