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10 Disney Characters Who Were Almost Voiced By an A-Lister

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The voices behind some of Disney’s best leads, sidekicks, and villains were almost very, very different. While some characters did end up with top-tier names behind their lines, others went to seasoned voice actors who aren't known for their billing. Read on to learn which famous faces almost brought these animated roles to life.

1. URSULA // THE LITTLE MERMAID

Who knew that two classic '80s TV shows could shape the writing of a Disney movie so much? The Huffington Post reported that when lyricist Howard Ashman wrote the part of Ursula, he had Dynasty's Joan Collins in mind. Ashman pictured Ursula's rivalry with King Triton as a soap opera, but Dynasty producer Aaron Spelling was worried that voicing a cartoon character would damage Collins’ career, so she never even auditioned for the role.

Disney’s John Musker and Ron Clements, however, had Golden Girls actress Bea Arthur in mind, and approached her for the part of Ursula. In the book Makin’ Toons: Inside the Most Popular Animated TV Shows and Movies, Musker said, "Her agent, I guess, read the script, and it described the witch as having a Bea Arthur-type basso voice ... but she just read it, somehow in her mind, like we were saying Bea Arthur is a witch. I don't think she even gave it to her."

Broadway legend Elaine Stritch was also a leading contender for the part, putting a more eccentric spin on the villain. But she clashed with Ashman’s style of directing and he cut her from the process. Eventually, after months of auditions, theater and television veteran Pat Carroll won the iconic part, largely because she understood Ashman's vision and how to voice the character as he had it in his head.

2. COGSWORTH // BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Cogsworth, loyal butler to the Beast and BFF to Lumière, was nearly voiced by Patrick Stewart, but his busy schedule—he was right in the middle of his seven-season run as Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation—prevented him from taking the role. The part eventually went to David Ogden Stiers, who later voiced Governor Ratcliffe in Disney’s Pocahontas. Another Disney great that Stewart had to pass on because of Star Trek? The sorcerer Jafar in Aladdin.

3. GENIE // ALADDIN

Other comedy heavyweights including Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Candy, Martin Short, and John Goodman were all reportedly considered before Robin Williams landed the role of the “ever-impressive, the long-contained, the often imitated, but never duplicated … Genie of the Lamp!” It ended up becoming one of Williams' most beloved roles, for children and adults alike; as The New Yorker put it, "The Genie was a perfect container for Williams’s manic energy and allusive impersonation skills."

4. TIANA // THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

According to casting director Jen Rudin, Beyonce was in the running for the role of Disney's first black princess, Tiana. "Beyoncé expected an offer, but wouldn't audition and so she didn't get one," Rudin told Page Six. Rudin added that Tyra Banks, Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys all auditioned for the part before it went to Tony winner (and Beyonce's Dreamgirls co-star) Anika Noni Rose.

5. Prince Eric // THE LITTLE MERMAID

In an interview for the Howard Ashman fan blog "Part of His World," John Musker revealed that a young, unknown Jim Carrey read for the role of Prince Eric. Alrighty, then! Thankfully (for the sake of our childhoods), the part went to 16-year-old voice actor Christopher Daniel Barnes, who also later voiced Spider-Man in the '90s television cartoon series. 

6. CARLOTTA THE CHAMBERMAID // THE LITTLE MERMAID

John Musker also recalled that Roseanne Barr read for Carlotta, a character whose few lines were more sweet than the comedian's signature sass. But Musker says Roseanne ended up doing a read for Ursula as well: “Howard [Ashman] was so amused by her nasal voice he pulled us aside and said how about letting her read for Ursula? So we did. I am still amused as I recall hearing, ‘Flotsam, Jetsam, you divine little vipers!’ in that distinctive Barr twang.”

7. MUSHU // MULAN

Mulan’s self-proclaimed “serpentine salvation” Mushu was voiced by Eddie Murphy, but according to animator Tom Bancroft, Joe Pesci and Richard Dreyfuss were also considered for the part. The animators were still working out Mushu's look and facial expressions though, and they realized that no one was going to work for the little dragon like Murphy.

8. PACHA // EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE

In the mid-‘90s, the original iteration of the Emperor’s New Groove was a loose spin on the Mark Twain classic The Prince and the Pauper and featured Owen Wilson as Pacha. However, after numerous setbacks, the disaster of a film was almost completely redone—with John Goodman voicing the peasant Pacha—before its December 2000 release.

9. SYKES // OLIVER & COMPANY

Sykes, the villainous gangster in Oliver & Company, was almost voiced by the “godfather” himself—Marlon Brando. Disney wanted the part to feel like an “evil presence” who was often shrouded in smoke and shadows, and CEO Michael Eisner reportedly approached the actor himself. After Brando turned down the role of Sykes because he didn't believe the movie would do very well, it went to Robert Loggia, who was known for playing "heavies."

10. HADES // HERCULES

Although Jack Nicholson wouldn’t actually read for the role of Hades, he did discuss it with Disney. For the “Part of His World” blog, John Musker recalled that the studio tried to woo Nicholson (the character was written with him in mind): “We showed him some test animation done to one of his lines from A Few Good Men where we had a simmering Hades idly playing with a lick of flame as he said, 'Take caution in your tone, commander. I’m a fair guy, but this f—in' heat is driving me absolutely crazy…'" When Nicholson couldn’t reach an agreement with Disney, Kevin Spacey and Phil Hartman came in to read, but eventually the part went to Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning actor James Woods, who took the character in an entirely new direction.

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Recall Alert: Swiss Rolls And Bread Sold at Walmart and Food Lion Linked to Salmonella
Evan-Amos, Wikimedia Commons // CC 1.0

New items have been added to the list of foods being recalled due to possible salmonella contamination. According to Fox Carolina, snack cakes and bread products produced by Flowers Foods, Inc. have been pulled from stores in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

The baked goods company, based in Georgia, has reason to believe the whey powder it buys from a third-party supplier is tainted with salmonella. The ingredient is added to its Swiss rolls, which are sold under various brands, as well as its Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread. Popular chains that normally sell Flowers Foods products include Walmart and Food Lion.

The U.S. is in the middle of a salmonella outbreak. In June, Kellogg's recalled Honey Smacks due to contamination and the CDC is still urging consumers to avoid the brand. The cereal has sickened dozens of people since early March. So far, there have been no reported illnesses connected to the potential Flower Foods contamination.

You can find the full list of recalled items below. If you have one of these products in your kitchen, throw it out immediately or return it to the store where you bought it to be reimbursed.

  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Mrs. Freshley's Swiss Rolls
  • Food Lion Swiss Rolls
  • Baker's Treat Swiss Rolls
  • Market Square Swiss Rolls
  • Great Value Swiss Rolls
  • Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread

[h/t Fox Carolina]

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Marvel Entertainment
10 Facts About Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian
Marvel Entertainment
Marvel Entertainment

Nearly every sword-wielding fantasy hero from the 20th century owes a tip of their horned helmet to Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Set in the fictional Hyborian Age, after the destruction of Atlantis but before our general recorded history, Conan's stories have depicted him as everything from a cunning thief to a noble king and all types of scoundrel in between. But beneath that blood-soaked sword and shield is a character that struck a nerve with generations of fantasy fans, spawning adaptations in comics, video games, movies, TV shows, and cartoons in the eight decades since he first appeared in the December 1932 issue of Weird Tales. So thank Crom, because here are 10 facts about Conan the Barbarian.

1. THE FIRST OFFICIAL CONAN STORY WAS A KULL REWRITE.

Conan wasn’t the only barbarian on Robert E. Howard’s resume. In 1929, the writer created Kull the Conqueror, a more “introspective” brand of savage that gained enough interest to eventually find his way onto the big screen in 1997. The two characters share more than just a common creator and a general disdain for shirts, though: the first Conan story to get published, “The Phoenix on the Sword,” was actually a rewrite of an earlier rejected Kull tale titled “By This Axe I Rule!” For this new take on the plot, Howard introduced supernatural elements and more action. The end result was more suited to what Weird Tales wanted, and it became the foundation for future Conan tales.

2. BUT A “PROTO-CONAN” STORY PRECEDED IT.

A few months before Conan made his debut in Weird Tales, Howard wrote a story called "People of the Dark" for Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror about a man named John O’Brien who seemed to relive his past life as a brutish, black-haired warrior named … Conan of the reavers. Reave is a word from Old English meaning to raid or plunder, which is obviously in the same ballpark as barbarian. And in the story, there is also a reference to Crom, the fictional god of the Hyborian age that later became a staple of the Conan mythology. This isn't the barbarian as we know him, and it's certainly not an official Conan tale, but the early ideas were there.

3. ROBERT E. HOWARD NEVER INTENDED TO WRITE THESE STORIES IN ORDER.

Howard was meticulous in his world-building for Conan, which was highlighted by his 8600-word history on the Hyborian Age the character lived in. But the one area the creator had no interest in was linearity. Conan’s first story depicted him already as a king; subsequent stories, though, would shift back and forth, chronicling his early days as both a thief and a youthful adventurer.

There’s good reason for that, as Howard himself once explained: “In writing these yarns I've always felt less as creating them than as if I were simply chronicling his adventures as he told them to me. That's why they skip about so much, without following a regular order. The average adventurer, telling tales of a wild life at random, seldom follows any ordered plan, but narrates episodes widely separated by space and years, as they occur to him.”

4. THERE ARE NUMEROUS CONNECTIONS TO THE H.P. LOVECRAFT MYTHOS.

For fans of the pulp magazines of the early 20th century, one of the only names bigger than Robert E. Howard was H.P. Lovecraft. The two weren’t competitors, though—rather, they were close friends and correspondents. They’d often mail each other drafts of their stories, discuss the themes of their work, and generally talk shop. And as Lovecraft’s own mythology was growing, it seems like their work began to bleed together.

In “The Phoenix on the Sword,” Howard made reference to “vast shadowy outlines of the Nameless Old Ones,” which could be seen as a reference to the ancient, godlike “Old Ones” from the Lovecraft mythos. In the book The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, editor Patrice Louinet even wrote that Howard’s earlier draft for the story name-dropped Lovecraft’s actual Old Ones, most notably Cthulhu.

In Lovecraft’s “The Shadow of Time,” he describes a character named Crom-Ya as a “Cimmerian chieftain,” which is a reference to Conan's homeland and god. These examples just scratch the surface of names, places, and concepts that the duo’s work share. Whether you want to read it all as a fun homage or an early attempt at a shared universe is up to you.

5. SEVERAL OF HOWARD’S STORIES WERE REWRITTEN AS CONAN STORIES POSTHUMOUSLY.

Howard was only 30 when he died, so there aren’t as many completed Conan stories out in the world as you’d imagine—and there are even less that were finished and officially printed. Despite that, the character’s popularity has only grown since the 1930s, and publishers looked for a way to print more of Howard’s Conan decades after his death. Over the years, writers and editors have gone back into Howard’s manuscripts for unfinished tales to doctor up and rewrite for publication, like "The Snout in the Dark," which was a fragment that was reworked by writers Lin Carter and L. Sprague de Camp. There were also times when Howard’s non-Conan drafts were repurposed as Conan stories by publishers, including all of the stories in 1955's Tales of Conan collection from Gnome Press.

6. FRANK FRAZETTA’S CONAN PAINTINGS REGULARLY SELL FOR SEVEN FIGURES.

Chances are, the image of Conan you have in your head right now owes a lot to artist Frank Frazetta: His version of the famous barbarian—complete with rippling muscles, pulsating veins, and copious amounts of sword swinging—would come to define the character for generations. But the look that people most associate with Conan didn’t come about until the character’s stories were reprinted decades after Robert E. Howard’s death.

“In 1966, Lancer Books published new paperbacks of Robert E. Howard's Conan series and hired my grandfather to do the cover art,” Sara Frazetta, Frazetta's granddaughter owner and operator of Frazetta Girls, tells Mental Floss. You could argue that Frazetta’s powerful covers were what drew most people to Conan during the '60s and '70s, and in recent years the collector’s market seems to validate that opinion. In 2012, the original painting for his Lancer version of Conan the Conqueror sold at auction for $1,000,000. Later, his Conan the Destroyer went for $1.5 million.

Still, despite all of Frazetta’s accomplishments, his granddaughter said there was one thing he always wanted: “His only regret was that he wished Robert E. Howard was alive so he could have seen what he did with his character.”

7. CONAN’S FIRST MARVEL COMIC WAS ALMOST CANCELED AFTER SEVEN ISSUES.

The cover to Marvel's Conan the Barbarian #21
Marvel Entertainment

Conan’s origins as a pulp magazine hero made him a natural fit for the medium’s logical evolution: the comic book. And in 1970, the character got his first high-profile comic launch when Marvel’s Conan The Barbarian hit shelves, courtesy of writer Roy Thomas and artist Barry Windsor-Smith.

Though now it’s hailed as one of the company’s highlights from the ‘70s, the book was nearly canceled after a mere seven issues. The problem is that while the debut issue sold well, each of the next six dropped in sales, leading Marvel’s then editor-in-chief, Stan Lee, to pull the book from production after the seventh issue hit stands.

Thomas pled his case, and Lee agreed to give Conan one last shot. But this time instead of the book coming out every month, it would be every two months. The plan worked, and soon sales were again on the rise and the book would stay in publication until 1993, again as a monthly. This success gave way to the Savage Sword of Conan, an oversized black-and-white spinoff magazine from Marvel that was aimed at adult audiences. It, too, was met with immense success, lasting from 1974 to 1995.

8. OLIVER STONE WROTE A FOUR-HOUR, POST-APOCALYPTIC CONAN MOVIE.

John Milius’s 1982 Conan movie is a classic of the sword and sorcery genre, but its original script from Oliver Stone didn’t resemble the final product at all. In fact, it barely resembled anything related to Conan. Stone’s Conan would have been set on a post-apocalyptic Earth, where the barbarian would do battle against a host of mutant pigs, insects, and hyenas. Not only that, but it would have also been just one part of a 12-film saga that would be modeled on the release schedule of the James Bond series.

The original producers were set to move ahead with Stone’s script with Stone co-directing alongside an up-and-coming special effects expert named Ridley Scott, but they were turned down by all of their prospects. With no co-director and a movie that would likely be too ambitious to ever actually get finished, they sold the rights to producer Dino De Laurentiis, who helped bring in Milius.

9. BARACK OBAMA IS A FAN (AND WAS TURNED INTO A BARBARIAN HIMSELF).

When President Barack Obama sent out a mass email in 2015 to the members of Organizing for Action, he was looking to get people to offer up stories about how they got involved within their community—their origin stories, if you will. In this mass email, the former Commander-in-Chief detailed his own origin, with a shout out to a certain barbarian:

“I grew up loving comic books. Back in the day, I was pretty into Conan the Barbarian and Spiderman.

Anyone who reads comics can tell you, every main character has an origin story—the fateful and usually unexpected sequence of events that made them who they are.”

This bit of trivia was first made public in 2008 in a Daily Telegraph article on 50 facts about the president. That led to Devil’s Due Publishing immortalizing the POTUS in the 2009 comic series Barack the Barbarian, which had him decked out in his signature loincloth doing battle against everyone from Sarah Palin to Dick Cheney.

10. J.R.R. TOLKIEN WAS ALSO A CONAN DEVOTEE.

The father of 20th century fantasy may always be J.R.R. Tolkien, but Howard is a close second in many fans' eyes. Though Tolkien’s work has found its way into more scholarly literary circles, Howard’s can sometimes get categorized as low-brow. Quality recognizes quality, however, and during a conversation with Tolkien, writer L. Sprague de Camp—who himself edited and touched-up numerous Conan stories—said The Lord of the Rings author admitted that he “rather liked” Howard’s Conan stories during a conversation with him. He didn’t expand upon it, nor was de Camp sure which Conan tale he actually read (though it was likely “Shadows in the Moonlight”), but the seal of approval from Tolkien himself goes a long way toward validation.

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