DISNEY: All star picture library

Since the start of social distancing, TV has more than ever been a comforting source of entertainment and escape.

And for parents stuck at home with kids, no streaming service has been more welcome than Disney+, launched in the UK late last month and beaming magic into living rooms across the country.

But how many of the classic books and stories behind your favourite childhood films have you read? Here, from Hans Christian Andersen's heartbreaking ending to The Little Mermaid to the tragic real life story of Pocahontas, we take a look at the original stories that inspired some of Disney's greatest hits.

Film: Frozen (2013)

Book: The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (1844)

Walt Disney had been trying to do something with Hans Christian Andersen's 1844 classic about true love and icy hearts since 1937. Finally, having weaved in and out of production limbo for close to a century, the story emerged anew in 2013, and became the highest-grossing film in the movie Goliath's history.

The original tale, though, is a whole lot darker. And colder. For a start, Andersen's trolls aren't loveable pebble people with healing powers; they are the Devil. It follows best friends Gerda and Kay, whose carefree childhood is shattered when an evil troll-mirror that distorts beauty is broken in a distant land, sending millions of tiny shards through the world. Years later, some of them pierce Kay's eye and heart, distorting his vision so he can only see the worst in things, and turning his heart to ice. After he is kidnapped by the beautiful but monstrous Snow Queen, Gerda must embark on a dangerous adventure to rescue her friend.

It is a terrifying tale about the battle between good and evil that radiates magic, metaphor, friendly reindeer, malevolent trolls and talking flowers.

Film: The Lion King (1994)

Book: Hamlet (1609)

Guess the storyline: the prodigal son of a murdered king seeks revenge on his villainous usurper uncle, while romance blossoms between the prince and a beautiful childhood friend. But then the prince is exiled, and the uncle marries his mother. The tables turn when his dead dad returns as a ghost to remind him who he is an what he must do. Finally, the prince returns to save the day.

It may have been unintentional to begin with, but claims Simba was 'Hamlet with fur' upon The Lion King's theatrical release in 1994 were not at all unfounded. 'When we first pitched the revised outline of the movie … someone in the room announced that its themes and relationships were similar to Hamlet,' co-director Rob Minkoff has said. 'Everyone responded favourably to the idea that we were doing something Shakespearean, so we continued to look for ways to model our film on that all-time classic.'

Film: The Little Mermaid (1989)

Book: The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (1837)

Disney's interpretation is a lovely tale of a beautiful mermaid who wants a human soul, to find love, to go 'where they walk, where they run, where they stay all day in the sun'. Which of course she does.

Hans Christian Andersen's 1837 original, on the other hand, is a deeply disturbing story of a mermaid who wants the same things, but in order to get them she must visit a Sea Witch who cuts out her tongue; gives her legs that cause her unimaginable pain when she walks; and tells her if she can't win the heart of a prince she'll die of a broken heart and dissolve into sea foam.

A children's story it is not. It is, however, a timeless tale, awash with religious subtext, that plumbs the depths of human desire and the damage it can cause.

Film: The Jungle Book (1967)

Book: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)

About the only plot lines in Kipling's 1894 collection of stories that Disney stuck to are as follows: Mowgli was raised by wolves; Shere Kahn wants to eat him; Mowgli gets captured by monkeys; he returns to the man-village; most of the names are the same.

In fact, Kipling's tale is much darker and scarier than the 1967 feel-good family musical. Baloo, for example, is not a wise-cracking layabout, but Mowgli's sage old mentor who drills his charge – sometimes through violence – in the ways of the jungle. Far from a comedy fool, Kaa the snake turns out to be one of Mowgli's wisest pals, and saves his life a number of times (including from the monkeys). And King Louie is nowhere to be seen. As for Mowgli, he is a fearless and cunning hunter, as adept at catching prey as any wolf, tiger or panther.

In short, while Disney created a world of fun and frivolity, Kipling's is a rich and layered fable for human life and all its complexities, and Mowgli – a boy who becomes 'master' of the jungle – is considered an allegory for white imperialism in colonised India. Or, as the Kipling scholar John McClure interpreted it in the 1980s, 'behaving towards the beasts as the British do to the Indians'.

Film: Toy Story (1995)

Book: The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (1922)

The Velveteen Rabbit may not have directly inspired the Toy Story franchise, but it's influences on the films are indisputable. Margery Williams' children's classic is one of the earliest stories about the secret lives of toys. The message: toys have feelings, too.

Written in 1922, it chronicles the existential angst of a stuffed rabbit who dreams of becoming real someday, just as Buzz Lightyear can't accept that he isn't a human spaceman. After he is given to a boy for Christmas, the rabbit realises he can't compete with the boy's state-of-the-art mechanical toys. He gets depressed. But then, another toy explains that, if he can earn his child's love, he can be real. So the rabbit does all he can to become threadbare and patchy with the love he craves That's when the stories diverge: having outlived his use, just as he is about to be thrown away, a tear squeezes out of his velveteen flesh, and he becomes a real rabbit.

While Toy Story sort of inverts that theme – toys must accept their role as playthings, and lose any notion that they can someday become real – both are about love and friendship, the power of children's imagination, and talking toys.

Film: Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)

Book: Snow White by the Brothers Grimm (1812)

First off, in the Grimms' version, Snow White is seven, which jars the modern mind a little when she gets married at the end. That said, this was one of Disney's more faithful re-imaginings of an old folk tale: an evil queen-slash-stepmother with a magic mirror; a band of dwarves; a huntsman; a poison apple; a glass coffin; a dashing prince.

The Disney version, however, omitted a handful of the gorier details, by far the most grisly of which comes at the end when the prince punishes the Queen for attempted murder by forcing her to dance at their wedding in a pair of red-hot iron slippers until she drops dead.

While the Grimms probably took their inspiration from a number of sources, the most likely is thought to have been Margarete von Waldeck, an exquisitely beautiful young noblewoman who lived in the Belgian town of Waldeck in the 16th century (in her town, children, known as 'dwarfs', worked in the local mines and lived together in large groups in single rooms). She is said to have fallen out with her stepmother and moved to Brussels in 1549, where she turned the heads of several noblemen, including Phillip II of Spain. But there was no happy ending for Margarete: just as the king-in-waiting planned to marry the 21-year-old beauty, she was mysteriously poisoned and died.

Film: Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Book: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1856)

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a children's literary classic, and the Disney's 1951 adaptation is one of the studio's most successful and time-defying animations. Both are about a girl who, bored by the monotony of her privileged life, spots a well-dressed white rabbit with a watch who leads her down a hole into a dreamland of tiny doors, body-morphing potions, tear-seas, capricious queens, grinning cats, and a host of other wacky and wonderful characters.

Carroll is said to have come up with the story – cobbling together a smorgasbord of memories of his own life experiences – while on a boat trip along Oxford's River Isis with the three young daughters of a friend. One of them was called Alice Liddell. Having heard the hallucinatory tale, she begged Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) to write it down. He did, and published it in 1856.

Film: Pocahontas (1995)

Book: There are many that tell the Pocahontas legend

Pocahontas was the first time Disney based a whole film around a real person, not to mention a grown-up woman of colour. The story, however, took more than a few factual liberties. A beautiful Native American chieftain's daughter falls in love with an English adventurer – John Smith – when he arrives with a cohort of settlers. She saves him from execution after he is captured by her tribe. Romance ensues and they nearly sail away to England.

The life of the real Pocahontas was very different, and far less pleasant. She was 10 or 11 when she allegedly rescued Smith (the facts of which are disputed to this day). She never married him, but instead was taken prisoner by the English five years later and married off to a tobacco magnate old enough to be her father (John Rolfe). She had a son, was brought to England to be paraded as a poster-girl for trans-Atlantic peace and prosperity (the 'noble savage'). Then, just as she was about to travel home, she got sick and died in Gravesend, aged 21. Undoubtedly a heroically brave young woman, her story, nevertheless, is profoundly tragic.

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