This might be a topic that’s been done to death, but considering how surprisingly illegal fan fiction can be, I’d love to hear some perspective.
Something that’s always been somewhat popular is fairy tale re-tellings -I love many of them myself- and I’d like to write some. I have an idea to write a sort of series of them, none of them inter-connected or part of the same world, essentially all stand alone, just the same concept: surprising twists on classics fairytales in a richer fantasy world. In particular, I plan to start with Cinderella, but I also have plans for Beauty And the Beast, The Little Mermaid and others (Yes they’re overdone, I don’t care I still think I’m doing something new with it).
What I want to know though, is how much can be similar before it’s legally questionable, in particular concerning Disney? Disney takes a lot of liberties with its retellings, but they are by far the most popular. When I say Beauty and the Beast most everyone thinks of the Disney version, and I’d say most modern re-tellings hark more to the Disney version than the original fairy tale. How similar can it be?
I’ll see if I can give a more concrete example. I know the very name “Cinderella” isn’t copyright to Disney, it’s from the original fairy tale, so it’s fair game. But what about in a little mermaid retelling with a protagonist named Ariel? That’s not original to the classic fairytale, that’s all Disney. Furthermore, what if I wanted to do a tagline for the book like “It’s a Dangerous World To Be a Part Of.” That’s obviously a direct and intentional reference to the Disney version. Is something like that a no-go, even if the story is different enough from the Disney version?
I know of a few books out there that are directly related to the Disney versions, but those were commissioned by Disney themselves. (I believe it’s something that the writers auditioned for, and they’re typically given outlines to follow and are almost like ghost writers in that sense, but not quite.)
Also on the topic of re tellings, how about ones done of other classics, like Jane Austen’s novels? I believe they’re all free now, are they not?