Disney has had no trouble remaking and reimagining some of the most beloved fairy tales. Disney continues to inspire and promote the now often thought of as “original” Disney magic—from the live action retelling of the Jungle Book to the newly released villain origin story of Cruella. However, many of the most well-known princesses and plots that are famously attributed to Disney actually get their original magic from books. Here is a list of some of the most well known and oldest Disney stories originally inspired from novels.
Tarzan. This adventure classic is probably one of the first Disney movies many people see, however it was originally a book published in 1914 by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Tarzan of the Apes consists of the same beloved plot: a young boy is raised by apes within an African jungle but when White explorers arrive within the area, the adult Tarzan adopts their ways to gain the love of Jane Porter. Ring any bells? However similarly Disney adapted the story, the original text highlights the differences, conflict, and struggle between what is considered the “wild” and the “civilized.” While the Disney version definitely provided some heartwarming magic and toe-tapping music to the story, the book provides a little more introspection.
The Jungle Book. The well-known author and Nobel Prize winner, Rudyard Kipling, is the original writer of the now Disney classic The Jungle Book. Originally published in 1894 the story follows the unlikely friendships between a young boy and various animals within the jungle. Disney adopted this classic into an animated film in 1967 and eventually created a live action remake in 2016. The Jungle Book is undoubtedly another example of Disney’s capability to not only popularize 100+ year old stories, but to bring them to life in a new way. I wonder what Kipling would have thought of his characters as Disney merchandise?
101 Dalmatians. The Hundred and One Dalmatians is actually a children’s novel written by Dodie Smith and originally published in 1956. The plot between the two works is similar, with Disney adapting original characters such as Pongo and Missis as well as the now infamous Cruella de Vil. The book is only 32 pages long, which is considerably shorter than the two plus hours of watch time for each 101 Dalmatians-themed movie. Nevertheless, we have Disney to thank for not only bringing life to these characters but expanding on and developing the heart behind Smith’s work
Peter Pan. The story and character of Peter Pan is as deep in history as the character and story originally created by J.M. Barrie in 1906. The story of Peter Pan began with the character who initially appeared in Barrie’s 1906 Novel The Little White Bird. This appearance was transferred into the 1906 lesser-known story Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Peter’s story wasn’t fully developed until Barrie’s 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The character is famous as a symbol of youth, and many of the characters and themes from this story are now the hallmark of Disney’s brand—from Tinker Bell’s prominent presence in marketing to the popular idea of “being a kid at heart” that builds the Disney aesthetic. Peter Pan is one of the most iconic characters in popular culture and in Disney, all thanks to the imagination of J.M. Barrie.
Pinocchio. Pinocchio is one of Disney’s earliest movies and stories. The animated film Pinocchio dates back to 1940, but the plot and character were originally created by Italian author Carlo Collodi in 1883. The original Italian story, however, is much darker than the beloved Disney adaption. Pinocchio, rather than becoming woodworker Geppetto’s friend and adoptive son, begins abusing him and eventually runs away as his feet are carved by the old man. Geppetto is eventually arrested for trying to recapture Pinocchio, after which Pinocchio returns to Geppetto’s house where he kills Jiminy Cricket. Additionally, Pinocchio is almost hanged by the Fox and Cat who want to steal Pinocchio’s gold, but he is saved by a Fairy at the last moment. However, Pinocchio doesn’t learn his lesson and after losing his gold to the Fox and Cat, he lives with the Fairy and her son where his mischievous lessons and dire consequences continue up until he turns into a real boy. The much longer and darker original story is meant to serve as a lesson for children and emphasize good behavior—a similar idea perhaps, although less lighthearted, than the Disney adaptation.
Bauer, P. & Lowne, C. (2018, October 23). The Adventures of Pinocchio. Britannica.
The Little White Bird. (2021, May 19). In Wikipedia
Photo Credits: Changing Hands Bookstore