The phrase “based on” is almost a guarantee that one thing has almost no relation to the thing it’s supposedly "based on." From fairytales to real life experiences, nothing is ever exact anymore when it comes to film. While so many Disney and Pixar movies have been "based on" certain things, it’s more like these films were actually inspired by those things instead.
Everyone always seems to discuss the origin stories of Disney princess films. While the original stories of famous Disney princesses are deep and dark, it turns out that most Disney and Pixar films actually come from a place of darkness. It’s not just the princess stories that have horrid inspirations. Death, torture, and a misunderstanding of boundaries lurk in the background of many happy children films.
It takes a lot to transform a dark story into a lighter one. Disney and Pixar both use dark inspirations for their films which end up resulting in emotional end products that are still kid friendly. Here are 15 Disney/Pixar Movies That Come From Much Darker Inspirations.
Wall-E is not only the story that taught viewers about the importance of taking care of the world, but it is definitely one of the most poignant. For the end of the world look in the film, creators of Wall-E found inspiration in multiple places. There are lots of fun tidbits; Wall-E’s eyes were inspired by a pair of binoculars from an Oakland A’s game, for example. However, one of the biggest influences actually came from something much darker.
The Chernobyl event was a nuclear disaster that happened in 1986. The nuclear reactor was located near Pripyat, in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union. During a safety test, all of the safety systems were powered off, and a series of flaws in the plant's containment failed all at once. It was a horrible, catastrophic event that affected most of Eastern Europe. Creators used the area as inspiration for the world Wall-E tries to clean up within the movie.
14 The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Hunchback of Notre Dame was inspired by the novel of the same name, written by Victor Hugo. The French writer was a renowned novelist, poet, and dramatist, who is probably best known for having written not only The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, but also the renowned Les Miserables.
In the original story, Quasimodo is less of a thoughtful dreamer and more of an obsessed stalker. He pines for Esmerelda, who doesn’t love him back. Quasimodo’s guardian, Archdeacon Claude Frollo, hands Esmerelda over to the authorities who summarily hang her. Quasimodo, unable to handle the death of the one he loves, goes to Esmerelda’s grave and stays with her body until he starves to death. The two are later found stuck to each other. When they are torn apart, their bodies turn to dust.
Frozen is the most successful animated film of all time. While audiences might have fallen in love with Elsa, the misunderstood girl who had no one to talk to, the original story was very different. Written by Hans Christian Andersen in the 1800’s, The Snow Queen was in no way the happy film that Disney made Frozen to be.
In the original fairytale, Elsa’s character kidnaps a small boy and gives him amnesia in order for him to forget his family. She brings him back to her castle and forces him to be her pet. When he is found, he is doing a Chinese puzzle, something Elsa’s character had forced him to do. Inspired by the original story, Elsa was supposed to be an evil character in the Disney film. It wasn’t until the composers came up with “Let It Go” that Elsa was turned into the sympathetic older sister in Frozen.
12 A Bug's Life
While many believe that A Bug’s Life was inspired by Seven Samurai, it was in fact a product of Aseop’s fable, The Ant and the Grasshopper. One of the first Pixar films, A Bug’s Life was about the little ant that tried to help save his colony. He goes out to find some warriors to help them against the grasshoppers, but the warriors turn out to be simple circus performers. The film makes the grasshoppers the bad guys, but the fable has the grasshoppers as irresponsible rather than evil.
In The Ant and the Grasshopper, the grasshopper and the ant spend their summers differently. The ant works to store food for the winter while the grasshopper spends his time singing. When the grasshopper starts to die from starvation because he didn’t prepare for the future, the ant tells him to just dance and get over it. Like many other fables, it’s a story about consequences. The Pixar film has a lot of differences from the fable as the grasshoppers play a much darker role in the movie.
11 Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty has many versions. The oldest one is a fairytale from the 1600s entitled Sole Luna, e Talia and was written by Giambattista Basile. It was also redone and retold by Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers. None of these versions of the story had the happy lightness that Disney’s Sleeping Beauty did.
Instead of the prince waking up Aurora with a kiss like he does in the Disney film, the original fairytale has an actual king getting intimate with her while she’s in her coma. She gets pregnant with twins and gives birth to them all while still asleep. The twins wake her up and the king is happy, but he is still married to someone else. His wife is jealous and tries to have the twins killed and fed to the king. When the king finds out, he cooks his jealous wife instead. Then, he and Sleeping Beauty while she was sleeping live happily ever after. The ending is still the same.
Brave is the story of a young Scottish girl who refuses to give herself over to her parent’s wishes and marry someone she has never met. Her mother is turned into a bear and it becomes a movie about parents understanding their kids and kids understanding their parents. While that’s a beautiful thought to have, the Pixar film is way off when it comes to its original inspiration.
The movie is essentially an original film. That being said, the writer and director of the film was influenced by the fairytales of the usual suspects, Hans Christian Andersen and the Grimm brothers. There are aspects throughout these fairytales that point towards Brave. It seems more like Beauty and the Beast however because all of these stories involve men being turned into bears and women looking past their animal looks in order to prove themselves worthy of their marriage. It’s a very different interpretation of what Brave became, but a starting point nonetheless.
The one question that everyone always seems to have is this: Why does Tarzan have no body hair when he’s been living in the jungle his entire life? While that has been left unanswered, there are some answers as to what actually happens to Tarzan later on in life.
Tarzan is inspired by the novel series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first book in the series is called Tarzan of the Apes and it was proceeded by more than over twenty sequels. In the series, there’s a lot more complexities than there are in the movie. A major thing is that Tarzan and Clayoton, the quintessential bad guy, are actually related. Not only that, but Tarzan is the heir to everything Clayton owns, even Jane because back then, women were ridiculously considered as things to be obtained rather than people. Jane tells Tarzan that she wouldn’t be with him even if he took all of Clayton’s stuff, so Tarzan let her be. The jungle film Disney created understandably didn’t want to step anywhere near the dramatics of the early 1900’s class system that’s in the book.
Disney Princesses always seem to find their start in one of the Grimm brothers fairytales. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm knew how to put an evil twist on all of their stories and Rapunzel was no different. When Tangled premiered, it was all about the story of a naïve captured princess who wanted nothing more than to be loved. The original story had a much different angle.
In the original fairytale, Rapunzel wasn’t kidnapped. Her parents traded her over to the witch due to the mother’s cravings for a salad ingredient properly named rapunzel, also known as rampion. The witch kept Rapunzel in a tower until one day when a prince comes. His eyes are later gauged out due to the witch and Rapunzel has his illegitimate twin children somewhere in the forest. The Disney version ends differently since Rapunzel makes her way back home and lives happily ever after. There’s even a television series about her life at the palace now on Disney Channel. It’s a whole different thing that the fairytale.
7 The Jungle Book
The Jungle Book stole hearts everywhere with “The Bare Necessities.” The kid who had to pick between two homes, Mowgli showed that saying goodbye can be really difficult sometimes. It was heartbreaking, adorable, and an adventure all wrapped into one. The thing is though, it’s inspired by a collection of fables that take the sunshine out of the jungle.
In the collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, Mowgli wasn’t as accepted by the people as he hoped to be. When Mowgli makes his way back to live in the village, they instead banish him back into the jungle. Upset, Mowgli gets his animal friends to help him seek revenge. They end up destroying the entire village. Humans are the bad guys and that wasn’t going to fly if translated exactly that way into the Disney film.
The film that turned regular racecars into people-like racecars that talked, Cars would seem like an impossible movie to have come from anything but NASCAR. While NASCAR is an obvious influence, there’s also the aspect of the long highway that leads to a small town in the middle of nowhere. Not unlike real life, there are multiple small towns being impeded on by large highways.
When Cars creators got together, they were inspired by a documentary called “Divided Highways.” The documentary showed the pros and cons of interstate highways that came about during the Eisenhower era. One of the downfalls was how these overwhelmingly large sized highways negatively affected people who lived in small towns along the way. This gave producers the perspective they needed to have when it came to making the film.
Disney’s version of Bambi broke hearts everywhere. No one seemed to be able to handle watching the lost little deer running around, even if he was super cute. Yes, Bambi’s mom gets shot. It’s something that happened and you just need to move on because it only gets worse when you dig deeper into the book it’s influenced by. The film is way different from the Austrian novel entitled Bambi, a Life in the Woods by Felix Saltern.
In the book, not only is Bambi himself shot, but he is taught to walk in circles to confuse the hunter who shoots him. Bambi is then taken away to recover from his wounds and ultimately survives. There’s a prince in the novel who shows Bambi the dead body of a man who killed another man later on when Bambi is old. It’s supposed to show Bambi that he’s not less than and that men just want to feel powerful over anything. Like most stories about animals, it teaches humans that they need to handle themselves way better.
Cinderella has now been redone what feels like a million times. Disney themselves even did the live action film back in 2015. Before Disney did it, it was a fairytale not only done by the Grimm brothers, but also by Charles Perrault. Even before all of that, it was a well-known European folktale dated from all the way back in 7 B.C. It’s been around forever and goodness knows that things weren’t the same back then as they were when Disney came out with their version of the story.
One of the most revolting details from the Grimm brothers’ version especially is when Cinderella’s step-sisters try to convince the prince that their feet will fit in the slipper. One of the sisters cuts off her heel and the other cuts off her toes. Yet, the prince is completely fooled. How he can be so chill about it is completely baffling to any reader. Needless to say, Cinderella has been around for forever and it comes from a very dark place.
Pinocchio is the story of the puppet who just wants to be a real boy. Plus, there’s a tiny and wise cricket always chirping in the background which is fun. There’s not much more to want from all of that. The Disney film is based on the original story entitled The Adventures of Pinocchio, a children’s novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi.
In the novel Pinocchio is a spoiled brat who doesn’t care what happens to anyone else around him. Pinocchio goes around screwing up. Geppetto is the parent that acts like one of those parents who says his child is just “going through something” as though it’s a phase. Pinocchio ultimately gets Geppetto thrown in jail. Also, he kills Jiminy Cricket. Then, Pinocchio himself is eaten by a school of fish. In a very Disney way though, everything ends up okay in the end. So, at least there’s that.
2 Inside Out
If you didn’t cry when you watched Inside Out, then you might not have a heart at all. Either that, or you didn’t care about Bing Bong who was the sweetest character ever. Therefore, you should have cried. Inside Out was heartbreaking to such a great amount, but people loved how relatable it was.
Director Pete Docter had moved from Minnesota to Denmark when he was a kid. It really triggered his anxiety, and he was stressed out all the time while growing up. When he was older, he saw his daughter go through the same thing and it left him absolutely heartbroken. That’s where he found his inspiration for the film. Their real-life experiences led him to the creation of the movie and made it what it is today.
Hercules is a pretty famous character in Greek mythology. The son of Zeus, a god, and Alcmene a mortal, Hercules was a demi-god. The Disney version of Hercules was cut and dry: he needed to defeat Hades to live happily ever after. He also fell in love because it’s Disney.
In the real Greek mythology version of Hercules, his name was actually spelled Heracles. The Romans spelled it like Hercules. The Disney version is based off of the Greek myth about Heracles as the character, not his actual story.
One of the biggest differences between the Disney movie and the myth is that Heracles' love interest, Megara, wasn’t some independent, intelligent woman; she was a prize given to Heracles by her father. She ends up giving birth to three kids, all belonging to Heracles, but Heracles ends up going crazy and kills their entire family. Greek mythology rarely has happy endings.
Let us know which of these dark Disney/Pixar inspirations you didn't know about in the comments!