5 Iconic Disney Movies Inspired by Classic Children’s Tales
Walt Disney and the Imagineers that followed in his footsteps are known for creating the iconic, classic children’s movies of the 20th and 21st centuries. We quote the movies, we sing the songs, and we love the characters. But do we really know where the movies came from?
We’ve compiled a list of five classic Disney movies that were inspired by classic children’s tales you can still pick up today.
1. Beauty and the Beast
Released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast was released in a run of iconic Disney movies (known as the Disney Renaissance era). The movie was nominated for and won a number of awards, including two Oscars for Best Music and Golden Globes for Best Original Score, Song, and Motion Picture. It was a hit, and in the 25 years since its release, Disney has incorporated the characters into its theme park and media lineup and scheduled a live-action remake for 2017.
However, Beauty and the Beast is not a Disney original story. Instead, it is a French fairy tale (originally titled La Belle et la Bete) written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740. It was republished by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1756 with some changes to the plot and backstory.
The 1991 movie and the book relatively keep to the same plotlines. There are a few differences, including the addition of Gaston and the cast of servants turned household items, but they aren’t big enough to change the ending.
2. The Jungle Book
Disney’s The Jungle Book was released in 1967 (with a big live action remake release earlier this year). It was originally suggested by Walt Disney himself in the wake of the The Sword in the Stone release. It was the final film to feature Walt Disney’s personal touches, and he actively participated in creating and fleshing out the final story. He would die before the film’s release.
Walt Disney’s inspiration from the film is, of course, Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Published in 1894, The Jungle Book contains seven chapters, each a self-contained story centered on the Indian jungle. Kipling’s work is much grittier and darker than the Disney presentation with a dominant man vs. animal theme running throughout. The episodic nature of the work also leads to significant change in storyline and plot between the movie and its inspiring book.
Released in 2013, Frozen was nothing short of a hit for Walt Disney Pictures. The movie raised roughly $1.3 billion in worldwide box office revenues alone. It’s the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and it’s considered by many to be the best Disney film since the studio’s Renaissance era (1988-2000 … see Beauty and the Beast above).
What most fans don’t know is that Frozen is loosely based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. Andersen, the venerable author of fairy tales and inspiration behind many Disney films, published the story in 1844. It’s one of his longest and most frequently reprinted stories.
When we said Frozen was loosely based on The Snow Queen, we did mean loosely. Disney studios had long worked to make the story into a movie, but the project had stalled multiple times due to issues with the story and characters.
The tales are wildly different. But Disney adapted the plot and characters to create a very fun and light-hearted movie with characters that resonated with modern audiences.
It’s safe to say it was a good decision.
Alice in Wonderland was Walt Disney’s pet project. Originally created during his time at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in 1923, Disney revived the project in 1945. The film’s release in 1951 was uninspiring, and it only earned an estimated $2.4 at the U.S. box office. Effectively, it tanked. However, rereleases in 1974 and 1981 proved much more successful and gained critical acclaim.
Bonus points if you knew that Aldous Huxley was involved in the first script treatment.
Walt Disney’s association with Lewis Carroll and his Alice novel. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in 1865, and Walt had certainly read the book as a young child in school.
The book has long been considered a seminal work of children’s literature, and the Alice character has become a cultural icon. And the Disney illustration and portrayal of the young Alice has cemented her popular image and helped appropriate Carroll and his works to various cultural movements.
Cinderella was released in 1950. It came at a low-point in Disney’s history when the company was on the verge of bankruptcy due to box office bombs, i.e. Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi, and the outbreak of World War II. It was the first hit since Dumbo and the biggest since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Once again, Cinderella was not an original Walt Disney story. Are you beginning to notice a pattern? Cinderella is a fairy tale published in Mother Goose Tales by Charles Perrault in 1697. Cinderella was also published by the Brothers Grimm in Grimms’ Fairy Tales in 1812 as Aschenputtel.
Yeah, it has a long and complicated history. So we’ll stick with Perrault and the Brothers Grimm since those were the most recent and important versions of the tale.
Ultimately, the movie stays much in line with the 1697 Perrault story, fairy godmother and mice included.
Walt Disney was a creative genius, but he also knew when to rely on classic tales and when to create something from scratch. Folktales and fairy tales were an untapped wealth of inspiration for Walt Disney and his company even into the present day
Disney lovers and mega fans can thank the likes of Hans Christian Andersen and other famous storytellers for the inspiration behind classic Disney movies. While Disney has often taken liberties with the stories they tell, changing plotlines and adding characters, the movies themselves remain a testament to the books that inspired them.
by John Burleson, Contributing Writer