This article contains movie and book spoilers.
The next time you leave a movie theater having watched an adaptation of a beloved novel or comic book, strain your ears a little and you might just be able to hear the voice of a disgruntled fan muttering, "the book was better..." under her breath. And those disgruntled fans are far from wrong. So many children's book movie adaptations leave the darkest, most disturbing material from the source out of the film.
Love it or hate it, translating a story from one medium to another is nearly impossible without changing something to make the transition work, whether it's altering characters or plot elements or chopping out entire sections of narrative. This is usually done to improve the pace of a story, focus on the most cinematic (action-based) elements of the story, appease studio directives (i.e. get the rating to justify the budget), or because a creative team wants to make its mark on a story. Whether these changes work or not is subjective, although dark material left out of adaptations often changes to the tone of a story.
What about those changes made purely to soften the sharper edges of a story? This happens a lot in children's films, but there are cases of movies for adults omitting or censoring controversial elements from the source material. Sometimes it's to appeal to a wider audience, other times because cinema is a visual medium, which makes things a lot more graphic and disturbing than they are on the page.
Here are some of the disturbing details left out of movie adaptations.
Disney's version of Sleeping Beauty retains a good part of the fairy tale weirdness of Charles Perrault's original, but considerably softens some of the most troubling aspects of the source, for obvious reasons.
Rather than a spinning wheel's needle, Perrault's story has the princess prick her finger on a piece of flax, sending her and the kingdom into a century-long sleep, instead of the hours-long one Disney chose to stop the prince horribly aging. In the book, said prince rocks up as he does in the film, but rather than a chaste kiss, he impregnates her with twins, who she gives birth to while comatose. It's only when one of the babies sucks the flax from her finger that Sleeping Beauty wakes up (and is probably a little confused.)
Brian J. Robb notes in A Brief History of Disney that critics took issue with the film's sentimentality, while Walt Disney lamented that audiences were obsessed with "violence, sex and other subjects."
Actors: Marvin Miller, Mary Costa, Verna Felton, Taylor Holmes, Eleanor Audley, + more
Initial Release: 1959
Directed by: Clyde Geronimi
#62 on The Best Animated Films Ever
#53 on The Best Movies for Kidssee more on Sleeping Beauty
Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid was far more melancholic than the version Disney made. Andersen's mermaid is also more shy and passive than Disney's rebellious Ariel, despite the stakes being far higher for her - if she doesn't seal the deal with the prince, she'll die. Sadly, this tragic scenario plays out; the prince chooses a human bride and the mermaid dissolving into sea foam.
"I realized it was an incredibly sad story, with a very, very sad ending," Ron Clements, who directed the film adaptation, told HuffPost Entertainment. He knew a happier ending would be needed for his pitch to get approved by the powers that be at Disney.
Actors: Tim Curry, Mark Hamill, Frank Welker, Buddy Hackett, Jim Cummings, + more
Initial Release: 1989
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
#21 on The Best Animated Films Eversee more on The Little Mermaid
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Anthony Burgess's deeply disturbing tale of the ultra violent exploits of teenage gang (the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange) is fairly faithful. Faithful enough to be as shocking as the source material, which largely consists of Alex and his uniformed mates getting high on drug-laced milk and committing violent crimes.
Despite how faithful the movie is to the source, one scene is notably toned down from the book (which is saying a lot of this film): that in which Alex has sex with two teenage girls. In the book, the girls are 10 years old, and Alex drugs and rapes them. Yikes. It's pretty clear why this detail couldn't have ever made it to the big screen.
Actors: Malcolm McDowell, Warren Clarke, Steven Berkoff, David Prowse, Adrienne Corri, + more
Initial Release: 1971
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
#9 on The Best '70s Movies
#17 on The Best Movies About Bookssee more on A Clockwork Orange
Readers of Stephen King's 1986 novel It know there's plenty of disturbing imagery that's difficult to translate to the screen. Perhaps the book's most infamous scene comes towards the very end. After defeating the terrifying Pennywise, the kids of the Losers Club find themselves hopelessly lost in the sewers underneath Derry. They come up with an unconventional way to recharge their collective energy and escape: have sex. The group's lone female member, Beverly, volunteers to take the virginity of each of the boys.
Understandably, both the '90s miniseries adaptation of It and the 2017 big screen version omit this scene entirely. King himself has spoken about the controversial sequence:
"I wasn't really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don't remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children – we think we do, but we don't remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It's another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children's library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues."
Also Rankedsee more on It