Surprisingly Accurate Literary Details In Disney Films

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Vote up the book details Disney movies included that surprise you.

Scholars and experts on children's literature have criticized Disney films based on fairy tales and other books for being too soft, sweet, and sentimental. Former librarian and teacher Frances Clarke Sayers, for example, said in the 1960s that Walt Disney “does strange things. He sweetens a folktale. Everything becomes very lovable.” And any film that doesn't follow the original material word for word, theme for theme, is likely to get backlash from avid fans.

But the Disney brand, from its films to its theme parks, is known for its attention to detail. Some of the most beloved Disney films inspired by books include what you might consider surprisingly accurate elements.  


  • Charles Dickens's 1843 novel A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the screen and stage numerous times, from the 1951 classic drama with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, to the 1988 comedy Scrooged, starring Bill Murray. But don't forget The Muppet Christmas Carol, released in 1992 and directed by Brian Henson (Jim Henson's son). The musical Muppet comedy might just be the most faithful adaptation of Dickens's novel.

    Most versions of A Christmas Carol use Dickens's original dialogue. But in The Muppet Christmas Carol, the whatever-creature-he-is Gonzo serves as Dickens/The Narrator, a choice the filmmakers made deliberately to also get more of Dickens's narrative prose into the movie. Henson told Uproxx:

    [Screenwriter Jerry Juhl's] feeling was, look, the Dickens dialogue is absolutely fantastic, as we all know from all the movies and stage shows, but the Dickens prose, when Dickens describes a scene or describes a character, it’s so, so good. He said, "I want to put a character in that is Charles Dickens." Then we thought, "Who’s the least likely?" in order to make it funny... Gonzo was basically the least-likely choice to play Charles Dickens, and then we put Rizzo with him just as his ridiculous little sidekick. Then, pretty much almost everything that Gonzo says is straight out of the book. Probably 95% of his dialogue is Dickens prose, and maybe 5% are little asides and quips that we threw in there.

    106 votes
  • Louis Sachar's award-winning children's novel Holes takes place at a fictional boys' detention center, Camp Green Lake, in the middle of the Texas desert. Boys at the correctional facility are forced to spend all day digging holes 5 feet wide and deep at the site, where the lake has dried up, in search of treasure.

    The 2003 live-action film Holes based on the book was filmed in Southern California. Director Andrew Davis told The Austin Chronicle, "We couldn't find a location in Texas that was close enough to hotels where we could get the crew back and forth every day." The filmmakers instead settled on the Cuddeback Dry Lake Bed near the California desert town of Ridgecrest.

    And the crew really did dig hundreds of 5-by-5-foot holes, which was a grueling task. According to Davis:

    We dug 400 holes and made it look like 10,000 in a couple of places. Actually, I was really p*ssed off at Louis Sachar when we first started. I said, "Louis, have you ever dug a 5-foot hole?"

    90 votes
  • Scottish author J.M. Barrie originally wrote Peter Pan as a play (the full title was Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up), first produced in 1904 at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London. The original play's program lists Gerald du Maurier as the actor who plays both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Since then, the roles have traditionally been played by the same actor. In the 1953 Disney animated film version, both characters are voiced by actor Hans Conried

    Actors playing double roles in stage productions has long been a common practice, especially when theaters want to save money or don't have enough actors. But Darling/Hook were the only double-cast roles in the original Peter Pan, which has led some to suggest the casting choice is thematic, a reflection of Hook as the imaginative, magnified version of the real-life stern, authoritarian father figure Mr. Darling.    

    80 votes
  • Disney's 1942 film Bambi is based on Felix Salten's 1923 German novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods. Salten, an Austrian Jew who later had to escape to Switzerland when the Nazis occupied Vienna, penned the novel after WWI - for adults. The novel, like the book, features anthropomorphized animals (minus the cute ones like Thumper the bunny and Flower the skunk), including a young deer coming of age, which in part made readers think it was a children's story.

    Viewers and critics have noted that the film, which includes (spoiler alert) a terrible fire and Bambi's mom being killed (although that is not shown on screen), is frightening for children. A New York Times review criticized the film for veering too far away from fantasy into realism, both visually and thematically:

    [I]n re-creating Salten's fable, Mr. Disney has again revealed a discouraging tendency to trespass beyond the bounds of cartoon fantasy into the tight naturalism of magazine illustration... [I]n so far as it reaches out into the world of actual beings, it gives away its make-believe. In his search for perfection, Mr. Disney has come perilously close to tossing away his whole world of cartoon fantasy.

    But the film, even with all the sweet, singing animals, stayed true to the original book, written for adults during a dark time.

    73 votes
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    46 VOTES

    The ‘One Hundred And One Dalmatians’ Screenwriter Sent Character Sketches To The Author Of The Novel The Film Was Based On

    Dodie Smith, author of the 1956 British children's novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians, was delighted and proud that Disney wanted to make an animated film based on her book. In a letter to Walt Disney, Smith told him she had "always hoped" the company might do so, and visualized the scenes as cartoons as she wrote. During film production, screenwriter and animator Bill Peet sent Smith sample sketches of Pongo and Perdita (the parent Dalmatians) and villain Cruella de Vil. 

    Smith said she thought the Disney depictions of the characters were better than the illustrations in her novel by twin sisters Janet and Anne Grahame Johnstone. She wrote in a letter:

    Cruella is magnificent, much more exciting than the illustrations in the book. Pongo and Missis have great personalities. Sorry, I mean Pongo and Perdita.

    (Smith did not like that the film combined the two motherly Dalmatians in the book - Missis, the puppies' biological mother, and Perdita, a stray who helps nurse the puppies - into Perdita only.)

    46 votes
  • Jules Verne's science-fiction novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, originally released in French as Vingt mille lieues sous les mers in 1869-1870, contains an epic fight between a squid and Captain Nemo's ship, the Nautilus. The scene wasn't easy to reproduce on film, but the crew of the 1954 Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea made it happen - and won an Academy Award for special effects. 

    According to Francesca Scrimgeour of Walt Disney Archives, the scene was filmed on a Disney studio lot with a stage that included a giant pool. Originally, the scene was written to take place at sunset, when the glowing red sky would appear ominous. But "that staging ended up feeling too peaceful," she said, rendering the squid less ominous than it was described in the book. Plus, the crew was concerned that the squid "puppet" didn't look real enough, with wires dangling everywhere.

    To make the atmosphere more foreboding and the squid less technical, the filmmakers staged the fight at night during a fake torrential storm powered by "wind machines, water cannons, and wave makers." They also used "an updated squid featuring different coloring, a bulbous shape, and a menacing brow."

    55 votes