If you think about some of your favorite films, does a Disney fairy tale spring to mind? The Walt Disney Company has adapted some of the most beloved fairy tales and folklore. It all began when Walt Disney was just 15 in Kansas City, Missouri. According to researchers, Disney saw 1916’s silent film adaptation of Snow White and fell in love with the film. The movie made quite an impression on young Walt as he declared Snow White “a perfect story.”
When animation was still in its infancy, Walt Disney worked at the Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City. Asked to work on twelve animated cartoons and inspired by their success, the young cartoonist decided to adapt Little Red Riding Hood in 1922. It’s now considered his first “official” animated storytelling project. The same year, Laugh-O-Gram versions of other tales followed: The Four Musicians of Bremen, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack and the Giant Killer, Puss in Boots, Cinderella, and Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. Some of these shorts are still lost to this day. Little Red Riding Hood was lost for years until it was found in 1998.
When Walt Disney decided to make his first feature-length animation, he knew just the story: Snow White. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs took four years to finish. Many in Hollywood thought Walt Disney was taking a huge risk. No one had produced a feature-length animated film, only shorts. They called the project “Disney’s Folly.” Upon its release, however, they quickly saw their mistake. Disney went on to win an Academy Award for Snow White and it became an instant classic. Today the Disney company continues that legacy with films inspired by fairy tales, such as Princess and the Frog, Frozen, and Sleeping Beauty. However, do you know about these abandoned Disney fairy tale movies?
Snow White Returns – The First Canceled Disney Fairy Tale
A year after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ theatrical debut, Disney proposed a Silly Symphonies short about Snow White visiting the dwarves. According to the Disney Archives, the film’s artists were begging for more adventures of the dwarves. The plot involved the dwarves trying to find a perfect gift for Snow White only to fail in their efforts. Sketches were created, but the short was canceled. It’s discussed in a featurette on Disney Diamond DVD Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The Three Bears
The beloved story of Goldilocks and Three Bears was in the works several times as an animated project. When Silly Symphonies was still a popular project, Walt Disney Productions proposed making The Three Bears a short. Here, Goldilocks was renamed Goldie Locks, like the previous Laugh-O-Gram. Preliminary sketches show that she would resemble child star Shirley Temple. The short didn’t materialize into a final project. A second version of The Three Bears was proposed, this time as a Disney fairy tale starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy in the “bear” roles.” It also wasn’t made.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
Walt Disney and his animators often looked to the work of Hans Christian Andersen for inspiration when creating their Silly Symphonies shorts, for instance creating two versions of The Ugly Duckling. The first take was 1931’s The Ugly Duckling black-and-white version. This short loosely followed the original Andersen tale, but a second version in 1939, this time in color, followed it more faithfully. In 1935, between these two projects, Disney proposed a new Silly Symphonies short based on Andersen’s work.
This time they would tackle the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes. The idea was dropped, but then resurfaced the following year as a possible Mickey short or feature. Sketches for the new version were made, but it was again shelved. A 1975 children’s book by Random House would later tell the story, this time with Prince John of Disney’s Robin Hood as the titular emperor.
These weren’t the only forays into adapting Hans Christian Andersen. In 1940, Disney partnered with MGM Studios on The Life of Hans Christian Andersen, a biography film about the famous author. MGM would handle the live-action sequences. Disney would animate The Little Mermaid, The Little Fir Tree, Through the Picture Frame (based on the story Ole-Luk-Oie, The Dream God), The Emperor’s Nightingale and The Steadfast Tin Soldier.
The Little Mermaid sequence featured concept art by beloved fairy tale Kay Nielsen, well-known for his own work in books of Andersen’s fairy tales Unfortunately, Disney was occupied with making other films and declined to continue working on it. Nielsen’s work would inspire Disney animators 50 years later for 1989’s full-length feature The Little Mermaid, a film that marked the Disney Renaissance.
Totally Twisted Fairy Tales: Various Stories
This series of planned direct-to-video cartoons would be Disney fairy tales as you never imagined them. Planned in 1997, the shorts were described as “offbeat” and catered more to adults. The series would include Little Riding Hood, Jack in the Beanstalk, The Three Little Pigs, and a fourth unknown fairy tale.
The Little Red Riding Hood short, known as “Redux Red Riding Hood” did make it through production. It, luckily, can be viewed via YouTube. In this take on Little Red Riding Hood, the Wolf continues to question why he couldn’t gobble up Red. He invents a time machine to fix his mistakes once for all….but things don’t go as planned. While not released on home video, the clever 15-minute short was nominated for an Academy Award in 1997 after being shown at animation festivals. What we know of the planned The Three Little Pigs project comes from director Steve Moore. He described the short in a “Real World” style where “the pigs live in a loft and take in a wolf as a roommate in an attempt to be contemporary, open-minded pigs.” No plot summary for the last two shorts has surfaced.
The Emperor and the Nightingale/The Nightingale
Disney attempted to adapt Andersen’s The Nightingale in 1960. This time the film would have a “delicate Asian style” featuring paper cut-out animation, but was sadly canceled. Then in the 1980s came Musicana.
Musicana was the beginning of what would eventually become Fantasia 2000, with each sequence set in a different country. This time the Emperor’s Nightingale sequence would star Mickey Mouse. The sketches from the project would resurface as a 1992 Disney Archives storybook. The idea of adapting the story returned in 2002 under the name Nightingale, later canceled around 2003. The concept art by illustrator Colin Stimpson shows that the film would’ve had beautiful visuals inspired by India.
The Snow Queen
It’s no secret that Frozen was inspired by The Snow Queen. What some movie fans might not know is that it was one of several Snow Queen adaptations. Walt Disney himself tried to adapt the story for the Andersen biopic but didn’t get very far. The project was revitalized briefly in the 80s, then attempted again in the 2000s by Pixar and Disney. According to Michael Eisner, the plot would be “Taming of the Shrew”, with the Snow Queen angry and bitter while looking for a husband. When Pixar didn’t have a renewed contract with Disney, this Snow Queen was put out in the cold.
A new take, Anna and the Snow Queen, would come in 2008. The Queen, now called Elsa, would be a “drama queen” and larger-than-life. Interestingly enough, The Snow Queen was even planned as a Disney theme park ride in the 1970s. While not the same plan, a Frozen ride did open in Walt Disney World’s Epcot in 2016.
An animated twist on Jack and the Beanstalk, Gigantic, was first teased at Disney’s D23 Expo 2015. Disney made a big production of the announcement, even erecting a giant beanstalk at the Disney Animation Booth. The film began production in 2013 as “Giants.” Frozen’s songwriting team, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, were set to write original songs for Gigantic. It would be directed by Tangled’s Nathan Greno. Gigantic still featured a character named Jack, but this time he befriends a female giant.
“Set in Spain during the Age of Exploration, the film followed Jack as he discovers a world of giants hidden within clouds. Jack befriends the female giant Inma, who’s 11 years old, 60 feet tall, fiery, feisty and a lot to control and treats him like a living doll. Meanwhile, the antagonists, Storm Giants, stand at 120 feet.”
Set for release in 2016, Gigantic was pushed to 2018 and 2020, until it was completely canceled in 2017. Instead, Disney opted to work on Raya and the Last Dragon. If you watch Disney’s Zootopia, you may find find an Easter Egg in a scene, a DVD titled “Giraffic.” For now, all we have is this reference and some beautiful concept art of Gigantic.
Even More Canceled Disney Projects
This isn’t all of the lost or canceled Disney fairy tale projects. Disney considered making a twist on Rumplestiltskin called Uncle Stiltskin. They also toyed with adapting Puss in Boots, and literary tales of Reynard the Fox. Other stories they discussed as possible projects include Hansel and Gretel and the Bremen Town Musicians. As Disney expands into original projects for Disney+, maybe these projects will have new life. It’s clear that there’s plenty of stories out there for Disney to reimagine. For now, find all of the original fairy tales here at Fairytalez and in audio on our audiobook app and Apple podcast channel. Our story library is also full of thousands of stories that Disney hasn’t remade.
What story do YOU want to see Disney make into an animated film? Let us know in the comments.