Legacy Content

Jim on Film
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by Jim Miles (archives)
June 2, 2004
Jim looks at the six of the original books that inspired Disney films

Book Report

In addition to inciting an interest in the work of actors, directors, and writers involved in creating Disney movies, my love for Disney has also lead me to reading the original novels that inspired several of Disney’s movies. For some films, it’s interesting to read and see with what the creators had to work to create a masterpiece, and for others, it’s interesting to see where the filmmakers went wrong. Either way, these books not only make for entertaining reads, but they help us glimpse into the first step of the filmmaking process.

The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander
A story reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, Alexander’s series, at least of the two novels I’ve read (The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron, the first two books in the series), is full of the promise of great adventure and fun. However, like the film, it never is fully realized. That’s not to say that they aren’t enjoyable reads, but unlike most endearing young adult novels (like My Brother Sam Is Dead, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, or The Outsiders), it will probably not hold great appeal for adults, unless they are fans of the film or have fond memories of the books from their youth.

As with the movie, the books concern Taran, the assistant pig-keeper, and his companions (including Gurgi, Eilonwy, and Fflewddur Fflam) as they fight to save Prydain. The books are interesting and humorous, but the first book highlights the failings of the two I’ve read thus far. Just as the climactic battle is underway, the battle that the entire book has been building to, Taran is knocked unconscious, and like him, we miss the entire climax of the book, getting a summary of the exciting events instead of a suspense-laded telling of them.

The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron (republished as Island at the Top of the World)
Island at the Top of the World
is one of Disney’s more imaginative but dull sci fi adventure films. Like the book, the film concerns the story of a man searching for his son, whom he finds living amongst a lost Viking civilization. However, while the movie promises stunning action and pathos, the novel delivers.

As one might imagine, the beginning of the novel isn’t as exciting as its ending, as Captain Ross and his adventuring companion Keith Rogers make their way toward the legendary graveyard of the whales to find son Donald Ross. But once they make their escape from the Vikings with the help of a young Viking woman named Freyja, including an adventure through flooding ice caverns, fighting off whales, and surviving a devastating sacrifice, it has all the adventure the movie earnestly tried to capture. While watching Island at the Top of the World, one has the sense that there is great potential in the material, potential not quite realized. The original novel realizes it fully.

For anyone who wanted to really enjoy Island at the Top of the World, Ian Cameron’s novel would be an exciting read. While it is currently out of print, copies can be found at used book stores, often in film tie-in sections.

Tex by S.E. Hinton
After having read all of Hinton’s books for young adults and seeing all but one of the film adaptations, I think it’s a safe bet to say that Disney’s film adaptation of Tex is the only successful movie version of her books, fully capturing most of the her plot points, remaining faithful to her characters, and actually being enjoyable.

Tex is a young man trying to survive his teen years in Oklahoma while living with his older brother Mason, trying to handle his feelings for his friend’s sister Jamie, and coming to terms with a family secret that forever changes his life. Like Hinton’s other books, it’s a great read that examines the troubles of adolescents of the fringe of society.

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