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Adaptation Displacement / Disney

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When Disney adapts a story or fairy tale, their version tends to become the best known and may influence future adaptations.


  • Almost every retelling of Snow White since 1937 has the dwarfs described as individual characters, while the original story doesn't describe them that way, and even non-Disney versions of Snow White depict her nearly identically to the Disney version. The original story has the Wicked Stepmother try two other tactics (the poisoned comb and the magical corset) to unsuccessfully kill Snow White, before she finally tries to use the poisoned apple. In Disney's version, they only focused on the apple narrative. Also, the Prince doesn't kiss Snow White back to life, but decides to take her coffin with him, whereupon the thing drops on the ground making the piece of apple that Snow White swallowed fall out of her mouth. Given all this, it's ironic that the tale's one most remembered line ("Mirror, mirror, on the wall...") was worded differently in the Disney version ("Magic mirror on the wall...").
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  • Many people know well the Disney adaptation of Pinocchio, but how about the original The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi? And did you know that in that book, the Cricket character (whom the Disney film's Jiminy Cricket was based on) was killed off early on — by Pinocchio himself? Of course, this is averted in its native Italy, where the book is still pretty well-known and read (and depending on whom you ask, people think of the Collodi fairy tale when you mention "Pinocchio" in Italy, just as much as the Disney movie).
  • Most of Disney's films are based on previous sources, even less obvious ones. The most notorious of these displacement sources is Dumbo, which is based on a experimental children's book (a scroll with pictures) that had an insanely low print run that Disney himself hand-picked out of a bookstore for a couple bucks. They share a basic plot and not much else.
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  • Bambi is also based on a book, Bambi: A Life in the Woods, but most people only remember the Disney adaptation, which is hilarious when you consider the original poster was a picture of the book. Also an example of Disneyfication: the novel was intended for adult audiences.
  • Fun and Fancy Free: Averted for the Mickey and the Beanstalk segment, as the non-Disney version of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale is still pretty ubiquitous in American childhoods. Played straight for Bongo - it's already obscure by Disney standards, but pretty much no one knows about the original 1930 short story penned by Sinclair Lewis.
  • While not entirely Disney's fault, their 1951 adaptation of Alice in Wonderland forever linked the events of Through the Looking Glass with the very different book it was a sequel to. However, several adaptations in film and theater before it had been doing this well before. In fact, very few people even realize that characters like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum never appeared in the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and it's not uncommon to hear people complain about their absence in works that are more faithful to the source material because they have become so accustomed to seeing the two books presented as Alice in Wonderland. It doesn't help that the two books are often published as a single volume under that title.
  • There are those who think that Disney created Peter Pan from whole cloth in 1953, with their still-classic animated motion picture. People (usually children, it must be said), are surprised to hear it was a book back in 1911... based off the original stage play that debuted in 1904... while the character himself debuted in a short story in 1902. There is a rather larger section of the populace who believe that Disney currently own the copyright on Peter Pan. They don't, that belongs to Great Ormond Street Hospital in perpetuity; note  they get royalties on all derivative works, but cannot stop anybody from making something they don't want made (hence Disney rolling out its new Tinker Bell movies).
    • This makes Hook an interesting case: This film clearly contradicts Disney's Peter Pan in quite a number of points. This is because it isn't a sequel to the Disney animated feature but to James M. Barrie's original novel. Barrie himself is mentioned to have been Wendy's neighbor. The Disney movie eventually got its own sequel, Return To Neverland.
  • Lady and the Tramp is something of a two-fer. It began as ​"Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog", a one-page farce by Ward Greene; Walt Disney read it in Cosmopolitan, bought the rights, and hammered out movie plans - then actually had Greene write a novelization of the movie's (exponentially longer) plot, which was published two years before the film was actually released. This was so people would be familiar with the story, since most people associated the Disney studio with adapting famous tales, and it was thought that people wouldn't watch the film if they didn't know there was a book. How many of you today knew there was a book?
  • Sleeping Beauty and its memorably cool villain Maleficent have become so iconic that few people know that in the original fairy tale, the fairy who cursed the baby princess never appears again after her introduction. (Well, in some version she's also the old woman who gets Beauty to prick her finger, but there's certainly no big Scaled Up battle.) Even other Sleeping Beauty adaptations that differ greatly from the Disney film otherwise will always give the fairy who curses the princess an expanded role and personality similar to Maleficent's (ex: Robin McKinley's Spindle's End). Additionally, the good fairy who softened the evil fairy's curse in the original tale didn't do so by making it breakable by True Love's Kiss but by changing it into a century-long sleep and the prince who eventually wakes up the princess doesn't do so via any thorn-cutting or dragon-slaying heroics but by just happening to be near the wall of thorns at the exact time the kingdom's century of sleep ended.
  • 101 Dalmatians is based on the 1950s British junior novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, which also inspired a sequel, The Starlight Barking. Many believe the animated Disney movie was the story's source.
  • The Sword in the Stone is also much more well known than the book it's based on. Most people don't even realize that the book was part of a tetralogy of stories called The Once and Future King.
  • Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), is decently known, and most people are aware (however vaguely) that the movie is based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling; what most aren't aware of is that there were actually Jungle Books — in which Baloo was the serious one and Bagheera the playful one, as well as Kaa being Mowgli's third mentor.
  • The Aristocats is based on two extremely obscure children's stories, so little-known that neither they nor their authors (Tom McGowan and Tom Rowe) have Wikipedia pages.
  • Winnie-the-Pooh is remembered by some people more for the Disney animations than for the books by A. A. Milne, which is rather ironic since the main reason that Walt Disney adapted the books in the first place was because his daughters were big fans of them, and he wanted to help introduce the stories to a larger American audience, as well as because (in the first film, at least) Gopher wants you all to know that "he's not in the book".
    • Averted in Russia, where Disney's version was outshined by Vinni Pukh and the books are still well-known. The books were also well-known enough in Scandinavia, Hungary and Poland for Disney's translators to get the correct character names.
  • The Rescuers were based off of Margery Sharp's books, specifically, two of them. There are actually nine books in the series. The Rescuers Down Under, however, was an original story.
  • The Fox and the Hound is very loosely based on a much darker novel in which the title characters are written as being extremely inhuman in their thought processes to the point of not having anything resembling human morality, since they're animals. For some this is an Audience-Alienating Premise that makes the title characters, let alone their perspective on the bizarre ways of humans, come across as unsympathetic at best and Evil Versus Evil at worst. The novel also has a Downer Ending in which the two title characters are both dead and their world has been destroyed by advancing suburbia. None of this would be particularly suitable for a children's musical, so the story of the Disney film is much Lighter and Softer. It's telling that it still manages to be one of Disney's darker films. Not helping is that the original book has been out of print for decades and is quite rare, and only recently got a rerelease as an ebook.
  • The Great Mouse Detective was also based on a book series, Basil of Baker Street, which was obviously inspired by Sherlock Holmes — many viewers just assume the film itself is a parody of the Holmes stories and aren't aware of its source books.
  • The Disney adaptation of The Little Mermaid (1989) is better known in the public mind than the original story by Hans Christian Andersen, which is a much darker story that doesn't have a clear cut happy ending.
  • While Beauty and the Beast is a classic fairy tale, the Disney adaptation is far more well known in the public mind than the original story. Most obviously, post-1991 adaptations of the story tend to feature a Beast design that's as close to Disney's as possible without stepping on copyright. Additionally, there will probably be counterparts for the servant characters Disney invented, such as Lumiere and Cogsworth. More subtly, the Beauty character was, prior to the Disney version, almost invariably portrayed as blonde for the sake of Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold. Disney decided to make her a brunette, and now that's the default.
  • Many people know that Aladdin was originally from The Arabian Nights, but not very many know that the original tale gave Aladdin two genies (he had a magic ring in addition to the lamp) and unlimited wishes instead of a Three Wishes limit. Plus, there's nothing in the tale about Freeing the Genie. And it is all set in China note ! On the other hand, most of these changes were already present in most Aladdin adaptations before the Disney version came along.
  • A curious example, but still true. Outside of America, you'd be surprised how many people will act shocked that Pocahontas and John Smith were real people and met and interacted in real life. People are often further surprised when they find out the movie is based on a completely fabricated story that John Smith wrote himself, that Pocahontas was a teenager when when he was already middle aged, and the two only saw each other once (at a greeting ceremony the natives held) before Smith went back to England!
  • A lot of people in the West have no idea that the legend of Mulan has been around in various forms since the 6th century AD, and think she's an original Disney character.
  • Meet the Robinsons certainly counts, as it is Inspired by… on the obscure picture book A Day with Wilbur Robinson by William Joyce. The 29-page book is about an unnamed protagonist ("Lewis" in the film) who visits his best friend's quirky family and helps the grandfather find his teeth; the movie made up everything about Lewis being an orphaned Child Prodigy, the time travel aspect, the villains, and Wilbur being Lewis' Kid from the Future.
  • How many of people know that The Princess and the Frog was based very loosely on a 2002 children's novel called The Frog Princess (itself a variant on The Frog Prince, a story collected by the Brothers Grimm)? The novel only has a few similarities with the movie, such as the heroine turning into a frog as well after kissing the prince and the main characters going into a journey throught the swamp in search of a way to reverse the spell that turned them into frogs. The New Orleans setting was something made up for movie, as the novel takes place in the Middles Ages, and voodoo as a plot device was also made up, meaning that Mama Odie and Dr. Facilier did not exist in the novel. Another major difference between book and movie is that the protagonist is a princess and a young witch in training, while in movie she's a waitress dreaming with opening a restaurant, althought in the end she becomes a princess and the owner of her own restaurant. The novel has multiple sequels, too, collectively known as Tales of the Frog Princess.
    • Speaking of the original Grimm version of The Frog Prince, instead of the princess kissing the frog, the frog's spell was broken when the princess threw him against a wall. Yeah, you read that right.
  • The story of Rapunzel was pretty well known before Tangled, but the film's popularity seems to be eclipsing the story. Many people still know that the film was based on a fairy tale and that Rapunzel doesn't spend nearly as much page time out of the tower in it as she does on screen, but some may be surprised to hear that the original Rapunzel wasn't a princess at birth or that her parents willingly gave her up to the witch as part of a trade.
  • Big Hero 6 has easily eclipsed the Marvel comic it was based on, a small title set in the main Marvel Universe. It replaced several of the existing Marvel characters with new ones, altered other characters just made for the comic, and polished the whole thing into something new. Not helping is that Marvel has barred the characters from appearing again in the Marvel Universe and have no plans to ever reprint the original comics.
  • Disney's animated short version of The Three Little Pigs is another example that's completely taken over the original fairy tale. The pigs all flee to the third pig's house, while in the original the Big Bad Wolf just eats the two of them.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit, based on the 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? by Gary Wolf. The original novel is about comic strip cartoon characters who speak in word balloons, and Eddie Valiant is in fact investigating Roger's murder. Even Wolf acknowledged that the movie was superior to the original (and would certainly be the version most people would have in mind when exploring other material in the franchise) and wrote two sequels to the film, in which Jessica says that the original novel was a dream.
  • While not part of the Disney Animated Canon, Recess: School's Out is starting to turn into this. The show it's based on isn't currently in reruns, but whenever Disney Channel or Disney XD feel generous, they'll show the movie, and it being aired on the premium movie channels sometimes, and some stores still carry the DVD (Store such as Walmart don't sell it in the store, but do sell it online, and stores like f.y.e. or BJ's sometimes carry it). And then Disney might want to rerun the show itself, leading to younger children to think the show was based on the movie.
  • Disney Theme Parks
  • Fantasia: A particularly bad case, as due to rearranging or even removing some parts of the score, hearing the original versions may cause listeners to wonder why the music is wrong. What do you see in your mind's eye when hearing the following works:
    • The Rite of Spring: A young woman being chosen as a Virgin Sacrifice and dancing herself to death to ensure the survival of the tribe, or the evolution of single-celled life, volcanoes, and a fight between a Stegosaurus and a period-inaccurate Tyrannosaurus rex?
    • Night on Bald Mountain: A sabbath of witches convening on top of a mountain to glorify Satan, or a pagan god of darkness who wakes the spirits of the dead to dance for his amusement before being forced back to sleep by the rising dawn?


This happens in some cases, mainly when the Disney version flops, or at least doesn't make as big an impact for some reason, and the source material is already Adaptation Overdosed.
  • When most people think of Robin Hood, they don't picture him as a fox. Though the film remains a Cult Classic, especially for the Furry Fandom who view it as a gateway.
    • However, unlike some of the other aversions, the Disney version stays generally true to most of the popular myths, making it difficult to distinguish what people who've seen the film remember from Disney and what they don't.
  • While The Sword in the Stone is more well-known than the individual book, when most people picture Merlin and King Arthur, they won't necessarily go to the Disney version by default. Though this is more due to Merlin being a fairly generic Wizard Classic (understandable, as the legendary Merlin was the Trope Codifier) and Arthur, or Wart, is still a young boy (squire) who hasn't become king yet. Merlin's owl Archimedes is arguably more individually memorable, even getting a Shout-Out in Watchmen, though this could be because he was in the book too.
  • Hercules is well known as a figure of Greek Mythology, and most people are familiar with aspects of his story not (strictly) in the Disney movie, such as his twelve labors.
  • Tarzan, though much better received than the rest of these, is also an exception because people are just as likely to picture Tarzan in live-action thanks to the many older films. Though this is arguable past a certain age. When Warner Bros. put out The Legend of Tarzan which was fairly closer to the original books, a surprising number of online comments were mainly about the lack of Phil Collins, as well as shock over Tarzan's father being brutally killed by the apes instead of a leopard which only started with Disney, although previous films that showed the origin story didn't show the apes killing him either. More understandable were surprised comments about Tarzan's real surname being "Clayton" like the Disney film's villain, since past Tarzan movies tended to just call him "Lord Greystoke" which is his title, and Jane being American instead of British like in older films including Disney's. (The similarly Truer to the Text live-action movie Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes from the 1980s retained the Clayton name, Jane being American, and the apes killing his father.)
  • The Black Cauldron is a unique example among aversions, as The Chronicles of Prydain doesn't have the same mythic quality built around it as the others, likely owing to being not as critically or commercially well received (although the book on which the film was based was nominated for a Newbery Medal, with the last book in the series even winning said award).
    • Princess Eilonwy has even been ignored by the Disney Princess brand, though this could be for licensing issues.
    • That said, it's not uncommon to see The Black Cauldron lumped in as one of Disney's "original ideas" by fans unaware of its source material, or for its source to be misattributed as "Celtic fairy tales"
  • The original treatment for The Emperor's New Groove (then know as Kingdom of the Sun) was based on Mark Twain's novel The Prince and the Pauper, before the original concept was ditched and it was turned into a meta-parody of itself, full of Lampshade Hanging, instead. It also borrowed its title from The Emperor's New Clothes.


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