With all the swirl around Beauty and the Beast lately, I thought it might be fun to talk about fairy tales. Disney has done a laudable job of Disney-ifying classics with positive messages and happy endings.
And while I remember obsessing over Disney’s Aladdin well into my teens, I also remember going to Blockbuster and renting videos (yes I predate even DVDs) called Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. And Shelley showed the truth about those fairy tales – they were dark.
I’m not sure why but I found these darker versions much more interesting than the glossy movies. Perhaps it’s that they seemed just a bit more realistic or more exciting or funny and different and quirky – all things I like. Whatever it was, I kept renting them over and over.
So what did these dark adaptations show that Disney didn’t? They had plot elements of the original fairy tales that might make your little sister cringe. Let’s take a look.
I’ll start out with the less traumatic ones get darker and as we go…(Disney movie lovers, beware. You may never look at your Princesses and Princes the same again!)
#10 Beauty and the Beast
Since this little fable inspired this blog, I’ll start with it. There aren’t any overly dark moments in what is considered the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. However, Belle does have two stepsisters (What is with stepsisters?) When the Beast lets Belle visit home the stepsisters try to make her stay longer than she is supposed to, hoping it will enrage the Beast enough to eat her. (What? They’re EVIL stepsisters? Shocker!)
#9 The Princess and the Frog
This is another one where I can thank Shelley Duvall for exposing the misconceptions perpetrated by Disney. I think I rented the Faerie Tale Theatre‘s The Frog Prince so many times I may have worn the tape out. (Side note: that little gem starred a very young Robin Williams and Teri Garr!)
And while I actually really like Disney’s version of this story, especially how they gave it a New Orleans twist, it doesn’t have the quite the strife and violence of the original, where the frog doesn’t turn into a prince after getting kissed by a princess. It happens when the princess throws him against the wall in a rage because she thinks he’s super gross.
So that sweet voiced little mischievous wooden boy of the Disney film is actually more like a delinquent before he becomes “real boy” in the classic story by Carlo Collodi. He steals money from a fox and a cat and also kills his talking cricket. Isn’t there something about kids who kill animals that’s supposed to cause a huge alarm about the state of their psyche? Pinocchio should give you the shivers not the warm and fuzzies.
This Disney film, Tangled, is super cute. Who knew it also had terrible origins right? That’s right, Shelley knew. Firstly, in the original story, Dame Gothel (the evil woman) takes Rapunzel as payment for her father’s thieving ways. After Dame Gothel cuts off her hair and banishes Rapunzel from the tower, the prince comes back, climbs up the tower on the hair the evil Dame Gothel has left for him, only to find his beloved Rapunzel is gone. So what does he do? He throws himself off the top of the tower. Now, this doesn’t kill him, but the thorns at the bottom blind him. Maybe the lesson here is don’t throw yourself off a perfectly good tower?
Although this is not a fairy tale, Disney did add it to their animated opus and give it a distinct fairy tale feeling. In the Disney version, Pocahontas, a Native American princess, falls in love with John Smith, a British colonist, saves his life, and brings peace between the two groups in the process. In real life (because you know Pocahontas was an actual person). After John Smith returned to England, Pocahontas was kidnapped for a while and then married a different John actually, John Rolfe. Years later, she visited London and was paraded around as an example of a “civilized” Native America. Sometimes the truth is much darker than the fiction.
#5 The Little Mermaid
This classic Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale has some similarities to the Disney version. But Disney really put on the rose colored glasses here to make sure it ended happyily. In the original work, the little mermaid can only come on land to be with the prince if she drinks a potion that makes it feel like she is walking on knives at all times. But, it’s OK because she gets her happy ending right? No, I’m pretty sure Andersen and the Grimm brothers had the same morbid sense of humor. In this version the prince marries a different woman, and the Little Mermaid throws herself into the sea, where her body dissolves into sea foam.
My niece is not going to like this one because Mulan was her favorite Disney movie growing up. (Sorry Bri!) The original story of Mulan is actually a ballad called Hua Mulan. In the ballad, like the Disney film, Mulan does become a strong warrior who saves the day and then returns home. However, the ballad has another part called Sui Tang Yanyi that has a bit of a different extended ending in which Mulan returns home to find her family has fallen apart. To survive she has become a concubine and instead commits suicide. I can see why Disney left that out.
#3 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Considering this one is already rather dark, it’s hard to think Disney didn’t include all the details of the Grimm original. However, there are a few morbid details left out, including the fact that the queen tried to kill Snow herself several times before the whole apple plan. And she doesn’t ask the huntsman to bring back Snow’s heart but her lungs and liver, which she then eats (or she eats the boar’s lungs and liver.) Icky yes, but not so dark that it deserves to be #3. Here is the really morbid part Disney left out, perhaps because they aren’t big on vengeance. The Evil Queen is punished by being forced to wear burning-hot iron shoes and dance until she drops dead. Disney’s Queen meets a much faster and less gruesome end falling to her death off a cliff.
#2 Sleeping Beauty
The original tale by Giambattista Basile is so twisted there are some aspects I’m not even going to mention. But, one of the plot lines conveniently left out of the Disney movie is that the King who falls in love with the sleeping princess is actually already married. So when he and princess sleepyhead get together in the original story and have babies, twins actually, it’s adultery and the King’s real wife (aka The Queen) is none too happy about it. She tries to have the twins killed, cooked and fed to the King. (Maybe Snow White’s evil Queen should take some pointers from this one.) Oh and she tries to burn Princess Sleeping Beauty at the stake. I don’t remember that happening in the cartoon.
Let’s get right to why this is number one. It’s for one reason – severing of body parts. In the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, one of the evil stepsisters mutilates her foot to fit into the glass slipper by cutting off her toes and her heel. (I mean I like shoes and all but that seems a little extreme.) Although, the gore doesn’t stop there. The sisters also get their eyes pecked out by birds at the end of the Grimm version too. Those Grimm brothers were super grim. Although, it’s said the Disney version was not based on this tale published in 1812 but rather from Charles Perrault’s 1697 story Histoires ou contes du temps passé, Cendrillon. This one is much closer to the Disney version and bereft of the Grimm’s darkness. (Where’s the fun in that?)
March 21, 2017 at 10:34 am
Yes I have a book of Grimm’s fairy tales and I read them AS A CHILD thinking they would be like Disney. I was so wrong. So many of them are horribly twisted with no real happy ending bc I guess they were more for lessons then entertainment. Ick. 🤢
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March 21, 2017 at 10:54 am
And what terrible lessons! If your stepsisters are mean to you- have their eyes poked out by birds. Wow. Those Grimm brothers and their early fairy tale counterparts had some questionable morals.
March 21, 2017 at 11:12 am
Fun topic! I love what you did with this one. You should submit it for them to use.
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March 21, 2017 at 5:38 pm
LOVED Fairy Tale Theatre. And even the Disney version of Pinnochio freaks me out. I think the real fairy tale REALLY would.
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March 23, 2017 at 11:19 am
Hi there, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this blog post. It was helpful. Keep on posting!