Written by Megan Barlog
Everyone knows that Disney favorites like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Beauty and the Beast, and Frozen were inspired by fairy tales, but did you know that many other Disney movies were based on books? Let’s see if you know the books that inspired these Disney films.
Anyone who’s ever been to Italy might know that Pinocchio is quite the popular character there—but it’s not because of the Disney film. Pinocchio was actually invented by the Italian author Carlo Collodi of Florence, Tuscany, in his 1883 children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. It is his story about a little wooden puppet that inspired the Disney animated film.
The legend of Robin Hood began as an oral history passed down through songs and ballads before it made its way to stage plays and finally novels specifically adapted for children. The story we’re most familiar with today was based on Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. Disney not only created the animated Robin Hood based on this story, turning all the human characters into animals, but also a live action version.
While you may know that Peter Pan is the creation of J. M. Barrie, you might not know that Peter Pan’s first appearance was not in his own story but in a few chapters of Barrie’s adult novel, The Little White Bird. Barrie then went on to write a stage play starring Peter, and finally adapted that play into the novel which inspired the Disney animated film.
Many of us were scarred for life after watching Old Yeller as kids, but how many of us ever read the book? The 1956 children’s novel was written by Fred Gipson and received a Newbery Honor in 1957—the same year Disney released the live action film based on the book.
While we might be most familiar with Disney’s 1960 film starring Hayley Mills, the story began with the book Pollyanna published in 1913 and written by American author Eleanor H. Porter. Sequels to the books were later written by Porter and other authors, with the final sequel published in 1997.
This animated classic and the live action adaptations that followed are based on the 1956 book The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith. Before it was a book, the story was serialized in Woman’s Day as The Great Dog Robbery.
When Scottish author Sheila Burnford’s 1961 novel The Incredible Journey was first published it was a modest success, but it came to fame when Disney loosely adapted it for the 1963 live action film, The Incredible Journey, and later the 1993 live action film Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey.
If you’ve watched Saving Mr. Banks then you already know how the series of Mary Poppins books by P. L. Travers inspired Disney’s 1964 musical film Mary Poppins starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. The sequel film, Mary Poppins Returns, is also based on this book series.
The very title of this film is a giveaway that it must be based on a book, and it’s true—the 1967 animated musical, its 2003 animated sequel, and the 2016 live action film are all based on Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 novel, The Jungle Book.
While most of us are now familiar with Disney’s animated stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, the characters were originally created by the English author A. A. Milne. The first book in the series, Winnie-the-Pooh, was published in 1926, but the characters live on in Disney’s many films.
You might be familiar with The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under, but have you ever read the books? The first film is primarily based on the books The Rescuers and Miss Bianca written by British novelist Margery Sharp, though other books in Sharp’s children’s series inspired both films.
Anyone else find themselves crying whenever they watch this movie? Turns out it could have been even sadder! In the original novel The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix, the fox Tod causes the death of one of the hunter’s dogs. Disney heavily modified the story from the source material, though, and perhaps that was a good thing.
Few people remember the movie The Black Cauldron, and even fewer remember the book of the same name written by Lloyd Alexander, which is the second in The Chronicles of Prydain series. The book was published in 1965, and while the animated film is not a direct adaptation, the book inspired many elements of the plot for the 1985 film.
If you were asked what book inspired The Great Mouse Detective you might guess one of the Sherlock Holmes novels, but that is not exactly true. This animated film is actually based on the Basil of Baker Street book series written by Eve Titus between 1958 and 1982, which in turn borrows heavily from the Sherlock Holmes tradition. The book series has recently been revived with new books written by Cathy Hapka released in 2018 and 2019.
If you’ve ever read the 1838 Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist then you probably already know that Oliver & Company is a reimagining of that same story. Whereas Oliver Twist tells a story of human characters in 19th century London, Disney reimagined these characters as cats and dogs living on the mean streets of modern-day New York City.
The story of Tarzan has been adapted several times since American author Edgar Rice Burroughs first published Tarzan of the Apes. The story first appeared in the pulp magazine The All-Story before it was released as a book in 1914. Disney’s film was the first animated feature film adaptation of the story.
If you were a teen in the early 2000s then you likely watched the film, read the book series, or both. Meg Cabot’s first book in this young adult series was published in 2000, and the film released in 2001.
You may have forgotten about this Disney film starring Gilmore Girls actress Alexis Bledel. While the film came out in 2002, the novel that inspired the film, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit, was published back in 1975.
While you may not have heard about Louis Sachar’s novel Holes the moment it was published in 1998, there’s a good chance you read it after the movie came out in 2003. The movie is one of the better book-to-film adaptations with how closely it follows the original novel.
Disney seems to like Freaky Friday since they’ve created not one, not two, but three live action adaptations of this 1972 novel written by Mary Rodgers. The most recent adaptation is the 2018 Disney Channel Original. Before that were the 2003 film starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, and the 1976 film starring Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster.
Unless you paid close attention, you might not have realized that Meet the Robinsons is loosely based on characters from William Joyce’s picture book, A Day with Wilbur Robinson. The picture book was released in 1990, and it was slightly expanded for a rerelease in 2006 (likely to accompany the 2007 film).
Fans of Roald Dahl already know this one. The film The BFG is based on Dahl’s book of the same name which was first published in 1982. The film was released in 2016, the same year as Roald Dahl’s centennial.
How many of the books were you able to name? Tell us in the comments!
Megan Barlog loves great stories, be they books, movies, TV shows, or anything in between! She has studied both creative writing and screenwriting, and worked for both a library and a major NYC publisher. When she’s not writing a novel or screenplay, she’s probably out for a run or binge-watching something on Netflix.
If you enjoyed this piece, check out: 12 of the Best Book-to-Film Adaptations in 2020