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The Books That Inspired Disney: Part 4

By Adrienne Rivera. Sep 6, 2023. 10:07 AM.

Topics: Children's Books, Movie Tie-Ins

Today, we continue our overview of books that inspired animators and legendary film company, Walt Disney animations. While folk tales continue to occupy a large place in Disney’s oeuvre, today we also feature a selection of classic stories from British literature Let's take a look at a new selection of films in the fourth edition of our Books That Inspired Disney series:

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The best thing for being sad . . . is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies; you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then - to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

The 1963 film The Sword in the Stone is based on a collection of novels titled The Once and Future King by British author T.H. White, published in 1958. The movie adapts the first part, also titled The Sword and the Stone, as it details the early life of Wart, the boy who would pull the sword from the stone and grow up to be Arthur, the legendary king of Britain who is a central figure in British folklore. The Once and Future King is a loose adaptation of Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur. The movie, like the novel, takes what is a 5th-century tale and transports it to the 14th century.


Sleeping Beauty, a folktale

“To wait so long/And want a man refined and strong/Is not uncommon. And yet to wait one hundred years/Without a tear, without a care/Makes for a very rare woman. So here our tale appears to show/How marriage deferred/Brings joy unheard/Nothing lost after a century or so. But others love with more ardor/And wed quickly out of passion/Whatever they do/I won’t deplore/Nor shall I preach a lesson.”

Disney's 1959 movie, Sleeping Beauty, was based on a fairytale by Charles Perrault called Sleeping Beauty or The Beauty in the Sleeping Forrest, which he published in 1657 in his collection Tales from Times Past. While many attribute this fairy tale to the Brothers Grimm, they collected Perrault’s version. Perrault's version is based on earlier folktales, such as the 14th-century Perceforest. Perrault's version is the most commonly told, changing very little from his version to today. Perrault’s version does not involve the prince waking Sleeping Beauty with a kiss as seen in Disney’s movie.


Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

Mary Poppins was very vain and liked to look her best. Indeed, she was quite sure that she never looked anything else.”

mary poppinsWhile Mary Poppins and its sequel, Mary Poppins Returns, are live action films, the charming animated sequences featured in both merit inclusion on this list. Considering both films were massive hits for Disney, it may come as a surprise that the author of the magical nanny series, P.L. Travers, was not a fan. She served as a consultant for the original 1964 adaptation but she and Disney had numerous artistic disagreements. She disliked the film so much that she banned Disney from adapting any more of her novels. Though Travers and the Disney Corporation attempted to come to an agreement on a sequel in the 80s, agreements were never reached, and the project was scrapped. A sequel was eventually released in 2018 with the approval of Travers’ estate.


The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

“Now this is the Law of the Jungle — as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.

As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk the Law runneth forward and back —
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

The Jungle Book is based on the 1894 collected works of Rudyard Kipling. Kipling’s The Jungle Book tells the story of Mowgli, a man-cub abandoned in the forest and raised by wolves. In Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation, Mowgli spends much less time with the wolves than in the book. The 2016 live-action adaptation sticks much closer to the original story. The Jungle Book contains many stories beyond those of Mowgli. One of the most famous characters besides Mowgli and his friends to come out of the book is the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.

Robin Hood, a folk tale

robin hoodDisney’s 1973 animated adaptation of Robin Hood was the result of the combination of two ideas to adapt two different English folktales. Disney had long considered Robin Hood but the project was continuously pushed back. It wasn't until animator Ken Anderson suggested anthropomorphic animals as they’d considered for an adaptation of the English tale of Reynard the Fox that they moved forward with the adaptation. Due to production constraints, animation sequences from The Aristocats and The Jungle Book were reused for the film.



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Adrienne Rivera
Adrienne Rivera received her MFA in fiction from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She currently lives in southern Indiana.


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