Throughout its history, Disney has often drawn inspiration for its animated films from fairy tales and folk tales, whether used to create faithful adaptations or as starting points.
With some of the studio’s most successful hits beginning this way, Frozen, Aladdinand The little Mermaid to name a few, it seems likely that this is a strategy they will continue to employ in the future – alongside creating original stories like Encanto — while the vast catalogs of fairy tales from around the world mean there’s still plenty of inspiration to be had.
Hansel and Gretel
One of the many fairy tales accumulated and published by the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel sees the titular brother and sister get lost in a forest until they encounter a witch in a house made of gingerbread and candy.
Although in typical Grimm fashion the witch tries to eat the children, they eventually outwit (and kill!) her and escape. Disney often softens the rawness of original fairy tales, and that should happen with Hansel and Gretelbut the story’s courageous sibling protagonists and the magic of the witch in her candy house seem suited for the adaptation.
Disney had unconventional main characters, and the main character of Rumpelstiltskin could definitely fit in with them. Rumpelstiltskin is an elf-like villain who offers to turn straw into gold for a young woman whose father wrongly told the king she possessed this ability.
In exchange, Rumpelstiltskin makes a series of demands, including the girl’s firstborn, but when it comes time for the young woman to hand over her baby, she refuses, and instead Rumpelstiltskin offers her a bargain; she will be released from their agreement if she can guess his real name. The deception and nature of this tale make it a go-to for Disney, giving them the opportunity to explore the character of Rumpelstiltskin as well.
Little Red Riding Hood
Perhaps one of the best-known European fairy tales, it seems surprising that Disney’s only foray into adapting Little Red Riding Hood came with their 1934 animated short, The big mean wolf.
Walking to deliver food to her ailing grandmother, the tale sees Little Red Riding Hood run into a terrifying wolf who later impersonates her grandmother. Different versions have varying terror endings, whether Little Red is saved or eaten. In all iterations, however, the whimsical forest setting and archetypal characters remain the same, giving Disney plenty of material to draw inspiration from.
The goose girl
Another tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, The goose girl sees its titular character, a princess, get into trouble when, during their travels to a neighboring kingdom, a series of events lead the princess’ conniving maid to assume her royal identity, leaving the handmaiden princess for herself. take care of geese.
Mistaken or secret identities are a common theme in fairy tales and one that Disney has used in movies like Tangled with great success. In this story, the goose girl’s subtle magic and decorum finally prove her true identity, and she regains her old position, her strength of character making the princess a perfect candidate for a Disney adaptation.
The princess and the Pea
Disney loves creating scenes that perfectly encapsulate a main character, and The princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen is a story that also accomplishes this.
Following a prince in search of his perfect bride, a mysterious woman claiming to be a princess arrives at his castle, and her claim is tested when a single pea is secretly placed under her mattress volumes, the idea being that a true royal would discern the slightest disturbance to their comfort. The comic premise of the tale could be taken in many directions by Disney, as it exposes the elaborate patterns that many fairy tale royals follow to determine a person of nobility.
The Frog Princess / Vasilisa the Wise
Not to be confused with Disney the princess and the frogbased on a separate fairy tale, The frog princess (Where Vasilisa the Wise) is a story with many variations.
At its core, however, the fairy tale is about three princes looking for wives. The king tells them to each shoot an arrow, saying where it lands they will find a perfect match. One is found by a frog, who miraculously eclipses the human women in the tasks the three are assigned, before later transforming into a human princess. These shapeshifting abilities would be irresistible for Disney to explore, much like the ingenuity of the frog.
The tortoise and the hare
One of the most recognized stories of Aesop’s fables, The tortoise and the hare sees its titular characters take part in a race, which the tortoise wins thanks to the hare’s arrogance.
Despite its simplistic story, the thematic elements of this fairy tale are strong, showing both the benefits of persistence and the dangers of overconfidence. The story of Disney’s animal protagonists could allow them to bring that story to life in new and vivid ways, using the tale as a springboard for a richer narrative.
Jack and the Beanstalk
An English tale, Jack and the Beanstalk sees its young protagonist acquire magic beans, which grow into a huge stalk that reaches into the clouds, where a giant resides.
Jack climbs the beanstalk and falls on the giant, from which he must then escape. In keeping with some heartbreaking Disney sacrifices, this is achieved when Jack cuts the beanstalk, severing his connection to the magical (if dangerous) place in the clouds. Disney had indeed planned an adaptation of this story, titled Giganticbut it was unfortunately discontinued a few years ago, according to Empire. Even so, the studio’s take on the story still has a lot of potential.
With their fair share of villains who could have potentially been heroes, Disney films aren’t afraid to confront questions of morality, and Baba Yaga’s stories certainly do.
A figure in Slavic folklore and fairy tales, Baba Yaga appeared in many tales, often taking on the role of a villain but sometimes aiding heroes on their journeys. Her home is a hut in the forest that moves on chicken legs, and the witch often flies into her cauldron. The character’s rich history could inspire a wide variety of stories, brought to life by Disney’s distinctive flair.
A work by Hans Christian Andersen, wild swans centers on a princess’s journey to save her 11 brothers, who have been turned into swans by her evil stepmother.
Through her trials to save her siblings, which include knitting shirts made of stinging nettles for each of the princes, she is accused of witchcraft by a king but steadfastly continues her task, even though she is condemned to be burned on the pyre. A story that ultimately teaches family love and determination, wild swans echoes the themes that Disney movies are known for.
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