It’s pretty typical for film adaptations of novels and stories to take liberties with the plot. Often, these changes soften some of the harder-to-stomach story elements. Movies, after all, are tending for a larger, more populist audience. And a lot of people can’t handle true darkness. Here’s a recent, popular example:
Stephen King loves to subject his child characters to unimaginable horror and torture. It’s kind of his thing. His novel It is a strong example of this. The 1990 TV adaptation had to round off a lot of the book’s sharp edges for obvious reasons. But the 2017 theatrical film adaptation was able to go for it a lot more.
Actually, there’s one infamous scene in King’s book that not even a modern, hard-R version could possibly adapt. After the Losers Club defeats Pennywise, all six of the 11-year-old boys run a train on 11-year-old Bev. Why? Some vague nonsense about bringing “unity” to the group. Good luck ever making that scene work with child actors.
Disney’s Pinocchio has some darkness in it. The scene when Lampwick turns into a donkey on Pleasure Island is still genuinely chilling to this day. But, mainly, the movie is about an adorable wooden boy and his even more adorable talking cricket of a sidekick. And it has a happy ending, of course.
In the original story, Pinocchio’s actions get his “father,” Geppetto, thrown in prison. Then a nameless talking cricket tries to guide Pinocchio to the path of good behavior. In response, Pinocchio throws a hammer at the cricket, killing it. In the original version’s ending, Pinocchio is hanged as punishment for his numerous misdoings throughout the story.
The X-Men series has grown and evolved through more than 50 years of constant lineup changes and bananas continuity. But at its core, it’s about the genius mutant Professor Charles Xavier teaching teenage mutants how to harness and use their mutant abilities for good. In the movies, the primary X-Men are adults, but they still are a part of Professor X’s school.
As early as X-Men issue No. 4 from 1964, Professor X is in love with Jean Grey. His student. Who is a teenager. And the prof himself is at least in his 40s. Xavier left his private thoughts about Jean unspoken and never acted on them. But certain X-Men writers have, over the years, resurrected the idea of Chuck’s old crush. Inappropriate!
In the Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, things look bleak for a while, but there’s a happy ending. The evil Frollo dies. Phoebus and Esmeralda are in love. Quasimodo is a hero and everyone in the town loves him. Everything turns out pretty and good and nice.
In Victor Hugo’s novel, Frollo does indeed get what he deserves, dying when Quasimodo pushes him from the bell tower. But Quasimodo does so because Frollo first hangs Esmeralda, then laughs at her death. Later, Quasimodo finds Esmeralda’s body where it has been left to rot by the gallows. Quasimodo dies of starvation while clutching onto her corpse. The end.
The entire premise of The Hunger Games is that two dozen randomly selected children have to fight each other to the death until only one is left standing. So the film adaptation was never going to be not dark. But there’s some stuff in the book that was just too twisted for the movies to pull off.
Lots of dark stuff was softened for the Hunger Games movie, but chief among them are the muttations. Remember those wild dog things that attack Katniss, Peeta and Cato at the end of the first movie? In the books, the wolf mutts are all the other kids from the contest, genetically reengineered after their deaths into horrific, snarling beasts with the recognizable faces and eyes of the murdered children.
Disney’s version of The Fox and the Hound is full of sad moments, and ends on a melancholy note because, even though Tod and Copper still have affection for each other, nature dictates they can never pal around like they did as children. But, hey, at least they both live. Right?
First of all, Master Slade’s other dog, Chief, doesn’t just break his leg when that train hits him in the novel. He dies. So Slade becomes obsessed with killing Tod. But, first, he kills Tod’s mate. Then, in another hunt, Copper chases Tod relentlessly until Tod dies of exhaustion. Shortly after that, Slade, old and crippled by alcoholism, has to move to a nursing home. Dogs aren’t allowed, so Slade kills Copper with a shotgun. The end.
Here we go with Stephen King again. Why does that guy love to inflict so much torment on children? Even in Stand by Me, which is not a horror movie or even particularly dark, we’re told in the end that River Phoenix’s character, Chris, dies during his college years. He's stabbed to death trying to break up a fight. It’s sad.
Wanna see three dead bodies? In King's novella, “The Body,” all the boys except our narrator, Gordie, go on to die in their youth. Chris’s death is the same as it’s described in the movie. Vern dies in a house fire six years after the events in the story. Six years after that, Teddy drives drunk and crashes his car, killing himself and all his passengers.
Disney’s Sleeping Beauty is a classic fairy tale. In the story, an evil witch curses the beautiful princess to eternal slumber unless she’s awoken by true love’s kiss. A handsome prince does indeed slay the witch and awaken the princess, and they live happily ever after.
In the original story, the king (not a prince as in the Disney version), finds the sleeping princess so fetching that he has sex with her while she’s asleep. Which is rape. He rapes her. And he gets her pregnant. Nine months later, while still asleep, she gives birth to twins. Fairy tales are so f---ed up.