The 10 Best Disney Movies Based on Books

Disney has been enchanting audiences for nearly a century with its unique and imaginative storytelling. Among the vast array of Disney films, many have been inspired by classic literature or beloved books. In this article, we’ll explore the top 10 best Disney movies that were adapted from books, delving into the history of these adaptations and the criteria used to evaluate their success and impact.

The 10 Best Disney Movies Based on Books

A Brief History of Disney’s Adaptations from Literature

The history of Disney’s book-based films can be traced back to the studio’s inception when Walt Disney himself turned to literature as a source of inspiration. Throughout the years, Disney continued to adapt its films from a variety of literary works, ushering in new eras of storytelling and breathing life into classic tales.

Early Beginnings: From Fairy Tales to Classic Novels

From its inception, Disney has been deeply rooted in literary adaptations. The animation giant’s first feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, setting the stage for future adaptations of classic stories. Disney continued to draw inspiration from literature with films such as Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan. These early films laid the groundwork for Disney’s signature fairy tale adaptations and its expansion into classic novels.

In Cinderella, Disney took the classic fairy tale and added its own twists and turns, creating a timeless masterpiece that continues to captivate audiences today. The story of a young girl who overcomes adversity and finds true love has become a staple of Disney’s storytelling, inspiring generations of young girls to believe in themselves and follow their dreams.

Alice in Wonderland was another literary masterpiece that Disney brought to life on the big screen. The surreal world of Wonderland, with its bizarre characters and nonsensical logic, was a perfect fit for Disney’s imaginative storytelling style. The film remains a classic to this day, inspiring countless adaptations and spinoffs.

Peter Pan was yet another literary adaptation that Disney turned into a timeless classic. The story of a boy who never grows up and his adventures in Neverland captured the imaginations of children and adults alike, becoming one of Disney’s most beloved films.

The Disney Renaissance: A New Era of Storytelling

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Disney experienced a resurgence in creativity and box office success, commonly referred to as the Disney Renaissance. This era saw a return to the studio’s roots of adapting timeless stories from literature, with films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These films not only became instant classics but also pushed the boundaries of animation and storytelling, solidifying Disney’s position as an industry leader.

The Little Mermaid was a groundbreaking film that not only brought the story of a mermaid who longs to be human to life but also revolutionized the animation industry with its use of computer-generated imagery. The film’s iconic songs and memorable characters have made it a fan favorite for decades.

Beauty and the Beast was another Disney classic that pushed the boundaries of animation and storytelling. The film’s themes of love and acceptance, along with its unforgettable musical numbers, have made it a timeless masterpiece that continues to inspire audiences today.

Aladdin was a film that captured the spirit of adventure and magic, taking audiences on a journey through the streets of Agrabah and beyond. The film’s unforgettable characters, including the lovable Genie, have become household names and continue to inspire new generations of Disney fans.

The Lion King was a film that took the world by storm, becoming one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time. The story of a young lion who must overcome his own doubts and fears to become king has become a classic tale of heroism and self-discovery.

Modern Disney: Continuing the Legacy of Book-Based Films

The tradition of adapting beloved stories continues in modern Disney films. From fairy tale adaptations like Tangled and Frozen to works inspired by lesser-known stories such as Big Hero 6, Disney continues to captivate audiences by reimagining some of the world’s most beloved books and characters.

Tangled was a film that took the classic story of Rapunzel and added its own unique twists and turns. The film’s memorable characters and catchy songs have made it a fan favorite and a modern classic.

Frozen was a film that captured the hearts of audiences around the world with its themes of sisterhood and acceptance. The film’s iconic songs, including “Let It Go,” have become pop culture sensations and inspired countless covers and parodies.

Big Hero 6 was a film that took inspiration from a lesser-known Marvel comic book series and turned it into a heartwarming tale of friendship and heroism. The film’s lovable characters and thrilling action sequences have made it a fan favorite and a modern classic.

Disney’s legacy of adapting beloved books into timeless films continues to inspire and captivate audiences around the world. From fairy tales to classic novels to modern stories, Disney has proven time and time again that great stories can come from anywhere and can be brought to life in the most magical ways.

Criteria for Choosing the Best Disney Movies Based on Books

In order to compile this list of the 10 best Disney movies adapted from books, we considered several criteria including faithfulness to source material, box office success and popularity, critical reception and awards, and timelessness and cultural impact. Each of these factors played a role in determining the overall ranking of these beloved Disney classics.

Faithfulness to the Source Material

An important factor in evaluating a film adaptation is the level of faithfulness to its source material. While some adaptations take creative liberties to make the story more suitable for a cinematic format, others remain true to the original work. In our ranking, we considered the balance between innovation and respecting the essence of the original story.

Box Office Success and Popularity

Another important aspect we considered is a film’s box office success and popularity. Strong financial performance often reflects a film’s ability to resonate with audiences, creating fond memories and an enduring love for these characters and stories.

Critical Reception and Awards

Receiving critical acclaim is a testament to a film’s quality and can help cement its reputation as a masterpiece. We took into account the reviews and accolades these films earned from the film industry, emphasizing their importance in the world of cinema.

Timelessness and Cultural Impact

Lastly, we evaluated the films’ enduring appeal and how they continue to shape our culture. A timeless classic not only stands the test of time but also inspires future films, influence pop culture, and create an emotional connection that lasts generations.

The Top 10 Disney Movies Based on Books

With these criteria in mind, we present the top 10 Disney movies adapted from literature. These films have had a profound impact on audiences and have left a lasting legacy in the world of animation.

Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins

Based on the children’s books by P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins is a musical masterpiece that tells the story of a magical nanny who brings joy and adventure to the lives of the Banks family. The film was an incredible success, earning numerous awards, including five Academy Awards. Its delightful combination of live-action and animation paved the way for future films in this genre.

The Jungle Book (1967)

The Jungle Book

Inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s collection of stories, The Jungle Book follows the adventures of Mowgli, a young boy raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. Featuring catchy songs and memorable characters, this film has become a beloved classic that continues to captivate audiences of all ages.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

Beauty and The Beast: A Timeless Fairy Tale of Love and Transformation by Marie Le Prince de Beaumont: Beauty and the Beast is a fairy tale written by ... Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740.

Adapted from the French fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Beauty and the Beast tells the enchanting story of Belle and the Beast, whose transformative love breaks a formidable curse. This film achieved unprecedented critical acclaim, becoming the first animated feature to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and winning two Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The Lion King (1994)

Loosely inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and various African myths, The Lion King is a powerful tale of a young lion named Simba, who learns the true meaning of responsibility and leadership. The film is renowned for its stunning animation, unforgettable characters, and award-winning songs, making it an iconic part of Disney’s legacy.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a poignant film that explores themes of love, acceptance, and justice. The film’s rich animation and emotionally resonant storyline have secured its place as a beloved Disney classic.

Tarzan (1999)

Tarzan of the Apes

Adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan of the Apes, this film tells the story of a young boy raised in the jungle who must confront his human heritage. With thrilling action sequences, captivating animation, and a memorable soundtrack, Tarzan has become a favorite among Disney fans.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Frog Princess (Tales of the Frog Princess Book 1)

Inspired by E.D. Baker’s novel The Frog Princess, this film puts a modern twist on the classic fairy tale, following the ambitious Tiana on her quest to become a restaurateur. Set against the vibrant backdrop of New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog celebrates the power of dreams and the importance of staying true to oneself.

Tangled (2010)

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Loosely based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale Rapunzel, Tangled is a contemporary take on a timeless story. With breathtaking animation, an engaging plot, and memorable characters, it offers a fresh perspective on the classic tale, winning the hearts of audiences worldwide.

Frozen (2013)

The Snow Queen (Read Russian along your kids Book 1)

Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, Frozen tells the story of sisters Anna and Elsa as they navigate the challenges of love, power, and family. With unforgettable songs and groundbreaking animation, Frozen has become a global phenomenon and a modern Disney classic.

Big Hero 6 (2014)

Based on the Marvel Comics series, Big Hero 6 follows the adventures of Hiro, a young robotics prodigy, and Baymax, an inflatable healthcare robot, as they form a team of unlikely heroes. The film expertly combines humor and heart, while also exploring complex themes of loss and personal growth, making it a standout modern Disney classic.


In conclusion, these ten films represent some of the very best Disney adaptations of literary works, capturing the hearts and minds of audiences over the years. Their enduring popularity and impact on the world of animation solidify their status as timeless classics in the Disney pantheon.


Are all Disney movies based on books?

Not all Disney movies are based on literature, however, most of the classic, older movies have a literary basis.

What are the most famous examples of Disney movies based on literature?

The classic ‘fairy-tale’ movies are grounded in the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales but the details were adapted for child audiences due to the mature content in the originals. Most of the princess films such as Snow White, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid were based on books, alongside other classics such as Peter Pan and Aladdin.

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Eddison Monroe
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