Ah, the '90s. An era when "What if there was a kid left home alone?" and "It's
Hamlet, but with lions," were perfectly acceptable premises for feature films. If you grew up in the 90's, you definitely remember some of the wonderful and weird kids' movies that came out that decade. The 90's brought us dogs who played basketball and Looney Tunes who also played basketball and multiple films about great apes hanging out where they were not welcome. But now that all of us '90s kids are intellectual adults, it's time to investigate the literary merit behind our favorite movies. Here are a few of the books and stories that inspired the '90s films we know and love.
Nowadays, it feels like most kids' movies are based on other kids' movies, or toys from the '80s, or other kids' movies based on toys from the '80s. We still get the occasional book-based kids' movie, sure. But the 90's were an age before the dawn of minions or emojis or films about sentient Legos. We didn't have
CGI troll dolls, so we had to make do with hand-drawn Disney films inspired by classic fairy tales. And if you want to take a trip down memory lane, you can still pick up some of the books that inspired the best (and weirdest) movies of our youth: 'Matilda' by Roald Dahl
Matilda is one of the great heroines of both page and screen. Yes, the Roald Dahl book is just a touch creepier than the lovable kids' movie. But in both versions of the story, Matilda is a wildly intelligent little girl with telekinesis and a great love for reading, trapped in a family that just doesn't "get" her. Great book, great movie, great inspiration for nerdy '90s girls everywhere.
Click here to buy. 'Beauty and the Beast' by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Beauty and the Beast was published way back in 1753, and even then it had been kicking around as a folktale for much longer. When most of us think Beauty and the Beast today, though, we think of singing teapots and bookish Belle conning her boyfriend into building her a library. The Disney movie changes some key elements, like Beauty have a whole mess of siblings, but the message of looking beyond outward appearance to find love stands the test of time. Click here to buy. 'Tales From the Thousand and One Nights' by Anonymous One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of folklore, including "Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp." Disney definitely took some liberties in adapting this story (the original Aladdin is from China, for one thing). But both tales boil down to young, scrappy Aladdin finding a magical genie, going up against an evil sorcerer, and falling for the beautiful princess Badroulbadour (also known as Jasmine). Click here to buy. 'The Incredible Journey' by Sheila Burnford Homeward Bound is a harrowing film about two dogs and a cat who must traverse a perilous wilderness to find their families again. Personally, I found it highly stressful as a child. It's based on the equally stressful 1960's book The Incredible Journey, and pretty much any version of the story is guaranteed to make all pet-owners cry. Click here to buy. 'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett
When little Mary Lennox loses her parents, she finds herself moved from India to Yorkshire to live with an uncle she's never met. Lucky for nasty Miss Mary, though, her uncle's house turns out to be full of creepy and delightful secrets. The beloved film is based on a beloved book from 1911, filled with magical plant-life and upsetting colonial undertones.
Click here to buy. 'Hamlet' by William Shakespeare
The Lion King really is based on Hamlet. It's the story of a young prince whose father is murdered by his uncle, except that Nala doesn't go mad and drown herself, and Simba doesn't die in a sword fight (and Scar doesn't explicitly hook up with his mom, as far as I can remember). So it's Hamlet but with lions and a happy ending. Click here to buy. 'Jumanji' by Chris Van Allsburg
Jumanji is a rather short picture book filled with large, eerie illustrations. The plot is rather simple: some kids get bored and play a board game that somehow summons various animals into their suburban home. But the idea of a jungle-based board game that comes to life was still inspiring enough to spawn the 90's film as well as a 2017 remake. Click here to buy. 'Tarzan of the Apes' by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Speaking of jungles and 90's movies that are only vaguely related to their source material,
Tarzan is based on a book from 1912. Both versions tell the story of a young English boy who winds up raised by apes in the remote jungle, and eventually falls for the lovely Englishwoman Jane and uses his innate Englishness to save her. But the Disney version replaces some of the more overt racism of the original book (and boy is it overt) with Phil Collins songs. Click here to buy. 'The Hunchback of Notre-Dame' by Victor Hugo
The tonally confused Disney film
The Hunchback of Notre-Dame is based on the lengthy Victor Hugo novel of the same name, albeit with a happy ending and about 80% less plot (and some talking gargoyles thrown in for good measure). To be fair to Disney, though, Hugo himself rewrote the ending to the original novel when he adapted it into an opera, so he definitely wasn't against taking a sad novel and chopping it up into a much happier musical. Click here to buy. 'Escape to Witch Mountain' by Alexander Key Escape to Witch Mountain was a 1968 book, and then a 1975 movie, and then a 1995 movie, and most recently a 2009 thriller that nobody saw. If you remember the weird made for TV movie from '95 as an all-time classic, though, then you might actually want to pick up this sci-fi book about telepathic twins who go on a road trip. Click here to buy. 'The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars' by Thomas M. Disch
Part of me still thinks that I hallucinated this entire film and book series. It was kind of like
Toy Story... but instead of charming toys looking for a little boy it was a bunch of household appliances, led by a sentient toaster. And then they go to Mars. To stop a war? And the toaster gets elected president. It might make no earthly sense, but it did make for a weird and fairly terrifying movie that haunts my nightmares to this very day. Click here to buy.