Great Children’s Movies Start with the Written Word and Walt Disney Knew It!


06.02.17 • 8:28 pm EDT | 0 responses |

Walt Disney knew a thing or two about children’s literature. In fact, he was such a strong proponent of it that he spent years cajoling Ms. P.L. Travers into allowing him to bring her “Mary Poppins” to the silver screen. And he finally succeeded. And also copped 5 Academy Awards in the bargain.  He had been trying for this one since the 1940’s!! And it took him nearly 20 years to obtain the rights. If you have seen the movie, “Saving Mr. Banks” you will know why.

Here are just some of the books Walt Disney transferred to the screen:

Bambi – Felix Salten. Here was another book that became an animated classic. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney was not one to shield children from the harsher realities of life as our culture seems to do, I believe, to our children’s detriment. What Baby Boomer can forget the death of Bambi’s mother? Yet, he  grieves and continues to navigate life with determination.  Witness the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers. They are dark, mysterious and sometimes frightening. But I think all three of these men knew that for children, processing both the dark and the light in life are part of the process of childhood. Overcoming adversity is a learning experience that children need.

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll. This one had been percolating in Walt Disney’s mind since 1933 and originally came to the screen as an animated film in 1951 and remade in 2010 as a film directed by Tim Burton. For my money, the 1951 animated version is the true Disney classic. Children will love the songs!

Pinocchio –  Carlo Collodi. Walt Disney portrays the delightful tale of the wooden boy who longs to be human. Yet, Pinocchio uses every means to avoid responsibility as there are ample means of diversion and Pinocchio revels in his avoidance of it.  His “conscience,” in the form of the finger wagging Jiminy Cricket is there to remind him that actions have consequences. And it is through this realization that Pinocchio is transformed into a real, live boy.

The Reluctant Dragon – Robert Benchley. Is there such a thing as a sensitive dragon? You bet there is and Walt Disney wonderfully brings him to life.

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad – These animated features flowed from the stories of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving and Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows

Peter Pan – James H. Barrie. Disney had planned this since 1935! Not until 1949 did he begin to produce it. The Great Ormond Street Hospital in London had the rights to the book given to it in Barrie’s will.

The Little Mermaid – It was based on a Hans Christian Andersen tale, and Frozen from Andersen’s story called The Snow Queen.

Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree – A.A. Milne

Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne

Old Yeller – Fred Gipson. Based on his 1956 Newbery Honor winning book.  Its success led to a sequel called “Savage Sam”, also based on a book by Gipson.

The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss

Emil and the Detectives – Erich Kastner

The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling. Who can forget Mowgli and his friends Bagheera and Baloo along with the evil Shere Khan

Bedknobs and Broomsticks – Based on Mary Norton’s The Magic Bedknob

Rascal – Taken from the Sterling North story of a young man and his pet raccoon.

The Sword in the Stone – T.H. White. It was the 18th Disney animated film and the last to be released before his passing.


What brought this blog to the fore of The Snuggery was a coincidence. I love watching TCM and what should be on this evening, but not one but two Disney movies. They are two movies in which Hayley Mills appears. One is a 1960 classic called Pollyanna. The other is a 1963 movie from Disney called Summer Magic. This film was based on a novel by Kate Douglass Wiggin called Mother Carey’s Chickens that is now sitting on my desk to be read. What a piece of coincidence! It was the fourth of six films the Hayley Mills did with Walt Disney. And Ms. Mills was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance in it. Incidentally, Ms. Wiggin also wrote Rebecca of Sunnybrook  Farm that was made into a movie starring Shirley Temple. Think someone got to this one before Walt!

With Mother Carey’s Chickens in hand, I realized that Walt Disney mined a rich treasure trove of children’s literature and brought it to the screen. Sometimes he waited years to see his book vision brought to fruition. He must have thought a great deal about their value to children and I can’t wait to read it and see the movie

With a whole summer ahead, why not try culling some of these titles from the above list, which are a mere handful of what Walt transferred from the written word to the screen. It’s rich reading and I think it would have made Walt happy to know that his movies referred young movie watchers back to the written word...where it all started.


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