From the time it began producing full length animated feature films, Disney left its mark on the film and fairy tale world. Over 80 years ago, production on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs began. Since then, animated fairy tales and fantastical stories have illuminated cinemas in ways only your imagination can believe. Now, all of these years later, the greatest fairy tales will live on through Disney's new live-action ventures. Last year saw the success of Maleficent, the telling the story behind one of the greatest villains of all! This Friday sees the release of Cinderella, a new twist on the classic Disney tale, blue ball gown and all. Disney isn't stopping there. Emma Watson was recently announced as the Belle in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast adaptation, with Tim Burton rumored as the director for a live-action Dumbo.

In celebration of Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, here's a list of the 10 best Disney animated films based on fairy tales.

10. MULAN  (1998)

Disney's first foray into Asian literature was this tale of valor and heroism based on the traditional Chinese story Hua Mulan. The film was the 36th animated feature from the company and was solely animated/created at Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando. After earning $304 million at the box office, Mulan was nominated for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("Reflection") at the Golden Globes and Best Original Score at the Academy Awards.


It may be hard to consider this a fairy tale, but its fantastical elements and being based on classic literature give it a boost worthy of fairy tale lore. Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have been adapted in live-action and animated formats before, but it is Disney's trippy version stands out the most. It's the 13th animated feature from the company and inspired the "Alice in Wonderland" jazz standard. The film earned a dismal $2.4 million during its first release, but recouped upon future releases and home video releases.

8. ALADDIN (1992)

Released in the midst of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin was a huge commercial success, spawning chart-topping soundtrack albums and record-breaking home video releases. Based on the Arabian folk tale Aladdin and the Magic Lamp, the animated style took its cues from the groundbreaking hand animated/computer enhanced style of Beauty and the Beast. It was the 31st animated feature from Disney and earned over $504 million worldwide. It spawned two direct-to-video sequels and a Tony Award-winning Broadway show. The film won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("A Whole New World").


The 16th animated feature from Disney features, perhaps, one of its most dastardly villains. The film is based on both the Charles Perrault version of the classic tale Sleeping Beauty and the Brothers Grimm version called Briar Rose. Notable for being the last fairy tale adaptation by Disney for 30 years, Sleeping Beauty was also one of only two Disney animated films released in 70mm widescreen format. The animation was changing, as well, with animators trying a new Xerox process to speed up the entire production. Sleeping Beauty earned $5.4 million upon its original release and was seen as a disappointment (perhaps the reason Disney didn't make another fairy tale film for 30 years). The score was nominated for an Academy Award.

6. PETER PAN (1953)

At the height of Disney's reign of animated films, Peter Pan was a significant success. Like Alice in Wonderland, it may be stretching things to call the film a fairy tale, but it features one of the most famous fairies of all time, so it counts. The film's plot is based on Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. As the 14th animated film, Peter Pan marked the last collaboration between Disney and RKO Pictures, as well as being the last time Disney's Nine Old Men (animation's who's who) worked together on a film. The film played during the 1953 Cannes Film Festival after being one of a handful of Disney projects put on hold in the 1940s due to the war. When released, Peter Pan was the highest-grossing film in 1953, earning just over $7 million. From future re-releases, the film has an astounding $87.4 million box office.

5. PINOCCHIO (1940)

Based on the classic The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, this charming story about a puppet who wants to be a real boy is easily one of the most classic tales for a child, while also being somewhat frightening. This was Disney's second animated film and the one that jump-started what would become the standard for what a Disney film would be. Animators, at the time, were astounded at the groundbreaking way Disney animators gave life to the elements, such as rain and lightning. Despite being considered a box office disaster, it was the first animated film nominated for competitive Academy Awards (Snow White received honorary trophies), winning Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("When You Wish Upon a Star").

4. CINDERELLA (1950)

A true fairy tale, Cinderella was based on the story Cendrillon by Charles Perrault. As the 12th animated feature, Cinderella was developed as a last-effort attempt to appeal to European audiences and, hopefully, help Disney avoid bankruptcy. WWII wasn't kind to the company, with its string of releases after the war ending up in box office failure after failure. The film became a hit and Disney's biggest box office earner since Snow White. Musically, the film is notable for its use of double tracked vocals, a technique that would become a standard among pop/rock artists like The Beatles. Cinderella earned three Academy Award nominations.


Disney waited 30 years before trying their hand at animated fairy tales when The Little Mermaid was released. Based on the Hans Christian Anderson story of the same name, this film and the success of Who Framed Roger Rabbit sparked renewed interest in Disney animation and ushered in the era known as the Disney Renaissance. As the 28th animated film from Disney, it earned an amazing $84 million in 1989 and has gone on to a total of $211 million of lifetime box office grosses, as well as multiple direct-to-video sequels and a Broadway show. Disney was a huge fan of Anderson's works and planned a Little Mermaid project back towards the beginning of the Disney studio years. The massive work needed for the production of the under water film required animators in California and Florida working almost around the clock. Over a million bubbles were hand drawn for the feature. The film screened at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival and, upon its home video release, became the top-selling home video title. The Little Mermaid won Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("Under the Sea").


Released two years before the technicolor treat The Wizard of Oz, Disney's first animated feature film was a visual surprise and box office success. The story is based on the Brothers Grimm tale Snow White and quickly became the highest-grossing sound film in history, up to that point, with $8 million in box office returns. It is generally regarded as the best American animated film of all time, earning accolades from the American Film Institute and others. Making the film became just as dramatic as the story itself. Disney was intent on producing a full-length animated film, after the success of his many short films. His brother and other studio heads tried to talk him out of it, stating that audiences wouldn't want to sit in a cinema watching an animated film for that long. Production began in 1934, ending just a few years later. The film, having been made for $250,000, officially began the tradition of feature length animated films in the Disney lineup. The surprise success became a moment in Hollywood history. The 11th Academy Awards honored Walt Disney and presented him with an honorary Oscar, as well as giving the film seven smaller Oscars, presented by Shirley Temple.


While Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs started the entire realm of full-length animated feature films, the peak of Disney's cinematic magic came in the form of every aspect of this remarkable animated achievement. It was the first animated film to be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award (a record it held until Up followed in 2009) and followed suit to The Little Mermaid as being a film that Disney had planned decades before it came to fruition. The story is based on the classic French fairy tale of the same name by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont. As the 30th animated feature, Beauty and the Beast marked a shift in the way hand-drawn animation and computer graphics were utilized. Originally conceived as a non-musical, producers felt the success of The Little Mermaid meant audiences wanted Broadway-caliber musical numbers and pushed for a soundtrack surpassing any other animated soundtrack. The film held its premiere at the New York Film Festival and, upon its theatrical release, became a box office hit. Its lifetime box office sits at $424 million worldwide. The film won the Golden Globe for Best Picture, Musical or Comedy, and was nominated for a total of six Academy Awards, winning Best Original Score and Best Original Song ("Beauty and the Beast"). It was the first Disney animated film to receive the Broadway treatment and ranks up with The Lion King as a huge stage box office success. The music is sweeping. The characters are enchanting. There isn't a moment of the film that isn't completely memorable. 

© 2018 by Scottie Knollin.