The Walt Disney company often promotes its productions with the phrase "based on a true story!" or "based on the book!" Whether it is historical context, a classic fairy tale, or a bestselling novel, Disney clearly presents movies to be created from the context of a previous popular work. Disney adopts this rhetorical strategy for marketing because audiences are often more interested in a production if it has realistic or more complex history behind it. Viewers are curious to how the novel will be portrayed, what the historical context is, or how a fairytale will be portrayed on the big screen. However, Disney often misrepresents history, books, and old time fairytales, completely disregarding the true stories. To appeal to a larger portion of its audience, Disney promotes its movies as "based on..." though the company's versions of previous stories are skewed and inaccurate.
Disney's 2013 production, Saving Mr. Banks, portrays the process of converting a book to a film production. The author of the book series Mary Poppins, P.L Travers, was extremely against the alterations Walt Disney had in mind to create the movie. She eventually conceded and signed over the rights to the film, but the final movie production had very little in common with Travers' novels. Furthermore, the film presents P.L. Travers to be satisfied with Disney's movie as it is a sort of coping, emotional release for her; yet, The New Yorker revealed that Travers' tears during the movie premiere were not out of relief as Saving Mr. Banks presents, but rather out of anger for how Walt Disney drastically altered her novels (Whyte 2014). Disney, though, continued to paste "Based on the best-selling novels by P.L. Travers" throughout the marketing of the film. Saving Mr. Banks, behind its heartwarming, emotional story line, exposes how the Walt Disney company often adopts the plot of previously written novels, reforms them, and then uses the basis of the book to their advantage in promotion.
Hans Christian Anderson was a famous author, particularly known for his fairytales. Disney often adopted Anderson's stories to transform into animated pictures. To the audience, a Disney filmed "based on the Hans Christian Anderson tale" is more appealing because the author is renowned for his fairytales, and viewers assume the animated film to have a similar, interesting plot. Yet, Disney often twists Anderson's stories into a fantasized, child-appropriate version of the story. Frozen, for example, is "based on" Anderson's story, The Snow Queen. Queen Elsa, one of the protagonists, is, in theory, the Snow Queen, even though the Snow Queen in Anderson's work is an evil character. Princess Anna, and many of the other characters do not resemble any of Anderson's characters (See the video below for a full comparison of the two stories). The stories are extremely contrasting, but Disney's audience is most likely more curious and interested in Frozen since its story is derived from a famous fairytale by a well-known author.
Disney's, Sleeping Beauty, similarly, adopted its story from Giambattista Basile's 1934 fairytale, entitled "Sun, Moon, and Talia." The original story is very inappropriate for young children, as the prince rapes Aurora, impregnates her, and later makes her his mistress. The videos below demonstrate the contrast between Disney's version and the original story, or "one of the world's most beloved stories" as the trailer states. The 'Uncensored Tale' below fails to describe the "happy ending" of the original story - Aurora was saved, and it was not actually the children in the food, so the prince has his wife thrown in a fire and he and Aurora live happily ever ever (despite the fact that he raped her). The Disney company does not wish to promote the original story, but by marketing the film as based on a oldtime fairytale, the audience will likely be more willing to view the movie.
Perhaps Disney's worst offense is how they misrepresent history, for it is insulting to specific cultures. Pocahontas' story is portrayed very inaccurately in the Disney production. The videos below present the contrast between the Disney movie and the true legend, with the most notable difference being Pocahontas' age and her relationship with John Smith. Through an attempt to recognize various ethnicities, Disney failed to portray the reality of Native American culture and history. Disney's representation suggests an accepting relationship between some of the Native Americans and Englishmen, when according to the real legend, Pocahontas' family was murdered and she was kidnapped. Disney's version of the history may be the only version of the story that some viewers learn, giving them faulty and corrupt information to believe to be true (Carpenter 2006). The company's goal, however, was not to informatively tell the tale of Pocahontas for its viewers, but rather to attract attention to the film for possessing historical context. Viewers may believe that the film is more important or more intelligent than complete fiction stories.
Hercules is another legend largely misrepresented by the Disney film. Though it is ancient Greek mythology, many people today may be offended by how inaccurately the myth is portrayed simply to be produced as a children's movie. Both the storyline and many aspects of Greek mythology are altered by Disney in the film to appeal to their modern audience and turn the film more family-friendly. Hercules is actually a demi-god (half mortal) and very confident in his abilities, unlike the movie, and the antagonist, Hades, is a supporter of Zeus and his sons, not an enemy in the mythology. The journey that Hercules underwent according to the Greek mythology is similar to his adventure in the movie, but the reasoning behind it is almost the opposite. In Disney's version, Hercules sets off to save Megara to prove himself a true hero, when in the real legend, the goddess Hera caused Hercules to go mad and kill his wife and children, and his journey arose out of guilt and purification ("The Real Journey of 'Hercules'" 2011). These are only a few of the details that Disney completely transformed in producing the movie. The video below presents the full story of the legend of Hercules. The Disney company could have easily created its own god character, as to not misrepresent any historical legends; yet, titling the film, Hercules, a well-known Greek hero, attracts a wider audience to view the film.
Disney's rhetorical strategy of marketing movies to be "based on" well-known books or historical stories is effective in their profit-earning. People are more likely to be interested in a production if it has a deeper context, and thus consume more of Disney's products. Increased profit is clearly the company's goal, but this method of marketing is improper. Drastically altering stories is disrespectful to both the authors and the cultures who own them.