Fairytale retellings are TOTALLY a thing right now. Almost every day a new book catches my eye with a twist on a beloved tale. And then there are stories that are not retellings at all, but remind us so strongly of a favorite childhood character that we can’t help to draw comparisons. Disney, in particular, is known for turning popular folklore into animated movies. Over lunch the other day, Jackie and I started discussing which adult novels remind us of our favorite Disney classics. We came up with more than 2 dozen books that reminded us of animated movies and we probably could have kept going. Instead, we compiled our list here for you all to enjoy! Let us know which Disney movie is your favorite in the comments!
Aladdin is a folk tale that originates in the Middle East. Aladdin and the magic lamp is a classic. The City of Brass is an AMAZING fantasy that has everything you loved about Aladdin. Nahri has never believed in magic when she accidentally summons a djinn. This is the perfect book about genies and Arabian nights.
Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll over a century ago, but did you know Alice was based on a real girl? 10-year-old Alice Liddell Hargreaves was the inspiration behind Carroll’s famed novels and she is the subject of Benjamin’s book. The story is set when Alice is eighty-one and looking back on her life and the adventures she has had on her real journey – Life. It’s a fantastic historical fiction perfect for those wanting to peek behind the veil of Carroll’s work.
A newly released book, I was Anastasia focuses on the life on most famous Anastasia imposter of all. The novel is a dual timeline going backward from Ana’s perspective and forwards from Anastasia’s until the timelines meet. We get glimpses into what really happened when the Romanov’s were overthrown and what would influence a person to claim to be someone else. I know the Anastasia movie is not technically a Disney film, but it’s a favorite of mine, so it’s on the list.
The classic tale of Beauty and the Beast has been re-told for centuries. The story of the terrible monster who changes when he learns to receive love has been made into books, television shows, and movies. Agnieszka lives in a town on the edge of dark woods that is held at bay by the Dragon. When the Dragon comes to a town to take a girl to live with him, everyone is shocked when he chooses the seemly unremarkable Agnieszka. WINNER OF THE NEBULA AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL, this book will not disappoint.
Brave is a fantastic story set in Scotland about a princess who doesn’t want to sit around doing typical girl things. She wants to be a warrior like the rest of her clansman. In a bid to get her mother to understand her feelings, she turns to magic to disastrous effect. The Lost Queen also takes place in Scotland and involves magic, but this tale is a twist on Arthurian legend – the main protagonist is a little known Scottish queen who has to fight to save her kingdom.
This was the first pairing that came to mind when we decided to do this post. Theodosia has been left an orphan after her mother, the queen was brutally murdered before her eyes. She is given the new title of Ash princess and forced to wear a crown of ashes that will fall apart and cover her with the soot to embarrass her. It also serves as a reminder to those that were once loyal. I’m not sure you could get much closer to Cinderella if you tried.
This pairing is a little more untraditional because, on the one hand, you have a boy looking for his family on the day of the dead and on the other hand, you have Richard Mayhew. He finds himself unexpectedly non-existent to people in London and trapped in Neverwhere- the dark underground of London (London Below). Richard must go on a quest with Lady Door to save the world if he wants to save himself. Much like Coco’s quest to find his past and learn about himself, Richard must look at himself and decide who he is.
Aside from the obvious circus theme we have going on here, there is a magical quality to both stories. Dumbo features the fantastical elephant flying, talking animals, and the like. Night Circus, ups the ante with performers who can literally do magic. Both stories feature love through-out be it the mother/child bond or a more amorous affection between lovers. The Night Circus is a truly magical book that will leave you wishing you could visit this Circus for real.
Frozen, the worldwide phenomenon was originally based on the story the snow queen. There was definitely no singing, no Sven and no Olaf. The sisters did not save each other with love. Rather, the girl saves the boy when she thaws his frozen heart. In the classic take by CS Lewis, the snow queen is the villain!
Gnomeo & Juliet is a more recent Disney movie edition and features the retelling of Romeo and Juliet set in the world of garden gnomes in warring backyards. Disney takes some creative liberties with Shakespeare’s tale of woe, but it’s still a retelling. Fortier’s retelling of the same tale is my favorite retelling of all. It takes place in a dual timeline of present-day and 1340 in Siena, Italy. The present-day timeline revolves around the descendants of the real Romeo and Juliet trying to break the curse. I adored this book so much, I’ve read it at least 4 times. Part mystery, part romance, part historical fiction – this one has it all.
The Great Mouse Detective was an underrated classic in my opinion. A clear take on Sherlock Holmes, the story revolves around a mouse named Basil who lives on…yep, baker street. He tries to solve the mystery of the kidnapped toy-maker and deals with his arch-nemesis Ratigan. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice is also a Holmes-inspired tale, specifically, this story (and the subsequent series) features Mary Russell, a retired Holmes’ neighbor, and eventual wife. Together they solve some very clever mysteries that are as good as Doyle’s originals. What I love about these is Mary is an intellectual match for the great Holmes – total girl power!
This book was such a surprise in the wonderful way that it related to the original tale of the little mermaid by Hans Christian Anderson (no pun intended). Generations of woman have tried to fight the curse that has followed them since the little mermaid herself. This story is well-written with a great modern take!
I have loved Roman and Greek mythology since I was a little girl, maybe it was because of Disney’s take on Hercules, or maybe it was because of my love of Du’Lauries Greek Myths. This love has followed me my whole life, The Odyssey is one of my favorite books and now Madeline Miller’s Circe is creeping up the ranks. Circe, a new release, is one of my favorite books of 2018. It features the goddess Circe and her life of exile. The writing was captivating and I truly couldn’t put it down.
This book was one of my favorite reads last year! Weylyn Grey is orphaned and raised by wolves. He has an amazing ability to communicate with animals. Like Mogali, Weylen must learn to navigate the world and find his place.
Bare with us on this one, because it’s logical but not an easily predictable leap. Monster’s Inc. at its core is really about corporate corruption. Think about it, the head guy needs to obtain more power so he makes a backdoor deal with a bad guy to get the job done in the most unethical way possible – in this case, stealing children to make them scream. Totally makes sense right? So yeah, there are some business lessons for us adults to take-away from the otherwise fuzzy tale of silly furry monsters. The Circle meanwhile, is about a social network whose founders are trying to get literally everyone in the world to use. They do some pretty dastardly things, though it takes a while for them to flesh out completely in the book. Trust us, these two match up exceedingly well.
Badass warrior women. Need I say more? Mulan is arguably the strongest, fiercest Disney heroine of all. She LITERALLY fights the bad guys and goes to war for her country (and to protect her father’s legacy.) Meanwhile over in the land of GOT, there are about a dozen hardcore lady warriors who can stand up to any man. Also, Mulan and Daenerys both have dragons – so there!
Pochantas totally white-washes the invasion of Virginia. Yeah, there is some realistic fighting, the Savages song sequence totally scared me the first time I saw it, but overall it’s a very Kumbaya version of what actually went down in history between the white man and the indigenous people. Fergus’s tale of US government and the Cheyenne Indian’s relations isn’t set quite as far back but does a much better job of accurately portraying the historical facts. This historical fiction tells the story of a white woman, one of 1,000, who was sent to assimilate the Cheyenne people through marriage. I had no idea about this part of US history and I found it to be fascinating and incredibly well-written.
When I was a newly minted mom of two immersed in the cycle of midnight feedings, I turned to romantic comedies to keep me awake. I found The Frog Prince and loved it so much, I often opted to read a few more pages instead of catching up on much-needed sleep. When Leigh finds out that her boyfriend is the would-be Prince of Austria living in self-imposed exile, she doesn’t think twice. After all, Austria no longer has a monarchy – but when parliament moves to reinstate the throne, her boyfriend turns into a Prince once again overnight and she’s along for the ride. This contemporary romance is like a warm hug that left me with a smile.
Sleeping Beauty is a tale that is truly universal. There have been countless retellings over the years, but Jane Yolen’s is by far the darkest and most unique. Rebecca loved to hear her grandmother tell the story of Briar Rose but got upset when she realized her grandmother’s story was different than the version her friends knew. On her deathbed, her grandmother confesses that she is Briar Rose. The resulting tale of Rebecca’s uncovering her grandmother’s past – specifically her ties to a Holocaust death camp are harrowing and moving. I read this book in high school and it stays with me today.
In the book Mirror Mirror, Bianca de Nevada is the story of a young girl who becomes caught in a web of lies and deceit in her quest for immortality. Oh, did I mention that Bianca de Nevada translates to Snow White?
The Sword and the Stone is Disney’s attempt at turning the legend of King Arthur into a children’s movie. No romance, no fighting, but still a bit about Merlin and, well, the sword in the stone. The Mists of Avalon are not for children under ANY circumstances. Bradley’s sweeping saga is filled with magic, fighting, scheming, and romance in a book that is riveting and unexpectedly dark. The book is a reimagining of Arthurian legend whose scope is a fantastic achievement. More impressive is Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote 7 other tomes in the Avalon series.
Cress is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles. Cress is kept by herself in a satellite with only screens as company. It is in the future and in space but, it is loosely based on the story of Rapunzel. If you love a twisted fairytale, this one is for you. And if you read the Lunar Chronicles and loved them, we have a list of other great books for you to read!
I’m still thinking about Castle of Water more than a year after reading this story. The book revolves around two deserted plane passengers who have to forage and live off the land as they try to survive in a tropical paradise. Tarzan’s plot is a little darker as he is forced to survive the harsh jungle after his parents are killed by a Jaguar. Both tales end up being stories of survival and love. While Castle of Water doesn’t have a soundtrack by Phil Collins, the prose written by Hucklebridge are still a work of art.
The story of the rescuers is about two mice rescuing an orphan child named Penny from a kidnapper who has sent her to retrieve a diamond. While the book Orphan Train has no mice, it is the more serious side of American history. Children were sent via train from the east to the midwest from the late 1800s through to 1929. Both books look at Orphans in the United States.
Who cares that Disney’s version of this tale cast animals in every role. Robin Hood is Robin Hood and it’s as adventurous as it is romantic. I adore this film growing up, and when I got older the Kevin Costner version (excuse me while I clean up this drool.) Watson’s tale focuses more on Maid Marian – a young widow determined to keep her lands, her fortune, and her life out of the hands of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. She turns to the prince of thieves for help in protecting her fortune and ends up giving away her heart instead.
Jackie and I literally high-fived over this analogy – no, Ove does not attempt to fly away from his life by setting his house afloat with balloons. Instead, Ove is trying to attempt to fly away by committing suicide because he wants to die and join his lost love in heaven. The curmudgeon Ove and Up’s Carl are cut from the same cloth for sure. Also, I dare you not to cry during either the movie or the book.
This is a pretty obvious correlation. Wreck-It Ralph takes place in the world of video games, more specifically inside all the video games of the arcade world. Ralph doesn’t like his lot in life where he is the villain in his video game. He goes off to test his hand at being a hero somewhere else. Cline’s book also takes place in the world of video games, though not quite as literally. Set in 2045, Wade Watts lives to play a virtual reality game called Utopia where he is trying to unlock a puzzle and survive blurring the lives of what is and isn’t real.