If there’s one thing Disney is known for it’s their movies — specifically their movies based on fairy tales and fables from the past. After all, Disney’s first animated full-length feature Snow White was based on the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tale story which propelled the studio into prominence. Because of the film’s success, the studio would soon gain recognition for bringing classic fairy tales to life such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid.
Unlike the original versions of these fairy tales, which were often dark and gruesome, Disney opted to give their adaptations more of an upbeat tone and happy endings. The same can be said with Disney adaptations of fables, some being in the form of shorts rather than full-length features. With Disney now retelling classic tales in the form of live action to some fans’ scrutiny and others’ praise, let’s look at the fairy tales and fables that the studio has yet to adapt.
10 Snow-White and Rose-Red
It’s no secret that Disney often adapts most of their movies from the Brother Grimms’ collection of fairy tales with Snow White being the most well-known example and next in line for the studio to remake the classic animated story in live action. Surprisingly, though, the Brothers Grimm has a story about another Snow White that has yet to be given the Disney-fied movie treatment. Unrelated to the fairy tale Snow White, Snow White and Rose Red is a story about two young sisters who differ from each other personality-wise except when it comes to being kind-hearted. Their kindness comes into play in the fairy tale as the sisters offer shelter to a bear throughout the winter and protect him in the summer from an evil dwarf. The story ends with the death of the dwarf, breaking the spell that turns the bear back into a prince, and the sisters going on to live with him in his palace.
With the success of Disney’s Frozen about the love between two sisters, there could be a possibility that the studio could one day try adapting Snow White and Red Rose telling somewhat of a similar angle. In 2016, it was announced that Disney would be doing a live-action movie about Snow White’s sister called Rose Red which would have connected the two characters. However, in May 2021 it was reported by the DisInsider that the project was scrapped.
9 The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Another fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm is The Twelve Dancing Princesses. The fairy tale has been adapted and re-imaged before through other mediums. Though, many might be most familiar with the story through one of Mattel Entertainment’s popular Barbie animated movies Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses.
In the original fairy tale, the King wants to know why his twelve daughters’ shoes are always worn out despite them not leaving their rooms at night. The King promises that anyone who can figure out the reason why will be rewarded by marrying any of his daughters and succeeding him after he dies. An old soldier takes up the challenge and pretends to fall asleep at night, finding the princesses go through a trapdoor in their rooms, and he follows them into an otherworldly place. For three nights, the soldier follows the princesses and collects evidence of their whereabouts. The next morning the soldier tells the King and presents the evidence, ending the story of him marrying the eldest daughter.
Adapting The Twelve Dancing Princesses can propose many benefits and difficulties for Disney. Being that the studio has tried to give their Disney princesses more agency in their stories, perhaps a hypothetical movie or show adaptation could have the twelve princesses at the forefront of the tale. On the other hand, creating twelve different personalities and character designs could be a daunting task, though Disney has done something similar before with the twelve dwarfs from their animated classic Snow White and Ariel’s sisters from The Little Mermaid. Interestingly enough, there is some evidence showing that Disney perhaps worked on an adaptation of the fairy tale as Artnet has concept art from the studio about the fairy tale from the mid to late 1930s.
8 Kate Crackernuts
Kate Crackernuts is a Scottish fairy tale collected by literary critic Andrew Lang in the late 19th century and was later republished in writer Joseph Jacobs’ English Fairy Tales. Some have regarded Kate Crackernuts as the gender-flipped version of The Twelve Dancing Princesses as it is up to the princess to save the dancing prince. The fairy tale also breaks the traditional trope of the evil stepsister as Princess Kate is shown to love her stepsister, Princess Anne dearly.
In the fairy tale, a Queen, the mother of Kate, marries a King, the father of Anne. The Queen is jealous of Anne’s beauty and so, with the help of a henwife, she curses Anne by replacing her head with a sheep’s. Kate takes Anne’s head and wraps it before setting out to find help to break the spell. They eventually come upon a castle with a King who has two sons, one of whom is sick and has everyone who watches him for the night disappearing. Kate decides to take on the King’s challenge of watching his son and discovers that at night he rides off on his horse and becomes enchanted to dance in a fairy circle. For three nights, Kate follows him and soon figures out how to cure her sister’s and the prince’s enchantment by using a baby fairy’s wand and bird — which she gets by rolling nuts their way as a distraction. In the end, Kate marries the now cured prince while his brother marries Anne.
Not only does Kate Crackernuts already fit into Disney’s famous fairy tale brand, but the story would offer up another character to their well-beloved princess line-up. Over the years, Disney has also tried to make their princess movies modern, giving the heroine more agency within their story. The adaptation of Kate Crackernuts would certainly add to Disney’s efforts as well as be a chance for the studio to subvert some of the traditional fairy tale tropes.
7 The Wild Swans
The Wild Swans is a rather climax fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, centering Princess Elise as the main heroine. The story begins with Princess Elise and her eleven brothers having a rather happy life before the King marries the evil Queen, who ends up turning the brothers into swans and tricking the King into casting Elise out of the kingdom. After meeting up with her brothers and going off with them to live on another land, Elise meets a fairy and learns that the curse can be broken only if she eleven knits shirts from stinging nettles while taking a vow of silence. This soon becomes an obstacle, when the land’s King, who has fallen in love with Elise, finds her sneaking into the graveyard and mistakes her getting more stinging nettles as proof she is a witch. The rest of the story becomes a race against the clock as Elisa knits the remaining shirts before she can be burned at the stake which she manages to do so right up at the very last minute
Disney has already adapted Andersen’s stories such as The Little Mermaid to The Steadfast Tin Soldier in Fantasia 2000. As such, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for the studio to do so again with another of his stories. Princess Elisa also falls in line with the many qualifications of what Disney is looking for in an official princess making her a viable candidate for the line-up.
6 The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse
The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse is one of Aesop’s fables — moral stories that come from the slave Aesop in Ancient Greece. Over the years, there have been many variations of the fable told, but some key details stay the same. The Town Mouse visits his relative in the country and is served modest food. While there, the Town Mouse talks about the grandiosity of their town and invites the Country Mouse to visit him afterward, much to their relative’s excitement. However, the excitement turns into distaste as when the Country Mouse visits he finds the town much too noisy and dangerous for him. The moral of the fable is about how it is much better to prefer peace and security rather than wealth and unsafety.
Disney has adapted Aesop’s fables before most notably with their Silly Symphony animated shorts in the 1930s. Some of the adaptations included stories like The Ant and the Grasshopper, The Bears and the Bees, and The Tortoise and the Hare. If Disney ever wanted to bring back Silly Symphony or create a new theatrical short, The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse could be a good fable to pick from. Or they could choose to adapt the fable into a full-length movie and even feature the studio’s mascot, Mickey Mouse, and his friends like they did with films in the past.
5 The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs
The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs is another Aesop fable that teaches the lesson of how greed and impatience can lead to great loss. A man (and his wife depending on the version of the fable) has a goose that lands a golden egg each day. Every day, he sells one in the market and soon gets rich. The man grows impatient and wants more, so he cuts open his goose in the hopes that there’ll be more golden eggs inside. But, there is none and the goose never lays eggs again.
While a little gruesome, the fable does teach a good moral about how someone’s greed can lead to their downfall. Disney is known for making their stories family-friendly and giving them happy endings, so what’s to say they can’t try tweaking some details in this fable if they ever do try to adapt it?
4 Shita-kiri Suzume/Tongue-Cut Sparrow
The classic Japanese fable Shita-kiri Suzume, which translates to Tongue-Cut Sparrow in English, teaches the lesson of how kindness will eventually reward one with good fortune while being wicked will punish one with great misfortune. The fable goes that a kind woodcutter takes care of an injured sparrow much to the distaste of his unpleasant wife. One day the wife catches the sparrow eating from their starch and cuts his tongue off before letting out into the mountains.
When the woodcutter finds out what his wife has done, he sets out to find the sparrow which he eventually does, being greeted by the sparrow and their family. The woodcutter stays for some time in their house and before he heads home, the sparrow offers him two bags: one which is heavy and one that is light. Not strong enough to carry the heavy bag and not wanting to be seen as greedy, he takes the second one home. When he gets home, his wife scolds him for staying late before she sees him opening the bag and finding it full of treasure. After learning about the other bag, the wife goes to the sparrow’s house to retrieve it, though she isn’t as kind to the sparrows as her husband. In some versions of the story, when the wife opens the bag, snakes and bugs come out, though in other versions demons come out to chase her all the way home.
Disney has adapted and taken inspiration from stories from many different regions of the world such as Mulan from China’s short poem Ballad of Mulan, Aladdin from the Arab collection of stories One Thousand and One Nights, and even Moana in particular regard to Maui’s character from Polynesian mythology. Disney adapting more traditional fables from other parts of the world like Japan’s The Tongue-Cut would allow audiences even more opportunities to learn and be exposed to other cultures.
3 The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Though some details of the Aesop fable may vary, the overall lesson of The Boy Who Cried Wolf serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of lying. As the fable goes, the shepherd boy, bored, decides to play a trick yelling out to the townsfolk that a wolf is coming to eat the sheep prompting them each time to come chase the animal off. However, after doing this a few times, the townsfolk start getting annoyed at not seeing the wolf, causing them not to come when the shepherd actually sees one and calls out, resulting in all the sheep being eaten. However, in some versions of the fable the Shepherd Boy also gets eaten.
Disney did somewhat adapt The Boy Who Cried Wolf into a children’s book, Donald Cries “Wolf!” featuring the characters of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck as well as retold the fable in a one-minute short using finger puppets from their Disney Junior series DJ Tales. As in terms of a full-length movie or animated short, Disney hasn’t yet released their version of the fable.
2 The Monkey and the Crocodile
The Monkey and the Crocodile is an Indian fable from the Panchatantra — a collection of tales involving animals. In this fable, a crocodile befriends a monkey after they share some apples together. The crocodile’s wife becomes jealous of this relationship and tricks her husband by saying that she is sick and only the heart of the monkey can cure her. Though saddened, the crocodile agrees to this and offers a ride to the monkey on his back across the river bank only to start sinking halfway which the crocodile admits to the monkey as a way to kill him for his heart. Thinking fast, the monkey tells the crocodile his heart is back at his home and as soon as the crocodile returns to it the monkey escapes by climbing up a tree.
The Monkey and the Crocodile is another fable that could be an opportunity for Disney if they are looking for stories to tell from other cultures. Fables are generally short, but that doesn’t mean Disney would have to retell it as a short. Chicken Little, for example, was a short tale that Disney managed to turn into a full-length 3D animated film in 2005 with a run time of about an hour and a half. While the movie didn’t go on to become a hit classic — currently having a 36% Tomatometer rating and 47% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes — it doesn’t mean that Disney can’t try again and adapt a completely new fable like The Monkey and the Crocodile.
1 Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters
Compared to the other stories on this list, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters is a fairly recent original fairy tale by John Steptoe published in 1987. Steptoe’s children’s book was based on Xhosa folklore collected by South African historian George Theal in the 19th century and the detailed illustrations were inspired by ruins of an ancient city in Zimbabwe. The book was and continues to be highly regarded for its storytelling and showcasing of rich African culture by critics and educators alike, and has received many awards following its release including the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration.
The story opens up introducing readers to farmer Mufaro’s two daughters: Manyara and Nyasha. While they are both regarded as beautiful in their village, Manyara is unkind while Nyasha is well-natured. Because of Nyasha’s kindness, she befriends the Great King, who, unknown to her, is disguised as a snake which happens to appear in her garden a lot. When the Great King declares that he is looking for a wife, he tests the character of his suitors by disguising himself as different people in need while they journey to the city. As expected Manyara fails these trials, however, Nyasha passes as the Great King reveals that he is the snake and the two soon get married.
Disney has adapted a modern fairy tale before with The Princess and the Frog being based on both the Grimm Brothers’ version and the YA novel retelling the story, The Frog Princess by E.D Baker. It would be interesting to see how Disney approaches adapting solely from a modern-made fairy tale rather than a story from the past. After all, Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters has gotten a play adaptation already as reported by WABE and Disney is currently developing a live-action fairy tale movie called Sadéwhich is about an African princess of the same name according to Variety.
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