7 folk tales Disney should adapt instead

by The Collected Mutineer

These days, it feels like every Disney animated film is getting the live-action treatment. While some of the recent updates such as Beauty and the Beast or The Jungle Book do a great job of fixing plot holes or giving characters more autonomy, there comes a point when film makers should just…bite the apple, so to speak. The studio is in the works to recreate every animated classic from The Sword in the Stone to Pinocchio and pretty much every movie in between.

It’s not that fairy and folk tales don’t deserve to be retold for 21st century audiences—it’s just that we’ve already seen these stories. We know them inside and out. Why retell them again when there is so much material out in the world that would make equally great films? Here are seven folk tales from around the globe that I believe Disney (or anyone, really) should adapt instead of remaking The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 101 Dalmatians. or Aladdin.

“The Wolf Queen”—South Africa

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A favorite folktale of the great Nelson Mandela, “The Wolf Queen” is the story of a young woman named Amina who is transformed by her lover (who happens to be a powerful vizier) into a wolf in order to avoid the attentions of an old sultan who wants to marry her. But while in wolf form, Amina forgets the incantation to turn back into a human and is captured by hunters. In the end, Amina escapes, returns to her true form, and is reunited with her lover.

“The Bird Sweet Magic”—Costa Rica

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This Latin American tale centers around three brothers who are on a quest to find a cure for their blind father. After an act of kindness, the youngest brother is rewarded by a spirit who guides him to find a bird with magical properties, a flying horse, and a princess. Full of jealousy at his success, the older brothers push him off a cliff so that they can tell their father they found the magical bird’s cure instead. To their dismay, the youngest brother survived the fall and returns to the palace to save his father.

“The Wild Swans”—Denmark

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(I’m very partial to this one, mostly because of the Russian adaptation I watched constantly as a child. Anyone else recognize this video?) This Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale tells the story of Princess Elisa. Elisa’s 11 brothers were cursed by their wicked stepmother and must turn into swans each day. Elisa learns that the only way to free her brothers is to knit tunics for each of them using stinging nettles while also taking a vow of silence. In the middle of her vow, she falls in love with the king of a nearby kingdom—only to be accused of witchcraft by the Archbishop. She finishes the tunics just in time to break the curse and can speak to declare her innocence.

“The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body”—Norway

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From the fjords of Norway, “The Giant Who Had No Heart in His Body” is about a young prince whose brothers and sisters-in-law were turned to stone by a giant. When the prince sneaks into the giant’s castle to free his family, he meets a princess who is being held captive. She explains that the only way to  set everyone free is to find the giant’s heart, which he has hidden on an island. The story deviates here with a few different endings. In one, when the prince finds the heart he squeezes it to convince the giant to undo his spell. When the spell is broken, he squeezes the heart in half, killing the giant. In another version, he takes pity on the giant and convinces him to put the heart back in his body where it belongs.

“The Legend of Hong Kil Dong”—Korea

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This late 16th/early 17th century Korean novel is reminiscent of the story of Robin Hood. Hong Kil Dong, the illegitimate son of an important minister, impresses a band of outlaws with his skills of martial arts and magic. He becomes their leader and teaches them how to steal from the nobility to return money to the peasants. Their actions eventually catch the eye of the king, who decides to change the way the country is run—thanks to Hong Kil Dong, the rest of the king’s rule is marked by reforms and equality.

“The Wounded Lion”—Spain

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Set in Catalan, this Spanish folktale is about a beggar girl who finds works tending a man’s herd of cows. One day, while out in the meadow, she stumbles across a lion who has been wounded by a thorn in his paw. Even though she knows the lion could attack and eat her, she pulls out the thorn and binds his wound. In the process though, she loses the cows. The girl can’t bring herself to go home without the herd, and while searching for them she discovers that the lion is actually a prince who was cursed by a giant—and that the giant has stolen her master’s livestock in retaliation for her kindness toward the lion. Determined to set things right for the prince as well as her master, she goes on a quest to break the curse. She is successful and in the end, falls in love with the prince who must no longer turn into a lion during the day.

“The Flower Seekers”—Australia

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Sometimes called “The Legend of the Flowers,” this aboriginal fairy tale takes place when the Great Spirit had left the earth to live on the sacred mountain. In his absence, the flowers all withered and died. The landscape became barren and ugly, and without any flowers, all the bees flew away. Hungry for lack of honey, and sad for lack of beauty, the People beseech three brave wirinuns (Clever Ones) to journey to the sacred mountain. The three travelers climb up the mountain to the Sky Camp and ask the Great Spirit to give them some flowers. He grants their wish on the condition that they pick the flowers in the Sky Camp themselves—they are welcome to as many as they can carry. The travelers bring back armfuls of beautiful blooms and scatter them across the world (where they still blossom to this day).

Are there any stories you would like to see on the big screen? Let us know in the comments below!

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