Friday, February 05, 2016

Source stories: where Disney got all its movie ideas

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SIDE from the pain, itching, weeping, light sensitivity and general malaise it brings to the party, one of the biggest problems associated with having a case of conjunctivitis (aka pinkeye) is that you can't do squat. Can't go out among other people; even if you think you can rock the Emperor Palpatine look, you could easily share the ick just by touching a door or shopping cart, or shaking someone's hand. Can't read; eye pain and light sensitivity see to that pretty quick. Can't do knitting or crocheting; the bacterium or virus responsible for the infection could get into your handwork and re-infect you later. Can't do housework; you feel like crap and any kind of light hurts your eyes. Can't even sleep decently thanks to fierce itching and weeping and swollen eyeballs that feel like they'll explode if you try sleeping on your side. About the only things you can do without pain are a) shower, b) listen to audiobooks and c) write. That is, assuming you can type with your eyes shut (which I can! Yay high school touch typing classes!).

So for the last few days, I've used my copious free time to write up something I've been considering for a while: a list of source stories borrowed/adapted/mangled beyond recognition by the Disney people.

In third grade, I plowed through a long list of books that had been made into Disney movies. Some of these were quite different from the animated films I knew. I assumed everyone knew about these source books until much later in life, when a friend expressed surprise that movies like Bambi and Dumbo hadn't been made up of whole cloth by the Disney animation studios. So, for the record -- from 1937 on, nearly every Disney animated film is adapted from a previously-published book, film or TV series. And although the book isn't always better than the movie, many of these original stories are worth reading or seeing, if only to discover what kinds of liberties Disney took with the source material.

BIG OL' LIST OF DISNEY SOURCE STORIES
Disney title Source(s)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs "Schneewittchen," a folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in Kinder- und Hausmärchen
Most people know where this story comes from. What you may not know is that the Disney adaptation softened the Grimm tale considerably. In the first edition of the Grimm collection, the story is a bit different -- it is not Snow White's stepmother, but her vain birth mother who first wishes for a child with "skin as white as snow, lips as red as blood, and hair as black as ebony," and then becomes insanely jealous of her own child as she grows in beauty. The Queen demands the liver and lungs of the young Princess, which she intends to feast upon to make her the most beautiful in the land. And the jealous Queen tries on three separate occasions to kill the girl while she is living with the dwarfs (who do not all have goofy-sounding monikers, by the way). Oh, and the other thing? This is not a princess who forgives easily. On Snow White's wedding day, her jealous mother arrives at the festivities, where a pair of red-hot iron shoes are brought out for Her Wickedness to put on; she is then forced to dance in these shoes until she drops dead. So that's cheery.

Pinocchio Le avventure di Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
The original stories of Pinocchio, which were serialized in a Roman newspaper in the late 1800s, ended with the animated puppet being hanged for his many crimes and misdeeds -- and frankly, he deserved it. Far from being a well-meaning kid who occasionally gets led astray by ne'er-do-wells, as in the Disney version, Collodi's Pinocchio is cruel, bratty, lazy and disobedient at every turn. He runs away from home, ends up getting Geppetto thrown in jail, and almost immediately kills the talking cricket who would serve as his guide and conscience in the Disney film. A later version of Collodi's story added well-known characters such as the Fairy with Turquoise Hair (aka the Blue Fairy), gave Pinocchio a happier ending wherein he redeemed himself, and related many more adventures than the ones adapted for the film.

Fantasia Der Zauberlehrling by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Greco-Roman mythology tales
Witches' Sabbath tale and old Slavic deity
Even though Fantasia is a film made up of bits of animation set to classical music (and possibly the first example of what would later be called music videos), some of the sequences feature animated adaptations of existing stories. "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence is based on a German poem, Der Zauberlehrling, by Goethe (the author of Faust). Animation for "The Pastoral Symphony" is broadly based on characters from Greco-Roman mythology (fun fact: the original scene with the centauresses also featured small black donkey-centauresses as their servants, animated with the typical wide eyes and oversized lips of racist caricatures from that era. Later releases of Fantasia snipped out these scenes, and Disney has consistently disavowed any knowledge of their existence... hmm, wonder why). And the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence is based both on the tale of a witches' sabbath proposed by composer Modest Mussorgsky, and an old Slavic deity called Chernobog, meaning "black god."

Dumbo Dumbo by Helen Aberson, illustrated by Harold Pearl
The original source material for this Disney story is very short -- only eight drawings and very little text -- and Dumbo's friend and mentor is Red Robin, not Timothy Mouse. The brevity of the original book may explain why, at 64 minutes, Dumbo has one of the shortest runtimes of any Disney theatrical animated movie.

Bambi Bambi. Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde by Felix Salten
While this story of a wild deer's life was hugely popular in translated form in the United States, the book was banned in Nazi Germany for being a political allegory on the treatment of Jews in Europe (Salten, an Austrian author, was Jewish). Oddly, although Bambi was written for an adult audience, complete with passages of gore and sexual conquest, the English translation is often shelved in the children's section of bookstores and libraries. Disney adapted the tale for American audiences, changing Bambi from a roe deer to a native white-tailed deer, adding two sidekick characters and deleting a subplot of a tame deer, and softening some of the less child-friendly aspects of the story -- though the death of Bambi's mother remains heartrending in the film. Salten also wrote a sequel titled Bambi’s Children, which is worth finding if you like the first book. Incidentally, several of Salten's works were adapted into Disney films; his book Perri: the Youth of a Squirrel became a Disney True-Life Fantasy film, and his novel The Hound of Florence was loosely adapted into the Disney live-action film The Shaggy Dog and its sequels.

Make Mine Music "Casey at the Bat" by Ernest Thayer
Петя и волк by Sergei Prokofiev
The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met by Irvin Graham
As one of many "package" features released just after World War II, this film was made up of various odds and ends the studio was working on in order to create a full-length movie. "Casey at the Bat" comes from a humorous narrative poem by Ernest Thayer, Peter and the Wolf was a children's story by composer Sergei Prokofiev, and The Whale Who Wanted to Sing at the Met was written by Irvin Graham.

Song of the South The Uncle Remus stories, collected by Joel Chandler Harris
Most of these stories, featuring Brer Rabbit, Brer Bear and Brer Fox, are African-American adaptations of old African folk and trickster tales featuring anthropomorphic animals, as told in a Gullah dialect by a kindly former slave named Uncle Remus. The winner of the 20th Academy Award for Best Song ("Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah") and the first feature film in which the Disney studios blended live action and animation, this is also most likely to be the one Disney animated film you've never seen, mostly because it portrays Southern blacks as happy (or at least content) with their lot as sharecroppers. It engendered immediate criticism upon its theatrical release, and has never been released on any home video format in the United States, though it has received official home video releases in other markets, notably on laserdisc in Japan. The Disneyland ride "Splash Mountain" is based on the Brer Rabbit stories from this film.

Fun and Fancy Free Little Bear Bongo by Sinclair Lewis
"Jack and the Beanstalk," traditional English folk tale
In the original folk tale, Jack lives with his widowed mother, the giant has a wife who tries to keep Jack safe from her human-eating husband, and Jack goes up the beanstalk three different times to steal various items from the giant. This was the last film in which Walt Disney performed the voice of Mickey Mouse; thereafter Jimmy MacDonald took over the role.

Melody Time Life and legends of John Chapman
Little Toot by Hardie Gramatky
"Trees" by Joyce Kilmer
Saga of Pecos Bill by Edward S. O'Reilly
Melody Time was meant to be a popular-music version of Fantasia, with seven different musical sequences. Of these, "The Legend of Johnny Appleseed" is based on the stories of John Chapman, an itinerant preacher and nurseryman of pioneer-era America; "Little Toot" is based on the children's story of the same name by Hardie Gramatky; "Trees" is based on the well-worn Joyce Kilmer poem of the same name; and "Pecos Bill" is based on Saga of Pecos Bill, a book of "fakelore" (invented tall tales) written by Edward S. O'Reilly.

So Dear to My Heart Midnight and Jeremiah by Sterling North
Much like Song of the South, this film mixes live action and animation. The young actor featured in this film, Bobby Driscoll, received a special Outstanding Juvenile Actor Oscar for this performance. He would later provide the voice of Peter Pan (though by then his voice had changed and he was arguably too old for the role).

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," from The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. by Washington Irving
Disney had previously released an extended short film of Grahame's The Reluctant Dragon in 1941. The "Sleepy Hollow" portion of the film was narrated by crooner Bing Crosby, who also provided the voice of Ichabod Crane, and the musical numbers were written in his trademark jazzy style. (Also, Brom Bones has got to be related to Gaston of Beauty and the Beast fame.)

Cinderella "Cendrillon" by Charles Perrault
Numerous versions of this folk tale exist, including a Greek one that dates from 7 B.C., but Disney's version is based primarily on Perrault's adaptation, which is the first one to include a fairy godmother. Changes to the Disney film included the deletion of Cinderella's hen-pecked father, the addition of semi-anthropomorphic animals, Cinderella's attempt to go to the ball in a makeshift dress, and a single royal ball where Perrault's tale featured two.

Alice in Wonderland Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Disney's Alice in Wonderland retains some of the silliness of the original, but fails to get across much of the anarchy, clever puns and wordplay found in Carroll's books. (If you've never read the books, you should pick up a copy of The Annotated Alice, which explains much of the jokes, puns and other aspects of Carroll's stories in their original historical context.)

Peter Pan Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (stage play) and Peter and Wendy (novel) by J.M. Barrie
Cripes, where do I begin? Well, Disney altered this tale in numerous ways, and I urge you to read the original text if you haven't done so; the story of Peter Pan is more meaningful to adults than to children, and it is clever, funny, occasionally gory, and tinged with tragedy and melancholia. Very little of this translates to the film, which is overly sanitized in some ways, frankly offensive to Native Americans in others, and -- in perhaps the worst slight to the source material -- suggests that the entire adventure was nothing but a dream. Apparently not content with the damage they'd done, Disney later heaped insult on top of injury with the insipid Return to Never Land and innumerable Tinker Bell sequels.

Lady and the Tramp "Happy Dan, the Whistling Dog" by Ward Greene
Based on a story published in Cosmopolitan (back before it was an all-sex all-the-time magazine), and on Disney story artist Joe Grant's dog, Lady, who was having trouble adjusting to a new baby in the family, this was the first Disney film to be released in the CinemaScope format. Peggy Lee, who wrote and performed many of the film's songs, later had to sue the Walt Disney Company for not paying her royalties, as per her contract, when they released the film on VHS. (She got $3.83 million.)

Sleeping Beauty "La Belle au bois dormant" by Charles Perrault
"Dornröschen," a folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm
In the original story, the (nameless) evil fairy is slighted at the christening by accident, as everyone thought she was dead. There is no subplot of fairies raising the Princess as a peasant girl, nor of the Prince meeting and romancing her in the woods. When the Princess comes across a spindle, it is being worked by a kind old woman who is unaware of the curse. The princess also sleeps for a hundred years; the fairy responsible for this softened curse also causes the entire court to sleep with her, so that she will not wake to find all her loved ones dead. A prince finds her and breaks the curse only after the century is up.
At the point where Disney ends the story, Perrault continues with a Part 2, wherein the Prince's mother, who is part-ogress, conspires to eat her daughter-in-law and her two young grandchildren. (And that's not even as bad as an older, Italian version of the tale, where a king finds a beautiful comatose girl, rapes her and impregnates her, and she gives birth to twins while still asleep. Some Disney changes are more than welcome.)

One Hundred and One Dalmatians The Hundred and One Dalmatians, or The Great Dog Robbery by Dodie Smith
In the novel, the family's surname is Dearly instead of Radcliffe; Mr. Dearly is a financial wizard who has wiped out England's government debt, rather than a struggling songwriter; Pongo and Missis are the names of the paired Dalmatians, while Perdita is another Dalmatian who has lost her litter of puppies and serves as a wet-nurse for Pongo and Missis' large litter; several minor characters, including Cruella's husband, are omitted in the film.

The Sword in the Stone The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White
The Sword in the Stone was originally published as a stand-alone book, and later became the first part of White's four-part Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King (from which the musical Camelot was also adapted). Although Disney often quotes directly from the book, the overall tone of the film is more whimsical. Madam Mim, although she appeared in the original book, was edited out of later editions. Wart has multiple experiences where Merlyn turns him into different creatures, experiencing life as a hawk, an ant, a fish and a wild goose, to expand his sense of empathy as a future king. Wart also meets "Robin Wood," an episode which does not appear in the film.

Mary Poppins Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
If you've seen the live-action film Saving Mr. Banks, you may have discerned that this film was not easily made. Disney and Travers waged war over how Travers' magical nanny would be portrayed on film. And in truth, Travers was probably right to be feisty. The original Mary Poppins is quite different from Julie Andrews' spoonful-of-sugar nanny; she is plain, vain, no-nonsense, and she does not sing. But she does take the children on a number of magical adventures not found in the film (including an odd visit to Mrs. Corry's sweet shop, where the owner breaks off her fingers and gives them to the children as stick candy). Jane and Michael also have two younger siblings, twins named John and Barbara.

The Jungle Book The Jungle Book and The Second Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The overall tenor of Kipling's books is very different from the Disney film adaptation; Kipling bestows a kind of quiet dignity on most of his characters, even Baloo, and punctuates his tales with narrative poems that were a hallmark of his style. Also, not all of the stories in these books are about Mowgli -- some, like "Rikki-Tikki-Tavi" and "Toomai of the Elephants," have nothing to do with the man-cub; others, like "The White Seal" and "Quiquern," do not even take place in India. Both books are in the public domain, so if you haven't already read them, get on over to Project Gutenberg and have a go. (A tidbit from the Useless Trivia Department: the vulture quartet in the film was originally meant to be voiced by the Beatles.)

Bedknobs and Broomsticks The Magic Bed-Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks by Mary Norton
Norton's two books were later published as a single omnibus edition titled Bed-Knob and Broomstick, about a witch named Miss Price whom the Wilson children find one morning with a hurt ankle (because, naturally, she has fallen off her broomstick) and the adventures that subsequently ensue. The film is another Disney mix of live-action and animation, and was originally nearly three hours long, mostly due to some extended song-and-dance numbers (a frequent issue with Sherman Brothers musicals).

Robin Hood The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
European folk tales of Reynard the Fox
Disney had already released a live-action Robin Hood in the 1950s, but this film is the first introduction to the Robin Hood mythos for many children. So perhaps it's worthwhile to point out that Robin and the other characters are human beings in the original tales; the Disney animators chose to make them into anthropomorphic animals. The Pyle book, in particular, tells many more stories of Robin's exploits in Sherwood, and even relates the story of his death.

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh Winnie-the-Pooh and sequels by A.A. Milne
This is another "package" film (the first in a while) containing multiple featurettes all based on stories and characters written by A.A. Milne. Again, although often quoting straight from the original source material, the Disney adaptation isn't as subtle in its characterization or its humor as Milne's books. Milne, like his fellow British author Kipling, liked to punctuate his stories with short verses, and little of this remains in the movie. However, the Pooh franchise has become incredibly lucrative for Disney, spawning theme park rides, toys, books and merchandise as well as numerous theatrical sequels (The Tigger Movie, Piglet's Big Movie, Pooh's Heffalump Movie, Winnie the Pooh) and direct-to-video releases.

The Rescuers Miss Bianca and The Rescuers by Margery Sharp
Based on the second (and, to a much lesser extent, the first) of eight Rescuers books, the film version of The Rescuers has a different feel from its source material; in the book, an orphan named Patience is being held by the Grand Duchess in a place called the Diamond Palace. Miss Bianca, a sensitive white mouse who writes poetry and lives in a porcelain pagoda, the pampered pet of an ambassador's son, is prepared to endure any hardship to save someone in trouble. No mention here of Devil's Bayou or other Disneyfied elements. These books are now hard to find, as all but the first one is out of print, so if you find them in a secondhand bookstore or at the library, snap 'em up. Another bit of trivia: Madame Medusa's appearance was closely based on that of veteran animator Milt Kahl's ex-wife.
This movie did well enough that it spawned Disney's first theatrical animated sequel, The Rescuers Down Under. The plot, merely inspired by the books rather than drawn from them, was only lukewarm, but the animation was top-notch -- especially the glorious flying sequence with Cody and Marahute the eagle.

The Fox and the Hound The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix
I've never read the source novel, but based on the plot synopsis it doesn't sound like it has much in common with the Disney version. Nor does it appear to offer its readers a happy, or even bittersweet, ending.

The Black Cauldron The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander
Having both seen the movie and read the books, I can honestly say that Disney never should have made this film. It was a critical and box office disaster upon release, and its reputation has not improved in the years since. The books, however, are rich in Welsh mythological detail and a delight to read; there's a reason why the final book in the Prydain series won the Newbery Medal.

The Great Mouse Detective Basil of Baker Street and sequels by Eve Titus
This children's series, based on the Sherlock Holmes stories, is another set of source books I've never read, but it seems the Disney version mostly lifted the characters from the books and created a new storyline.

Oliver & Company Oliver Twist, or The Parish Boy's Progress by Charles Dickens
Loosely based on the Dickens original, this Disney film reimagines its title character as an orphaned kitten, and most of the other characters as talking animals in a 1980s New York setting. This is one of the few Disney feature films I've never seen, so I can't comment on its quality, but the Dickens book has stood the test of time admirably.

The Little Mermaid "Den lille havfrue" by Hans Christian Andersen
Anderusen Dōwa Ningyo Hime by Toei Animation
The film that kicked off the Disney Renaissance, while ostensibly based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, also draws inspiration for many of its secondary characters from an anime film adaptation released in 1975. As usual, Disney contrives to wring a happy ending from Andersen's bittersweet original. The mermaid's older sisters are better fleshed out in the original story, and the sea-witch is not bent on revenge, nor is she the alter-ego of the Prince's other love interest. Also, the mermaid's time on land is painful; in addition to losing her voice, every step she takes on her new feet feels as though she is walking on sharp knives. Her sisters, cutting off their hair to give to the sea-witch, bring her an enchanted dagger with which she must kill the Prince, who has forsaken her to marry another; once his blood falls on her feet, she will become a mermaid again. But the mermaid loves the Prince too much to go through with it; instead she throws herself from the wedding barge, her body turning to sea foam in the sunrise. She becomes a "daughter of the air," whose soul will eventually go to heaven.

Beauty and the Beast "La Belle et la Bête," adapted by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Beauty by Robin McKinley
In the original, Beauty's father is a wealthy merchant with several children. When the family's wealth is lost at sea, they experience straitened circumstances. Beauty's father travels to check on a rumor of one of his ships returning, but is disappointed when the cargo is seized to pay his debts. Returning home, he wanders onto the Beast's property, sees its glorious rosebushes and, unable to bring the gifts his other children requested, thinks that at least he can bring Beauty the one thing she wanted -- a rose. The Beast appears and threatens him with death for this act of theft, but the merchant begs forgiveness, saying he only meant to give the rose to his youngest daughter. The Beast allows the merchant to go home, on the condition that he will return for his punishment -- but Beauty finagles the story out of her father and chooses to go in his place as the Beast's prisoner. The Beast treats her as the mistress of his castle, but every night he asks her to marry him, and every night she refuses. When Beauty grows homesick, the Beast gives her a magic ring which will transport her to her family, and a mirror which will allow her to see the Beast, but he warns her not to stay longer than a week or he may die without her. Her family urges her to extend her stay, but finally she looks in the mirror and sees the Beast dying. Immediately she uses the ring to return to him, finds him and cries over him, declaring that she loves him. Then the Beast's curse is lifted, and he transforms into a handsome prince.
No Gaston, no Lefou, no ditzy chorus girls, no inventions, no subplot to put Belle's father in an asylum or to turn the villagers against the Beast, and in quite a few of the adaptations, no enchanted objects either. But the story can handle these changes and still shine. Unless something amazing comes along to knock it out of first place, this will remain my favorite Disney film.

Aladdin "Aladdin and the Magic Lamp," an Arabian folk tale added to The Thousand and One Nights by Antoine Galland
The Thief of Baghdad (1940 film)
Disney changed all sorts of things in this story -- the location (from "somewhere in China" to Agrabah, a somewhere-in-the-Middle-East city), the protagonist's life (in the book, Aladdin lives with his widowed mother), the antagonist (the sorcerer and the vizier are two different people in the book), the number of benevolent genies (the book has two), the number of wishes the Genie of the Lamp will grant (infinite vs. three), the way the antagonist is finally dispatched (no spoilers), even the name of the princess (though I must admit "Jasmine" is a lot easier to pronounce than "Badralbadour"). But one of the best innovations in the Disneyfied version of the tale is the demonstration that wishes don't fix your problems. Aladdin ends up getting what he wants only after he stops relying on trickery and the Genie's power to fulfill his desires. (Plus, hey, I happen to like Robin Williams' performance here. Sue me.)

The Lion King Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Janguru Taitei by Osamu Tezuka
Not only does Disney draw on themes in Shakespeare's tragedy of the Prince of Denmark, it practically plagiarizes the Osamu Tezuka creation known as "Kimba the White Lion" in the USA. Disney script writers and storyboarders have consistently denied they knew anything about the earlier Japanese manga and anime during production, though voice actor Matthew Broderick went into the booth assuming he was doing a remake of "Kimba," with which he was familiar. Watch both shows and be the judge. (And if you aren't already familiar with Hamlet, it's time you got that way.)

Pocahontas The life of Pocahontas
I hesitate to include Pocahontas in this list because so little about the Disney version of the story connects in any way with the historical reality of the woman later known as Rebecca Rolfe. About the only connection between the Disney tale and history is that Pocahontas apparently saved John Smith's life -- and even that part of the story is slightly suspect.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo
This film may be the Walt Disney Company's biggest act of WTFery ever. Who came up with the notion that this sprawling, tragic 19th century French novel would make a great kids' movie? And what idiot proceeded to greenlight it? (Oh, right. Eisner.) Buoyed by Broadway-quality songs, with some decidedly dark turns for a G-rated film, Hunchback did well enough at the box office to spawn a direct-to-video sequel -- but if your only familiarity with the story is this film, you owe it to yourself to invest some time in Hugo's original work. (Just be prepared -- Quasimodo is deaf and has slurred speech, Phoebus is a thoughtless philanderer, and the ending? It just ain't pretty.)

Hercules Classical Greek mythology tales of Heracles
I won't say much about this, other than to suggest that somebody needs to break the news (gently) to Disney: Hera was not Hercules' mom. Just saying. (In the old stories, Zeus got busy with, well, pretty much everything, but that's forbidden territory in a movie aimed at kids. Then again, they just finished making Hunchback for kids, so...)

Mulan Fa Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jean and Mou-Sein Tseng
"The Ballad of Mulan," traditional Chinese ballad
In the original ballad, Hua (not Fa) Mulan sits at her loom fretting over the command that a male member of every family must join the army to fight off invaders. Her father is too old to fight, and her little brother (a real little brother, not a dog) is too young. She chooses to take his place, bids farewell to her parents (instead of sneaking off in the dead of night) and serves in the army for 12 years (!), never revealing to her comrades that she is a woman. She turns down an official government post in favor of a swift horse to carry her home to her family, who are happy to see her again. When she puts on women's clothing again and rejoins her former comrades, they are shocked to see her, never having realized in the 12 years they knew her that she was female. The subplots -- about not fitting in, about being helped by her ancestors, etc. -- were all created by Disney, although I have to say that whenever I watch the scene where her father lets the Emperor's gifts fall to the ground and embraces her, I tear up. Every freakin' time. Thanks, Disney.

Tarzan Tarzan of the Apes and sequels by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Did you know that Tarzan and the hunter Clayton are cousins? Yup. Also, Tarzan's mother died of natural causes when he was a year old, and his father wasn't killed by a homicidal psycho jungle cat, but by -- Kerchak. Yep, the leader of the apes and Tarzan's eventual quasi-foster father. Jane Porter is not British, but American (hailing from Baltimore). Oh yeah, and there's that whole Lord Greystoke thing -- but I should let you read about it yourself. Be forewarned, though: Burroughs was in some ways a solid product of his era, which is why passages of his Tarzan books are, to our eyes, painfully racist.

Fantasia 2000 Caricatures by Al Hirschfeld
"Den standhaftige tinsoldat" by Hans Christian Andersen
Genesis 6-8 of the Bible
Sequences from Fantasia 2000 that originate from external sources include: the caricature work of illustrator Al Hirschfeld (who actually appears as a caricature in the crowd during the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence), "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" by Hans Christian Andersen (which, naturally, is given a more Disneyfied ending), and the Noah's Ark narrative from the Bible (mostly used as a frame story to illustrate Donald Duck's hair-trigger temper, general incompetence and love for Daisy).

Atlantis: The Lost Empire Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin by Jules Verne
Fushigi no Umi no Nadia, anime TV series
Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta by Studio Ghibli
With its retro setting and futuristic submersible machinery, Atlantis bears clear connections to the classic science fiction tale Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. But it also bears a striking visual resemblance to, and also appears to borrow more than a few plot points from, two well-known anime projects: Nadia, the Secret of Blue Water, a television show itself based on the works of Jules Verne, and Castle in the Sky, a Studio Ghibli film from 1986. As usual, Disney Powers that Be claimed to have no knowledge of the earlier projects -- an especially difficult line to swallow when you realize Disney dubbed and distributed Castle in the Sky to North American markets (well after Atlantis had been released, of course).

Treasure Planet Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Il Pianeta Del Tesoro - Treasure Planet, Italian TV miniseries
Disney was already familiar with the story, having produced a well-known live adaptation of Treasure Island back in the '50s, and this is essentially Stevenson's novel set in space, complete with aliens, robots, cyborgs, floating tall ships and breathable air (?) between the stars. The concept of setting Treasure Island in space seems borrowed from an Italian TV miniseries that aired in the '80s. A few characters have been rolled together, Jim is a little more rebellious and alienated, and some aspects of the story have changed (it's not quite as gory, for one thing), but for the most part this science fiction adaptation hews pretty close to the original. Unfortunately, the adaptation seemed to work better in theory than in practice, as it didn't perform well in American theaters.

Chicken Little "Chicken Little," a traditional fable from western Europe and the British Isles
"The sky is falling! The sky is falling!" Most children learned this story of an excitable little bird who let his imagination get the better of him, and then drove his neighbors into a panic, leading them to be exploited by a predator. But what if the sky really were falling -- or at least, what if strange invisible things were falling from the sky? What if it meant aliens were about to invade? TIME TO PANIC! The short simplicity of the original story is jumbled and cluttered by Disney's attempt to stretch it into a full-length feature; while it has its moments, it's not exactly an inspired bit of filmmaking.

Meet the Robinsons A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce
Occasionally, for reasons known only to them, the Disney marketing people not only drop the ball, but just let it roll away into the gutter. This was certainly the case with Meet the Robinsons, a feature film based on William Joyce's picture book. The story is funny and delightful, focusing on the power of innovation to make the world a better place, the advantages of experiencing failure, the championing of personal eccentricity, and the key importance of family. But I never would have seen it if I'd judged it by its sloppy, lackluster marketing campaign. Yes, you should enjoy the book on which it was based, but if you haven't already seen the film, you're doing yourself a disservice.

The Princess and the Frog The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker
"Der Froschkönig oder der eiserne Heinrich," a folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in Kinder- und Hausmärchen
The story is only tangentially connected to its two sources by plot points: the prince turned into a frog by a vengeful user of dark magic (Grimm) and the "princess" who also becomes a frog when she tries to break his spell the traditional way (Baker). Everything else is pure Disney -- the location in New Orleans, the multiple subplots, the frog-hunting hillbillies, the voodoo practitioners, the talking gators and fireflies. And though both source stories are worth a read, this movie is richly symbolic and beautiful taken on its own merits.

Tangled "Rapunzel," a folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in Kinder- und Hausmärchen
In the original tale, Rapunzel's parents are commoners who live next door to Dame Gothel, a powerful witch with a spectacular garden. Rapunzel's pregnant mother craves the rampion (aka rapunzel) growing in the witch's yard, so her husband steals some for her to eat. Eventually Dame Gothel catches the man in the act, forcing him to give her his unborn child in exchange for the stolen rampion. When the child is born, Dame Gothel names her Rapunzel and spirits her away to a tall tower in the forest, far from the world. Rapunzel's hair grows very long, and eventually a prince lost in the woods comes across the tower and sees the way Dame Gothel gets to the top. Once she's gone, he tries it too -- "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, that I may climb the golden stair" -- and it works. Rapunzel and the Prince get along so well up in the tower alone with each other that one day, clueless Rapunzel mentions in passing to Dame Gothel that her dress is getting sooo tight around the waist. Realizing that her adopted shut-in daughter has been secretly getting busy with someone, the witch is furious. She takes poor pregnant Rapunzel to the wilderness, shears off her golden hair and abandons her. The next time the Prince climbs the (severed) golden hair, he finds the witch waiting for him; she taunts him that he will never see Rapunzel again, and in despair he throws himself from the tower and is blinded by thorns. Rapunzel and her Prince eventually find each other -- he groping blindly through the world, she raising twins alone -- and eventually it all works out, as these tales tend to do. The primary moral of the story seems to be "don't lock your kids away from danger, but teach them sensibly about the world." Not quite the Disney version, is it?

Frozen "Snedronningen" by Hans Christian Andersen
Disney describes this film as "inspired by" rather than based on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen," and frankly if you know both stories, the only connecting threads are a queen who has the power to control snow and ice, and the power of love to melt frozen hearts. Other than that, it's a completely different tale: two children named Kay and Gerda live next door to each other, and are so close as to be practically siblings. But one day while playing outside, Kay gets splinters of evil magic mirror in his eyes and heart, which cause him to mock everything he sees and to become cold-hearted and aloof. The Snow Queen comes to take him away, and the rest of the story is about Gerda's long, arduous quest to find him and bring him home.

Big Hero 6 Big Hero 6, Marvel comic book series
Disney made way too many changes to the original story to outline them all here. Take a look for yourself. (Although Movie Fred would probably be happy to know that in the original comic, he really could become a Godzilla-like monster.)


And there you have it! Now I think I'll go lie down for a while.

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