Many of Disney‘s famous characters come from the public domain, including classic fairy tales, novels, and ancient myths. Thanks to this, these stories and their beloved characters have appeared in all sorts of unrelated media, including anime. These aren’t just episodes in an anthology series, but anime series spreading a classic story across multiple episodes.
When it comes to anime, a few tricks of the trade, like transformation sequences or cute mascots, might be thrown into the mix. Various subplots and new characters often get added to help expand on a classic plot. Notably, many of these series were international co-productions. Being based on the public domain stories directly, with no official relation to the corresponding Disney adaptations, many of these series were more faithful to the source material than said Disney counterparts. However, nothing says there can’t be a few shout-outs to Disney, like certain plot points or character designs. Of course, it isn’t unheard of for a character to star in an anime before their big break with Disney.
Cinderella – Cinderella Monogatari (1996)
Cinderella Monogatari, or The Story of Cinderella, is an anime series based on the classic fairy tale. A duke’s daughter finds herself made to work like a servant in her own home by her cruel stepmother and stepsister. Fortunately, Cinderella has a few friends to help her: a magical neighbor named Paulette, a bunch of talking animals, and a mysterious boy named Charles. All the while, the evil stepmother schemes to get one of her daughters married to the prince, never guessing he’s her stepdaughter’s friend.
The climax of the story, Cinderella going to the ball, losing her glass slipper, and even being crowned queen, occurs during the last three episodes. Of course, Cinderella meets the prince early on, though she just doesn’t realize it until much later. A recurring subplot throughout the series involves a villainous duke who schemes to gain control of the kingdom through the prince’s arranged marriage with his daughter. Interestingly, a similar subplot appeared in Disney’s 2015 live-action version of the story.
Snow White – Shirayuki Hime no Densetsu (1994)
Shirayuki Hime no Densetsu, or The Legend of Snow White, is an anime based on the classic fairy tale. Snow White is born the princess of Emerald Valley. When her mother dies, however, she will soon have to contend against her stepmother, Queen Chrystal, who wields powerful black magic. Fortunately, the princess finds refuge with seven friendly dwarves.
The classic story is stretched out over the entire series. Some of the Queen’s earlier attempts to kill Snow White, with a poisoned ribbon and comb, are adapted, serving as the focus of a few episodes. The big twist, however, is that the Queen isn’t content with being the fairest of them all: she wants to possess Snow White’s body for herself. Added to this, the Queen might not even be the one pulling the strings here. Ultimately, Snow White may have to sacrifice herself to save the forest and her friends from ruin, but love may triumph in the end.
The Little Mermaid – Ningyo Hime Marina no Bouken (1991)
The Little Mermaid has often been the subject of anime, previously being adapted into the 1975 feature-length Toei animated film, which predates Disney’s adaptation. The Adventures of Mermaid Princess Marina, or Saban’s Adventures of the Little Mermaid, was a television adaptation that came out in the 1990s. Marina, sharing her name with Toei’s heroine, is a mermaid who saves the life of, and falls in love with, the human Prince Justin. She makes a deal with the sea witch, Hedwig, to become human and be with him. Unfortunately, Justin initially believes another girl saved his life.
What was the tragic end of the original story is the starting point of the anime. A wizard, Anselm, is able to save Marina in time by changing her back into a mermaid. Marina later gains the power to become human, with Justin becoming able to breathe underwater, each for an hour each day. The two try to find a more permanent solution for their relationship, all the while dealing with Hedwig’s schemes.
Pinocchio – Kashi no Ki Mokku (1972) / Piccolino no Bōken (1976)
Pinocchio, the star of Carlo Collodi’s famous children’s novel, has the distinction of being the star of at least two different anime series. In 1972, Mokku of the Oak Tree, also known as Saban’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, stars a puppet brought to life by a turquoise-haired fairy and must work through his character flaws to become a real boy. The series is notably darker than the original story, having episodes where Mokku is nearly tricked into stealing a boy’s heart into becoming human or luring children into the clutches of vampire-witches. Mokku’s classmates don’t always survive each episode.
In 1976, another series based on the book, Piccolino no Bōken, was released. Compared to the earlier series, the later anime is much more light-hearted, portraying the Fox and the Cat as comic relief characters. The later anime was rather faithful to the original book overall, though with added subplots and some changes, such as giving “Piccolino” a duckling sidekick. In foreign dubs, both Mokku and Piccolino became “Pinocchio.”
Zorro – Kaiketsu Zoro (1996)
Zorro might not be one of Disney’s animated characters, but the swashbuckler was the star of his own Disney live-action series, airing in the late 1950s. Zorro was also the star of his own anime. In Kaiketsu Zoro, or Extraordinary Zorro, also known as The Legend of Zorro, Diego Vega returns to Spain, only to learn that his California home is under the rule of Commander Raymond and Lieutenant Gabriel. To fight back, he dons a mask and defends the weak as the hero, “Zorro.”
Other characters include Zorro’s sidekick Bernard, who helps as “Little Zorro,” and his love interest Lolita Prideaux, who favors the brave Zorro over the cowardly Diego, not realizing they are one and the same. In true anime fashion, Zorro gets a transformation sequence of sorts into his alter-ego that even starts off the opening. This is also a rare time viewers see a blonde Zorro, though his hair is still darker than Lolita’s.
Robin Hood – Robin Fuddo no Daibōken (1990)
Robin Fuddo no Daibōken, or Robin Hood’s Great Adventure, adapts the story of the classic outlaw. The action starts when Robin, or Robert Huntington, sees his palace home burned to the ground under the orders of the Baron of Nottingham, Alwyn. Robin and his cousins take refuge in Sherwood Forest. While there, they join up with “Big John,” the leader of a group of bandits, who will soon be renamed “Little John.”
The anime was aimed at younger viewers, with Robin and his friends being cast as young children. Similarly, many of the villains ended the series joining up with the good guys. Of course, Disney’s version was no stranger towards unconventional “casting,” portraying most of the characters as anthropomorphic animals.
Peter Pan – Pita Pan no Boken (1989)
Pita Pan no Boken, or The Adventures of Peter Pan, also known as Peter Pan: The Animated Series, is an anime adaptation of the famous J. M. Barrie character. The story starts with Wendy dreaming about Peter rescuing her from Captain Hook. Soon, she is taken to Neverland with her brothers, where she meets the Lost Boys.
Eventually, new characters are added to the mix, such as Princess Luna and her villainous grandmother, Sinistra, the Queen of Darkness. The series is part of the World Masterpiece Theater series, which adapted various works of literature into anime. This anime was an unusual entry for the series, as they usually did not take place in fantasy worlds. Rascal the Raccoon, another World Masterpiece Theater figure, also notably appears in the series.
The Snow Queen – Yuki no Joō (2005)
Frozen is admittedly a loose adaptation of The Snow Queen, a fairy tale that was previously adapted into a 2005 anime series. As with the original fairy tale, the two central characters are a pair of childhood friends, Kai and Gerda. Meanwhile, when the titular Snow Queen leaves her palace in the care of her troll minions, a magic mirror is broken. A shard pierces Kai, making him grow cruel and is soon abducted by the Snow Queen. While everyone else believes he is dead, Gerda must journey north to save him.
Similar to the later Disney film, the morally vague Snow Queen, who is often written as a straight villain in adaptations, is portrayed in a more benevolent light. Towards the end of the series, she must fight the Devil himself.
The Jungle Book – Janguru Bukku Shōnen Mōguri (1989)
Janguru Bukku Shōnen Mōguri, also known as The Jungle Book, is an anime adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling stories. Mowgli is a human orphan growing up in the jungles of India with a wolf pack as his family. Mowgli soon finds teachers in Bagheera the black panther and Baloo the Bear, but has to fight against the villainous tiger Shere Khan. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, another Kipling character, notably appears as a supporting character.
The series ends with Mowgli leaving the jungle to live among humans, though he keeps the love and support of the wolf pack and his animal friends. Bagheera, who had once been a domesticated pet, also goes to the human village with Mowgli. The final scene shows the animals visiting Mowgli in his new village, giving the story an even happier ending than even the Disney version.
Alice In Wonderland – Fushigi no Kuni no Alice (1983)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or Fushigi no Kuni no Alice, is an anime series adapting Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, which have often been an inspiration for anime. As in the original story, Alice follows a white rabbit down a hole into the fantastic world of Wonderland, including all sorts of colorful characters. However, there are a few deviations. Once an episode, Alice returns home after her adventures. Similarly, each episode opens with a mundane story that usually prefigures Alice’s Wonderland adventures.
In addition to Carroll’s classic characters, Alice is joined by Benny Bunny, the White Rabbit’s nephew, who functions as Alice’s traveling companion and sidekick. The Wonderland characters can be antagonistic at times, but are rarely portrayed as outright villainous. The first half of the series adapts Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, while the second half adapts Through the Looking Glass. There are also a few filler stories, notably one where Alice visits Australia through the Queen of Hearts’ castle.