By Courtney Potter
There’s nothing quite like cracking open a book for the very first time. It’s like turning the page straight into the greatest adventure of your life! Books—and the magical stories contained therein—held the key for much of Walt Disney’s early feature-film success. The Walt Disney Company’s first full-length animated movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), was based on a 19th-century German fairy tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm in 1812. So it’s no surprise that Walt would begin the film with an image (and a live-action one, at that) of a storybook, opening to the title page…
Over the years, many Disney films begin with this same tantalizing motif—a storybook, either live-action or animated, slowly opening and inviting us in. D23 took a spin through some of the most famous of these openings, and uncovered a few interesting facts along the way!
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
According to our friends over at the Walt Disney Archives, this prop book not only still exists—a feat, considering its age—but is also currently on tour in Japan as part of their Power of Princess exhibit. The English-language version of the book features a specially carved spine… while a second version of the book (presumably used for international releases of the film) features a Dutch cover!
This beloved character, the “wooden puppet who dreamt of being a real boy,” first appeared in a children’s novel by Italian writer Carlo Collodi in 1883. In Disney’s 1940 feature, the book in the animated opening sequence is seen next to several other stories on a shelf, including Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland—titles that The Walt Disney Studios would later produce.
The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad
This two-part 1949 film—featuring animated retellings of Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, narrated by Basil Rathbone, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving, narrated (and sung) by Bing Crosby—has two storybook openings, which pull us right into the wacky shenanigans.
Another prop currently on tour in the Walt Disney Archives’ Power of Princess exhibit, is used to open Cinderella (1950). This tome features a leather cover with a suitably fancy metal latch. Fans of the gal in the glass slipper may remember that a prop storybook was also featured in the 2015 live-action Cinderella; that book is titled Perrault Birds Tales (a reference to author Charles Perrault) and is also preserved in the Archives.
Seen in several Archives exhibits over the years, the prop book from the opening sequence of this 1959 film showcases beautifully intricate artwork—depicting the tale on which the film is based—and is attributed to Disney Legend Eyvind Earle. (Over hundreds of years, several famous authors told a “Sleeping Beauty” story, including Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm.)
The Sword and the Stone
The Sword and the Stone (released in 1963) is based on the Arthurian legend—which stated that only the rightful king of Britain could pull a sword (usually called “Excalibur,” but also known as “Gram” in some Norse versions of the tale) from a stone—as well as a 1938 novel by T.H. White.
The Jungle Book (1967)
A great example of a live-action storybook opening for an animated film, The Jungle Book (1967)—the last animated feature overseen by Walt Disney before his passing in 1966—was inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s novelized adventure of the same name.
Another feature based more on legend than a lone tome, Robin Hood (released in 1973) tells the tale of the English hero who “robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.” Fun fact: The Walt Disney Studios put out their own live-action version of the tale in 1952, entitled The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men. It was Disney’s second fully live-action feature and was produced at Denham Studios in England.
The Prince and the Pauper
In this animated short that accompanied the film The Rescuers Down Under, Mickey Mouse takes on the classic story of silly switching, playing dual roles of the impoverished youth and the prince who discover they look exactly alike.
This 2007 film found Disney once again employing a unique mix of animation and live-action—so of course it warranted its very own storybook opening sequence! We especially love the “pop-up book” look of the castle as the book’s cover flies open…
Disney’s A Christmas Carol
Disney’s retelling of the legendary Charles Dickens tale (first adapted for the 1983 film Mickey’s Christmas Carol) was released in 2009, starring Jim Carrey—as multiple roles—and directed by Robert Zemeckis. The film employed amazing performance-capture technique, in which actors were filmed with digital cameras (in a full 360 degrees) and then “translated” into animated images.
Winnie the Pooh (2011)
Walt Disney Animation Studios revived the beloved Winnie the Pooh character for a new, traditionally animated film—inspired by two previously unadapted A.A. Milne stories and released in 2011. A large, open version of the Winnie the Pooh storybook was recreated for the Disney Winnie the Pooh exhibition that the Walt Disney Archives helped curate in Japan in 2014.
The Jungle Book (2016)
While this novel is technically a storybook ending, we would be remiss if we didn’t include last year’s live-action/CGI retelling of The Jungle Book, directed by Jon Favreau. The storybook flies open, revealing King Louie’s temple as if it had been carved directly into its pages!