The beauty of fairytales lies in just how universal they can be. They sweep you up to the point where nearly anyone can see themselves in the story. They make it easy to understand struggling toward a moral dilemma and overcoming the perils of evil stepmothers, oppressive rules, and love that knows no bounds.
With their next feature film [Moana](movie:2366693), Disney is taking these familiar elements that they do so well and adding in a culture that is too often overlooked. While the South Pacific might be getting so much needed recognition, there are plenty of other heritages and histories that would thrill, entertain, and teach viewers worldwide.
In my bid for a continuation of multicultural storytelling, here are five folk and fairy tales from all across the world that deserve the Disney treatment for widespread acclaim.
1. The Crane Wife - Japan
The story: There are many versions of this Japanese folktale, referred to as The Crane Wife, The Crane's Repayment, and other variations, but all of them involve a poor man coming across an injured crane. He nurses her back to health, and she flies away. Later, a beautiful woman shows up at his doorstep, and the pair fall in love. When she begins weaving breathtaking silk clothes to sell at the market, her one demand is that he not watch. Her husband demands more and more and remains completely oblivious to his wife's declining health. When he decides to peak in one day, he discovers that she was the crane all along and her beautiful feathers made up the clothes. In a tragic ending, she flies away, never to be seen again.
Why it'd make a great movie: The visual potential, especially if they stick to some traditional Japanese style, is staggering. Even the fan art surrounding inspired by this story is absolutely breathtaking. Plus, the story is so emotional, it inspired an entire album by the band, the Decemberists. Execs may have to update the sad ending to be more age-appropriate, or they could just make kids realize the harsh truths of life.
2. The Adventures of Juan — Philippines
The story: Juan is lazy child with a precocious streak who can't help but get into trouble. One day, when his mother asks him to go into the forest and collect firewood, he stumbles upon a magical tree. In return for sparing his life, the tree offers Juan an enchanted goat that can shake silver from his whiskers. Juan agrees, but eventually loses the goat to a more cunning friend, who swaps it out for a normal one. In order to gain it back and gain the hand of a beautiful princess, Juan must return to the tree and learn a lesson of prudence.
Why it'd make a great movie: The Philippines would make for a lush and impressive setting for an animated tale. This story is simple enough for everyone to understand, but it can also be augmented to suit the needs of a modern generation. Juan shows the kind of growth that Disney movies should show in their young protagonists, and there's enough heart to keep everyone involved.
3. Anansi the Spider - Ghana
The story: Because Anansi has a whole web of stories in his arsenal, there are many directions an adaptation could go. In part, it would probably include his origin story, which details how he got his place as a wordsmith. He confronted the Sky-God Nyame and asked him to buy all the stories that he was harboring. Nyame responded saying the price was three fellow creatures: Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and the Mboro Hornets. Through a series of sly manipulations, Anansi acquires all of the requested animals and returns them to Nyame. Upon fulfilling his request, the Sky-God offers him dominion over stories.
Why it'd make a great movie: Anansi, the god of storytelling, has already pervaded popular culture to the point where people recognize the name. The fact that he weaves stories could make a great structure for the narrative, always coming back to the importance of passing down stories and traditions. Plus, Anansi has a historical relationship with Br'er Rabbit (part of Disney's largely ignored Song of the South with many racist characteristics), and this could be an opportunity to partially right that wrong.
4. The Quest of Cleverness — Brazil
The story: A king and his wisest council determine that the prince has not excelled despite being sent to the best schools. Fearing that books will never teach him, they send him on a journey to explore the world. Along the way, he picks up a bird, a beetle, and a butterfly, all with a special and useful quality. One day, the prince gets lost in the forest and happens upon the entrance to the land of the giants. Using his newfound friends, he's able to enter their territory and rescue a beautiful forgotten princess who he takes back home to marry.
Why it'd make a great movie: Who doesn't love an underdog story? The prince goes from being a laughing stock in his own kingdom to gaining all the knowledge from every country in the world. This story offers the opportunity for a great supporting cast of animals: the bird, beetle, and butterfly could all have personalities that correspond to their individual powers. Lastly, the pursuit of knowledge is a worthwhile message for kids, especially those who feel like school isn't cutting it.
5. Tchingal, the Giant Emu in the Sky- Wotjobaluk tribe of Aboriginal Australia
The story: Tchingal, a bloodthirsty sorceress in the shape of a humongous emu, was the enemy of the nearby tribes. A crow unwittingly disturbed her slumber, and Tchingal chased him into the spirit waters where she could not follow. The crow met a group of brothers who wanted revenge for all their friends and family members who Tchingal had killed. Tchingal's egg and feathers also hold the power to create all new (and more friendly) creatures. With the navigational guidance of the crow, who teaches them the map in the stars, the brothers must pursue Tchingal to protect their people.
Why it'd make a great movie: The Aboriginal concept of the Dreaming, a concept that encompasses a "time out of time," is one of the most fascinating subjects I've ever come across. The best part about this story of giant animals ruling the Earth is that there is actual fossil evidence to back it up. Well, at least the part about the animals. Scientists have unearthed fossilized remains of megafauna, and what could be cooler than a grandiose tale with some truth and history to it?