Walt Disney’s Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass

from Amazon.comI must be all kinds of dense, because I’m having a hell of a time making it through The Odyssey. I was meaning to be reading it for pleasure but I can’t tell one name from the next and it just feels like homework.

So I switched to The Once and Future King. And it only took me 40 pages of deja vu before I realized I had seen all of it before, as The Sword in the Stone. According to Amazon, the book is actually a compilation of short stories by T.H. White, the first of which was made directly into the Disney Version (what with its being about an orphan who proves himself and all).

The reason I thought this story was interesting: the Sword in the Stone was always one of my least favorite Disney movies. I thought it was slight and pretty forgettable, like an unfinished chunk of a larger story. But what really stood out and bugged me were all the anachronisms — Merlin wearing a Hawaiian shirt and all that. Contemporary Disney movies like Jungle Book and Robin Hood handled it better. King Louie was genuinely cool (although the British Invasion vultures were kind of annoying). And I still say that having the depiction of the merry men in Robin Hood exploit all the country & western stuff that was popular at the time (with Smokey and the Bandit) was a genius move.

At the time, though, I assumed that The Sword in the Stone was an original invention. I’m not dense enough to think that Disney invented King Arthur, of course, but I just always assumed they’d done their own take on Le Morte D’Arthur or something — like they did with Mulan. And the anachronisms were just annoying Disney formula, like the Genie in Aladdin. (That wasn’t based on a re-telling, was it?)

What’s particularly odd is that in the book, I love it. I think it’s great hearing Merlin talk about electricity, and reading the narrator describe everything in contemporary terms and dialect while explaining that that’s exactly what he’s doing. It’s integral to the whole character of the book and the way it’s told, and it’s a genius move for an adaptation/re-telling.

So this is one of the rare cases where reading the original makes me appreciate the Disney version more. (While at the same time, being a little disappointed that it wasn’t as original as I’d always assumed). It also leaves me wondering if there are any other Disney movies that aren’t direct translations of a book; the only ones I can think of now are two of the most recent, Lilo & Stitch and Atlantis.