Monday, September 10, 2012

Classic Disney Movies Based on Children's Books

Most of the classic Disney princess movies come straight out of fairy tales, but the family film studio has also combed other literary sources for many of its popular productions. Successful children's novels from around the world have served as the inspiration for some of Disney's most beloved animated and live-action pictures, although Walt Disney and his screenwriters were rarely very faithful to the original texts. Whether you're trying to get youngsters interested in classic movies or in reading good books, these Disney adaptations can make for a good starting point. Here are just a few of the classic Disney films that owe their existence to novels written for young readers.

Pinocchio (1940) - Italian writer Carlo Collodi created the original story of the wooden boy, which first appeared in Italy in 1883. Today you can find many versions of Pinocchio's story, and the novel that first imagined this puppet hero remains a classic in its own right. Try the Puffin Classics edition of the book for an inexpensive introduction to Collodi's enduring tale of adventure, transformation, and paternal love. Be forewarned, though, that a lot of bad things happen to Pinocchio, and Collodi's story has a moral tone much like the work of Hans Christian Andersen.

Bambi (1942) - While some of the novels adapted for Disney films remain well-known and widely available, Austrian author Felix Salten's 1923 tale of a young deer is harder to find. Older children who can handle more somber and realistic depictions of animal life might find the story very engaging, but, like the Disney movie, it might be too much for younger children to handle. Aladdin has a 1988 paperback edition still available from online retailers like, although the 1929 sequel, Bambi's Children, appears to be out of print. Try your local library for copies of both books.

101 Dalmatians (1961) - Disney has turned Dodie Smith's original novel into a whole series of movies and spin-off productions, including its own 1996 live-action remake of the animated film. The 1961 picture simplifies the novel by reducing the number of adult dogs involved in the story, but for the most part the Disney film takes its cues from Smith's charming tale. Dog lovers are sure to find the original book a winner, and anglophiles will enjoy its very English character. The Puffin edition provides Smith's full text for a very reasonable price, and the story is a perfect choice for reading aloud, particularly at Christmas, when much of the action takes place. Starlight Barking, a long-forgotten sequel to Smith's novel, is also now back in print.

Mary Poppins (1964) - P.L. Travers' long contention with Walt Disney over the adaptation of her very popular book series has been much discussed in Disney movie circles, but the 1964 live-action musical proved a watershed event in the career of its star, Julie Andrews, and hopefully the film's success has brought readers back to the English writer's original works. The movie won five Oscars and was nominated for thirteen, making it one of Disney's greatest screen accomplishments. Numerous paperback editions of all of the Mary Poppins novels are in print, and kids who enjoy the movie will probably like to find out about all of Mary's other adventures with the Banks family.

The Jungle Book (1967) - Film studios have frequently turned to the works of Rudyard Kipling for their stories, so it should be no surprise that Disney would offer its own adaptation of a Kipling tale. Kipling's original novella (it's really more a collection of stories than a proper novel) appeared in 1894. Although it's a fun movie with some terrific songs, the Disney version strays pretty far from the source material. Kids who enjoy talking animal novels like The Warriors and The Guardians of Ga'Hoole series ought to enjoy this influential literary classic. Disney also produced a live-action version starring Jason Scott Lee in 1994, although it's more interesting for its cast than its fidelity to Kipling. If your kids enjoy the original story, they should also love Neil Gaiman's Newbery-winning revision, The Graveyard Book (2008).

Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971) - Adapted from the novels by Mary Norton, who also penned The Borrowers books, the 1971 Disney live-action film capitalized on the similar combination of Englishness, magic, and music that had made Mary Poppins such a hit. The movie is very good, especially with Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson in the lead roles, but it has very little in common with Norton's texts. Look for Norton's original stories as The Magic Bed-knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks; a combined edition of both stories is available from Sandpiper. There's no guarantee, though, that fans of one version will like the other.

Other classic Disney films adapted from books include Song of the South (1946), Alice in Wonderland (1951), Treasure Island (1950), Peter Pan (1953), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), and Old Yeller (1957). Almost all of these are based on true classics that you and your children can find at your local library or bookstore, and many of them are also free on ereaders like the Kindle and the Nook.

An earlier version of this article originally appeared on The author retains all rights to this content.


  1. I didn't know 101 DALMATIANS was from a book - I love that movie! When I was a kid, I tried to read Mary Poppins, because it is absolutely my most favoritest movie ever, but I didn't take to it because the real Mary Poppins is so unlike Julie Andrews. I did read the original play "Peter Pan" but I'm too scared to read Pinocchio. I can't remember if I've read Jungle Book - I know I read Kipling's Kim...
    WHat a great idea for a post! It has given me a thought - KH movies that were books. Or KH movies that were plays - there were a lot of them. Hm, we'll see. Thank you!

  2. Glad it gave you some ideas! I read all of these at one point or another, and I definitely think you should give 101 DALMATIANS a try. I can't wait to see what you do with the Hepburn adaptations theme!