Reading, Writing & Other Addictions

Facing Reality Through Fiction

Julie’s Top Ten Animated Movies–Retold Tales

on 03/01/2013

Though I’m a book fiend, I’m always excited when they make a movie from a book or story.  Most of the time the book is much better than the movie.  Sometimes the movie and the book can both stand side by side as wonderful compliments to each other. And on rare occasions, the movie is better than the book. I am especially fond of animated movies and have been impressed with how they have retold some of the world’s best stories (old and new).  Here is my list of Top Ten Animated Movies—Retold Tales.


  1. How to Train Your Dragon—(Dreamworks, 2010) This delightful movie is loosely based on the middle-grade book (and series) of the same name by Cressida Cowell. What I love about this movie is that it completely changed the book’s original story, while keeping a lot of the humor of the book.  In this way, we can enjoy both the book and the movie equally, without constantly saying, “That’s not what happened.”  In the book, all the Vikings in Hiccup’s village have dragons and they are required to train them by “yelling very loud.” Unfortunately, Hiccup’s dragon does not respond to that kind of training. So he must find another way to “train” his dragon.  In the movie, they reversed the premise so that Hiccup is the one introducing his village to keeping dragons, which they have been treating as enemies.  I applaud both the author and the screenwriter for giving us two stories that are fraught with humor and able to capture the imagination of so many.



  • Beauty & the Beast—(Disney 1991) Along with Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast is one of the most retold tales, resulting in several books, movies and even a television series.  However, no one can deny that the Disney animated version not only tells a beautiful story, but the extraordinary animation made this movie an instant classic.  Of course, in the original story, told in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Belle has two sisters, who are also part of the story, and before going to the sea to check on one of his ships that had returned to port their father asks if they would like him to bring them back something from his journey.  Belle’s sisters ask for jewels and fine dresses thinking their destitute father had regained his riches with this ship, but Belle only asks for a rose as none grew in their part of the country. Of course, he has not regained his riches and returning home empty-handed, he becomes lost in the forest.  Stumbling on a palace, he sees a rose garden and thinks he could at least bring Belle her gift. But with the taking of the rose, his real trouble begins, as the beast who owns the castle demands payment for the rose in the form of the merchant’s daughter.  Now, the Disney version paints the beast in a harsher, more selfish light than the original story, but none can deny the growth of the selfish beast into a handsome prince, even before the transformation, is as good of a story as the original, which deals more with learning to see past what someone looks like in order to discover true love.


3. Tangled—(Disney, 2010) After Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast, I kept waiting for Disney to tell the story of Rapunzel.  Surely the Disney animators were not going to just leave one Princess hanging.  So, I was excited when I first saw the trailer for Tangled, and the movie did not disappoint.  However, in the original story, Rapunzel becomes a princess after being rescued, instead of being born one as in the movie.  While pregnant, Rapunzel’s mother craves a certain edible plant (rampion or rapunzel plant) and begs her husband to bring her some.  He steals the plant from the garden of an enchantress who catches him and makes him promise to surrender his child to her when it is born.  When the child turns twelve, she locks the child up in a tower, where they use her hair as a ladder for the enchantress to reach her.  The prince finds her. They fall in love. They plan an escape. Rapunzel unwittingly gives them away (by saying her dress is getting too tight. Can we say pregnant, boys and girls?).  The enchantress cuts Rapunzel’s hair and casts her out. She draws up the prince using Rapunzel’s cut hair. He jumps out of the tower to get away from her, and is blinded by the thorns below. The blind prince then wonders through the country and finally comes to the place where Rapunzel (and his twins) live, and her tears restore his sight.  While the enchantress accidentally gets herself trapped in the tower by dropping Rapunzel’s braid.  I have to say I think the Disney version is a bit more action-packed and the plot line more understandable. (I never understood why all the bad guys in fairy tales wanted to steal children, and I know parents who would have given them their kids for free.)  Plus, the heroine is stronger and bolder, and the storyline less prone to the necessity of having a “birds and bees” conversation with your 5-year-old.



  • Chicken Little—(Disney, 2005) I have to admit, when I heard that Disney’s next animated movie was going to be “Chicken Little,” I was not overly impressed.  Remember, there was still a princess out there they hadn’t animated. After all, Chicken Little (or in other parts of the world Chicken Licken or Henny Penny) is a folk tale about a chicken that believes the sky is falling after an acorn hits him on the head, and then he proceeds to cause hysteria before being eaten by a fox.  Moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you are told.  Of course, in the tradition of folk tales, sometimes the story ends with Chicken Little getting away from the fox.  The moral of that story is: Don’t be a chicken.  While the original is a fun story, the Disney version of this tale is ultimately more entertaining with its aliens, its touching father/son relationship, and Chicken Little’s ultimate redemption for the panic he had caused. Pair that with the voice talents of  Zach Braff, Gary Marshall and Don Knotts and some kicking songs, and it’s no wonder this is my number 4 pick.



  • Sleeping Beauty—(Disney, 1959) I love the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty for several reasons. One of which is that the animators didn’t use the typical Disney style of animation and instead tried to match medieval art.  Disney wanted Sleeping Beauty to look like a walking illustration, and I believe he succeeded.  Also, the illustrators put more detail in the animals and the background than they had previously, giving the animation richness and depth.  One other point that I would like to make (which is the reason my brother also loves this movie) is that Sleeping Beauty is the first animated Disney fairy tale where the prince has a name, Phillip.  As for the original story, the “wicked fairy” was wicked because she hadn’t been around the kingdom for a while and people thought she was dead so they forgot to invite her to the shindig when the princess was born.  She showed up anyway, but they didn’t have enough parting gifts so when it was her turn to “bless” the child, she cursed her instead. A final fairy does keep the little princess from death by saying that she will “fall into a deep sleep for 100 years and be awoken by a king’s son.”  Also, instead of going away as she does with the movie, the princess stays with her parents, but spinning on spinning-wheels is forbidden because of the curse.  Of course, the princess finds an old woman who doesn’t know about the king’s decree against spinning wheels and low and behold the princess pricks her finger and falls to sleep. And the good fairy that saved her from death puts everyone in the castle tosleep and causes a ring of brambles and thorns to spring up around the castle to protect the princess and the others sleeping inside.  After 100 years pass, a passing prince braves the brambles and finds the princess.  The princess awakens, sans kissing and then there is something about his step-mother trying to eat her, but then getting eaten herself.  Yeah.  Needless to say, the movie is a bit more appetizing than original tale. Plus, there’s kissing.  Kissing is always good.  And I love the dueling fairies. Pink. Blue. Pink. Blue.  Unfortunately, Sleeping Beauty was a box office flop, and the Disney studio didn’t return to fairy tales until 1989 with the release of The Little Mermaid.



  • The Little Mermaid—(Disney, 1989) Well that was fortuitous. You probably won’t believe me when I say that wasn’t planned, but c’est la vie.  Now, I love Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales.  I don’t know why. They aren’t very happy, but I had already read The Little Mermaid before I saw the animated version.  I was in Junior High, but I remember thinking, “How are they going to spin this one?”  You see, in the original story, she doesn’t marry the prince.   That’s right! She saves the prince from drowning and falls in love with him, but she never marries him.  Why? Because he thinks this other girl (the one who finds him on the beach) was the one who saved him. (Happy Thought #1). The little mermaid visits the Sea Witch and exchanges her tongue for two legs, though walking will always be like being stabbed by swords (Happy Thought #2) However, she will only obtain a soul if she finds true love’s first kiss. Otherwise, she will die brokenhearted and disintegrate into sea foam at dawn on the day after the prince marries another woman. So, she meets the prince, and though the prince loves her, he does not fall in love with her. He has fallen in love with the girl who saved him (remember the other girl) though he doesn’t know who she is.  Wouldn’t you know, this girl turns out to be the same princess that his father wants him to marry? (Happy Thought #3)  So, guess what, he marries her.  In the meantime, the little mermaid’s sisters have made a deal with the Sea Witch.  All the little mermaid must do to come home is to slay the prince and let his blood drip on her feet.  (Happy Thought #4) But she can’t do it and chooses to throw herself into the sea as the dawn breaks.  She dissolves into sea foam, and turns into a spirit.  The prince and his wife try to find her, but they never do. Needless to say, the Disney version is much happier.


7. Shrek—(Dreamworks, 2001) This movie is loosely based on the picture book of the same name by William Steig about a young ogre who dreams of leaving home and seeing the world.  Like How to Train Your Dragon, the book and the film should be treated as two separate entities.  For though the picture book is cute and a must have for any little boy, it has nothing to do with the storyline of the movie. In fact, the only character they have in common is the character Shrek. (That’s right. No matter how many times you read it, Donkey never appears) Still the movie’s clever fairy tale-esk storyline, and hilarious bro-mance has launched 3 successful sequels (though I wasn’t too fond of Shrek 3 myself).  And with its humorous banter, this fairy tale that is not quite right, and yet oddly perfect resonates with people of all ages, as an misunderstood, antisocial, bully of an ogre shows that he has a heart of gold.



  •  Anastasia—(20th Century Fox, 1997) This is the only movie in my list that is a retelling based on a real person.  The Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia was the daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last sovereign of Imperial Russia.  She and her family were killed by the Bolshevik secret police on July 17, 1918.  She was 17-years-old.  Rumors of her possible escape have been circulating since her death, especially since her body was not discovered in the mass grave that held her mother, her father and three of her sisters.  Several women claimed to have been Anastasia, but they have all been disproved and in 2008 Russian forensic scientists found and confirmed the remains of Anastasia and her younger brother Alexei.  Still, the 90-year mystery makes a wonderful story, and the Fox Animation Studios did an excellent job turning it into an animated film, with the voice talents of Meg Ryan, John Cusak, Christopher Lloyd and Kelsey Grammer, among others. Of course, my favorite character is Bartok the Bat, played by Hank Azaria.  He may be a bad guy, but he’s got some great lines.  In the film, Grigori Rasputin is an evil man who sold his soul to the devil in order to bring down the Romanov family (Anastasia’s family) because they had thrown him out and disgraced him, but in reality the Romanovs always thought of him as a holy man, though others did not.  In fact, when the rumors against Rasputin got scandalous and the Tsar was forced to launch an investigation, it ended with the minister of the interior being removed from his position, not Rasputin. Still, it is believed the scandal and rumors that surrounded Rasputin led to the distrust of the Romanovs and eventually led to their downfall.  So, though the movie is based on real people, it is not based on truth.  Just remember that when the talking bat readjusts the talking corpse’s lips.  That’s not really what happened.



  • Mulan—(Disney, 1998) This Disney film is a retelling of the Chinese folktale, the poem really, of Hua Mulan, who fought for 12 years in the army and gained high honors, without anyone ever realizing she was a girl, until she leaves the army, goes home and dons her old clothes.  This folktale has been around since the 6th Century and is one of the first poems in Chinese history to promote gender equality. The story was expanded to a novel during the Ming Dynasty and is one of the most popular folktales among the Chinese. When I saw the movie, I had never heard of the poem of Hua Mulan, but I did go to see the movie in the theater twice, which tells you something when you consider I was a poor college student working two jobs at the time.  Like Sleeping Beauty, the animators tried to reflect the time and culture of the story in the animation, but unlike Sleeping Beauty, Mulan did very well in the box office and even spawned a sequel, proving that people can connect with a brave, misfit girl who loves father and desperately longs to bring honor to her family.



  • The Emperor’s New Groove—(Disney, 2000) Here I have to bow down in homage to David Reynolds, the screenwriter for this movie.  What an awesome idea to retell the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a selfish, arrogant, fashion forward emperor in an Aztec setting, and make the emperor’s “groove” or his selfish, instant-gratification be the thing that tricks him up.  In the original story, the emperor is conned by two conmen who promise to make him some clothes out of a material that is invisible to anyone who is unfit or unintelligent. So, in order to prove that he is not unfit or unintelligent, the emperor pretends he can see the clothes, and so do all the adults around him.  When the “clothes” are finished, the emperor “puts them on” and parades down the street in his birthday suit, until a child asks why the emperor is naked.  Well, of course, the Disney animators couldn’t really build a show around a naked man (prompting more birds-and bees discussions with precocious 5-year-olds), so they build it around a naked llama.  Ah-ha! Brillant!  Throw in a evil witch, a secret lab, a lovable dummy, and a feisty squirrel and you have Disney magic.

Now there are many more wonderful animated retold tales out there, and to tell you the truth I had trouble picking ten.  I may have to follow up with an Honorable Mention list, but I still believe these 10 movies reflect the best animated retold tales.  Don’t be shy in letting me know what you think.

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