From Fairy Tale to Feature: How Some Disney Classics Took the Long Road

UPDATE Jan. 16, 2014: 'Frozen' has been nominated for two Academy Awards.

What!? There was almost a whale in "The Little Mermaid"!? Also, early sketches of the beast in "Beauty and the Beast" appear completely different than the character's final look. It's not only the art in these Disney animated features that evolved drastically over time, it's the films themselves.

The late Walt Disney himself considered adapting several fairy tales as follow-ups to his 1937 hit "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." Some of the movies took several decades to finally see the light of day — including "Frozen," which has earned two Oscar nominations "It takes the right era, the right artists and a lot of passion coming together to create any one of our films," "Frozen" director Chris Buck tells Yahoo Movies. "I believe that making our animated films is somewhat magical all by itself."

From concept to completion, these are the stories of "The Little Mermaid," "Frozen," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Tangled" — and how they evolved over a very long period of time.

[Photos: The Evolution of Disney Animated Classics]

 "The Little Mermaid"

Concept art that Disney has graciously shared with Yahoo Movies shows a blue whale as a main character in "The Little Mermaid" and a different-shaped Sebastian. Even the villainous Ursula got a huge makeover before she hit the big screen. The whale didn't make the final cut when the movie finally came out in 1989, roughly 50 years after Disney first considered making it. Walt Disney, in fact, wanted to adapt several classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales back in the '30s and '40s — including "The Snow Queen"...


Anna went from platinum blonde to strawberry blonde when all was said and done. And Sven the reindeer started out a lot more goofy looking. While "Frozen" is based on the classic "Snow Queen" fairy tale, the movie is a lot different than the story. "We hold on to what inspires us most," explains "Frozen"'s other director Jennifer Lee, citing the setting, the snow queen herself, and coming-of-age and love-versus-fear themes as the most important elements. Though Andersen's tale is not very cinematic, she admits. "We have to feel free to change details, combine characters, and design a tone that can be both entertaining and emotional in a 90-minute film."


"Beauty and the Beast"

Disney took two early stabs at making "Beauty and the Beast" in the '30s and again in the '50s, but the project "proved to be a challange." The studio resurrected the project in the late '80s to give the talented team behind "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" something to work on. You can see how Cogsworth the clock went through his own visual evolution, but Belle may take the cake: She went through two other hair colors before becoming a brunette (see how she changed in the slideshow).


The tale behind "Tangled," based on German children's story "Rapunzel," is a tad different than the rest, but it still took a long while to see the light of day nonetheless. It was in the works for 14 years before it came out in 2010. Filmmakers initially they planned for the adaptation to be more of a twist on the classic story, calling it "Rapunzel Unbraided." Once Disney settled on a direction, the actual production took six years. You see, all that hair is very challenging to animate!

There are still more fairy tales yet to be told by Disney, but they're keeping it under lock and key: "We can't reveal the secrets of the development floor," Lee tells us. "But we can tell you that there are certainly a few waiting to be told."

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Watch 'Frozen' Theatrical Trailer 2:

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