Dark Origins of Famous Characters

Lots of people's favorite characters from cartoons, movies, tv shows and series have dark origins. Let's find out about the dark origins of famous characters.


They may bring joy to millions, but behind some of the colourful characters we know and love are backstories that’ll haunt your dreams. From the Simpsons’ best-kept secrets, to the true villain hidden at the heart of Star Wars, let’s explore the dark origins of famous characters.

10. Pocahontas

Going by the 1995 Disney film, you’d think the story of Pocahontas was one of history’s greatest tales of romance in the face of adversity. Unfortunately, historical accuracy isn’t the movie’s strong point, and the reality was much different for Pocahontas.

Pocahontas disney movie

For starters, Pocahontas was merely a nickname, believed to mean “playful one”. The legendary Native American’s real name was Matoaka, and she was actually around 10 years old during her correspondence with the film’s male lead, John Smith, who was 27.

With that age gap in mind, you’ll be relieved to learn that the movie’s romantic elements were entirely fabricated, and the pair were never romantically involved. Not that Pocahontas would want to be, either.

real life Pocahontas Matoka

Even ignoring the age gap, Smith’s real-life counterpart was a far cry from the empathetic soul he became in the film. Smith, like many colonists of his time, was known to be a harsh, sometimes cruel man with an authoritarian outlook. On top of this, the iconic scene where Pocahontas saves Smith’s life was based on wildly-exaggerated stories told by Smith himself.

Pocahontas saves John Smith's life disney movie

While Pocahontas did work as a translator and ambassador for the Powhatan people, her real life took a dark turn as she grew a little older. The Native American man she married as a teenager mysteriously disappeared, and she was captured and married off to a colonist named John Rolfe soon after.

She likely had little choice in the matter, and she was carted off to Britain with Rolfe, living life as an object of exotic curiosity for the English.

Pocahontas in England

She died either of tuberculosis or pneumonia on her way back to America in 1617 at around 20 years old. Following her death, the relationship between the settlers and the Powhatans deteriorated and never really recovered. Worst of all, there are no records of spontaneous singing in Pocahontas’ life, despite what the film would have you believe.

9. Jar Jar Binks

In 1999’s Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Jar-Jar Binks’ purpose was supposedly to bring laughter to the film, but for many viewers he was just plain irritating. For some, he even signified the ruin of the series. But Jar-Jar may be much worse than simply annoying.

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

According to one fan theory, he was originally planned to be a major villain waiting to pounce! Reddit user Lumpawarroo has theorised that Jar-Jar was a secret Sith Lord who would have been revealed as an ally of the sinister Palpatine, had George Lucas not changed his mind.

It sounds crazy, but Lumpawarroo’s evidence is surprisingly compelling. One suggestion is that Jar-Jar is a practitioner of the ancient martial art of Drunken Fist Wushu. The fighting style looks deceptively clumsy but is actually calculated and precise, leading opponents to underestimate a fighter.

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It wouldn’t be the first time an initially goofy-seeming character had been revealed to have great powers; just look at Yoda! Building on this, Lumpawarroo also suggests Jar-Jar has control over the force. Using the force for mind control explains why two Jedi would willingly take such a liability with them on such an important mission.

Jar Jar Binks Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace

He may have used the same influence to worm his way into the senate, bringing it down from the inside. The theory continues that Jar-Jar would’ve been revealed in all his glory, but the Jar-Jar hate from audiences forced Lucas to change his mind, introducing Count Dooku instead as a last-minute replacement.

8. Grimace

If you didn’t already know, this is Grimace, Ronald McDonald’s purple blob of a pal.

View post on Twitter

Currently, it’s hard to imagine his jolly face stealing milkshakes and chasing traumatized children around a parentless hellscape. When he started out, however, Grimace was a very different sort of character who really lived up to his name.

His full name was originally ‘the Evil Grimace’ and Ronald had his hands full stopping him from ruining everyone’s fun by giving kids PTSD. The former chief creative officer at Micky D’s, Roy Bergold, described the first incarnation of Grimace as “scaly” and “mean-looking” with multiple limbs.

View post on Twitter

And he wasn’t wrong. In fact, his bulbous eyes, combined with the creepy, surreal backdrop of the bizarre 1970s and 80s commercials, made Evil Grimace seem more like a shabby, back-alley nightmare than a fun children’s character.

Grimace had to be redesigned as a ‘good guy’ after parents complained of their kids being petrified every time the ads came on. But some say Evil Grimace still haunts Mcdonald’s milkshakes to this day.

7. Three Blind Mice

The lyrics of Three Blind Mice are nasty enough already; in short, three disabled rodents are partially dismembered by a farmer’s wife. But the nursery rhyme gets much darker when you realize who it’s actually about.

Three Blind Mice

The farmer’s wife is thought to have originally represented Henry VIII’s daughter, Queen Mary I! First published in 1609, the rhyme is supposed to be an allegory for the deaths of 3 Protestants by Queen Mary’s command in 1555.

Mary was a strict Catholic and was notorious for her persecution of Protestants. The nursery rhyme’s use of ‘blind’ to describe the three mice reflects the popular, Catholic condemnation of the Protestants’ supposedly-incorrect views.

Unfortunately for the Protestants, unlike their rodent counterparts, Mary used a lot more than a carving knife to exact her vengeance. Living up to her nickname of Bloody Mary, she burnt them at the stake for heresy.

Queen Mary I burning Protestants at stake

6. Moe Szyslak

Fans of The Simpsons will know that the hilarious-tragic, cranky bartender Moe doesn’t take lightly Bart’s regular prank calls. But few people realise these prank calls actually have a basis in reality.

Moe Szyslak nuisance calls

Their origin lies in a real-world Jersey City dive bar in the 1970s. The owner of the bar, Louis “Red” Deutsch was the inspiration for Moe but was toned down onscreen to a more TV-appropriate level by voice actor Hank Azaria. Deutsch was the repeat victim of serial telephone pranksters Jim Davidson and John Elmo.

The two recorded their calls to the easily-infuriated, hyper-aggressive bar owner and compiled them into a series of cassette tapes, which became popular in the 80s. Deutsch’s cartoon counterpart seems veritably angelic compared to the real-life bar owner, who has a vocabulary filthier than a Jersey City dive bar restroom.

Moe Szyslak inspiration Louis “Red” Deutsch prank calls

Like Moe, Red often threatened to break every bone in the pranksters’ bodies, among other detailed threats that I would leave to you to find out. I’d highly recommend checking them out if you find the hilariously twisted, tortured descent of one man into eternal fury entertaining.

5. Shrek

The protagonist of the 2001 classic, Shrek, spends his days finding the beauty in the uglier things in life. But that becomes even more significant when you hear about who may have inspired him.

Maurice Tillet was a wrestler of Russian-French origin, who was afflicted with a medical disorder called acromegaly. This condition caused the bones in his face, hands and feet to grow far larger and thicker than normal. When he became a professional wrestler in the 1930s and 40s, his unusual features earned him the nickname “the ogre of the ring”.

Comparing images of Maurice Tillet and Shrek, there does seem to be a resemblance.

Shrek Maurice Tillet similarity comparison

Though the theory has never been officially confirmed, Shrek himself has a wrestling scene in the film, which seems too suitable not to be a homage. As for what the wrestler would make of it, I’m not sure.

But if it weren’t for Shrek, he probably wouldn’t still be being talked about almost a century after his prime. Besides, everyone knows Shrek is the pinnacle of handsome manhood, so what’s the big deal?

4. Dumbo’s Crows

In Dumbo’s recent remake, one character who didn’t return was Jim Crow, the leader of a group of crows who’ve become highly controversial for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the birds are now seen as racist caricatures of African Americans. Secondly, the name “Jim Crow” refers to a set of laws in the 19th and 20th centuries that promoted racial segregation in the USA.

The Jim Crow laws only truly ended in 1965, so when Disney’s animation hit the screen in 1941 it likely stung for African American audiences hearing those words.

Dumbo’s Jim Crow disney movie

If you want to be even more depressed, then how about the story behind Dumbo himself? The character draws inspiration from an African elephant named Jumbo, who was extremely popular in Victorian London.

He had to endure terrible mistreatment in an age where animal rights were a pipe dream. He spent his final years in a traveling circus and was tragically killed by a train while being led to his box car in 1885. If only there were a way to unlearn facts.

Disney movie Dumbo’s inspiration Jumbo

3. Dr. Nick Riviera

Another decidedly-dodgy Simpsons character is Dr. Nick, whose shoddy medical practices inspired some of the show’s funniest scenes.

Dr. Nick Riviera The Simpsons

But the inspiration for Nick’s malpractice was a real man: Dr. George Nichopoulos. George, known as Dr. Nick to his clients, was no ordinary doctor, though; he was responsible for the healthcare of the King of Rock & Roll himself, Elvis Presley.

The real Dr. Nick was Elvis’ physician for the last decade of his life, and became infamous for over-prescribing doses of amphetamines, tranquilizers and other drugs. In 1980, he was indicted for his pill-happy procedures with Elvis and his other famous clients. While he was not charged with responsibility for Elvis’ death in 1977, many believe his medical irresponsibility was to blame for the musical legend’s demise.

2. The Tin Man

The 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz, is full of heart-warming characters like the Tin Man. But going back to the source material reveals a brutal and shocking backstory to the charismatic bucket of bolts. L. Frank Baum’s original 1900 novel reveals the Tin Man’s origins as a lumberjack named Nick Chopper.

Nick was deeply in love with a Munchkin servant of the Wicked Witch, and when the green face found out, she saw an opportunity for some villainous mischief. She placed a curse on Nick’s axe, which in turn cut off his limbs, one by one. But like a bionic woodland superhero, Nick replaced the limbs with metal prosthetics.

Dark Origins of Famous Characters
© Be Amazed

Eventually, even his head was replaced, and his soul was transferred into his new tin body. Disturbingly, the Tin Man kept his own ill-tempered head hanging around and had conversations with it.

Wizard of Oz Tin Man dismembered head converstions

As for the Munchkin Nick once desired but had lost his love for due to his tin body’s lack of a heart? Well, she found happiness with a man made out of Nick’s dismembered parts! With all this Frankenstein-style horror, I’d want to go Somewhere Over the Rainbow… and keep going!

The Wizard of Oz marriage with Tin man's dismembered parts

1. Marge Simpson

If you’ve ever wondered why Marge Simpson has the ridiculous blue beehive she does, prepare to have your mind well and truly blown.

Being married to a man like Homer Simpson has certainly taken Marge’s life down some strange paths. But when you hear what show creator Matt Groening originally had planned for the Simpsons’ family matriarch, you'd be shocked.

Marge Simpson

Groening’s planned idea was to connect The Simpsons to one of his earlier creations; a comic strip named Life in Hell. The comic revolved around a surreal cast of fez-wearing twins and, more relevantly, humanoid rabbits.

Life in Hell comic strip by Matt Groening
© Matt Groening

After the popular comic, which ran from 1977 until 2012, helped launch his TV career, Groening decided to pay tribute. The best way to do this, Groening decided, would be if the leading lady of his new pursuit was secretly a rabbit herself.

But how would that work, when the new show was rooted in the relatability of its characters? Simple, he could give Marge a ridiculous hairstyle that would never be explained until the show’s finale. That is, a hairstyle concealing her long bunny ears.

©Fox & ©Be Amazed

Of course, the finale never came. The show ended up being the longest-running cartoon of all time (continuing to this day) so whether the finale idea has been dropped, it’s impossible to say.

There was a fun tribute to it, however, in the popular Simpsons Arcade Game of the 90s. Damage to Marge, through electricity or otherwise, revealed her true nature. We should be worried for Homer, however. If word gets out that he’s been ‘snuggling’ with a rabbit for 30 years, he’s going away for a long time.

The Simpsons arcade game Marge Simpson rabbit
© Konami

I hope you were amazed, and shocked, at these dark origins of famous characters. You might want to read about the scariest Pixar movie theories, the scariest Disney movie theories and this article about the untold truth about childhood favorites. Thanks for reading!

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