Disney’s classic fairytale retellings, many of which are now synonymous with the stories themselves (who doesn’t imagine Snow White in a yellow and blue dress after all?), are always bright, cutesy and charming, and so they should be. After all, these are films aimed at kids, however enjoyable they may be for adults as well.
However, it’s fair to say that some of the stories weren’t always so sweet, with many having very dark beginnings stemming back from when fairytales were the only form of entertainment people had, and so were aimed a more adult (and considerably tougher) audience. Hence the inherent grimness (and that’s grim not Grimm!) of many early versions.
Whilst in many cases Disney aren’t directly responsible for the cleaning up of these gruesome fairytales (some Disney films are based on the Charles Perrault versions of fairytales which were relatively child-friendly), I thought I’d do a quick post relating some of Disney’s sweetest tales’ dark beginnings (because I know how to spoil a cute film!)!
1.Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)
As cutesy and adorable as Disney’s first ever feature film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarves’ was, older versions of the tale were not quite so cute. Whilst the Evil Queen’s command to the Huntsman to take Snow White out into the woods and bring back her heart is kind of gruesome anyway (particularly for a kids film!), older versions were much, much worse. In these various older versions the Queen demands everything from Snow White’s intestines, to her lungs and liver, to a bottle of her blood stoppered with one of her toes…so whilst commanding the murder of your step-daughter is never pleasant, there are definitely varying shades of gruesomeness with this one that isn’t quite encapsulated by the chirpy songs and friendly animals of Disney’s film.
2. The Little Mermaid (1989)
Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson is well known for his original, and generally heart-breaking fairy stories (The Little Match Girl is one that always sticks out in my mind), so it’s fair to say Disney’s version of his story The Little Mermaid glosses over a lot. Whilst in the Disney film the Little Mermaid (here christened ‘Ariel’) sells her voice to the Sea Witch (Ursula) to get human legs, in the original Hans Christian Anderson story she agrees to have have her tongue cut out, and whilst she will get human legs, it will constantly feel as though she is walking on sharp knives and her toes are bleeding…so it’s fair to say Disney toned it down a bit. Plus Ariel and Eric’s happily ever after in the film is another way the film deviates from the original: the poor, poor Little Mermaid in the original story kills herself after her prince marries someone else. On the plus side she gets to go to heaven after 300 years! Yay!
3. Frozen (2013)
Disney’s hit 2013 film ‘Frozen’ is in fact loosely based on another Hans Christian Anderson story called The Snow Queen. In the story people get pieces of mirror stuck in their eyes, and a creepy woman in a white fur coat steals children…so yeah, not the sing-a-long, fun-for-the-whole-family romp you find in Disney’s ‘Frozen’.
4. Cinderella (1950)
Disney’s ‘Cinderella’ with its blonde, girl-voiced heroine and cute talking animals is a classic, but did you know that in the Grimm version of the story the two ugly sisters both chop off parts of their feet (one chops off their toes, whilst the other chops off her heel) to try and fit the glass slipper? So not so child-friendly! In fact with all that gore and ambition it sounds more like an episode of Game of Thrones!
5. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
In earlier versions of the Sleeping Beauty story, a lot happens after the part that concludes with a ‘happy ever after’ in the Disney film, including an Ogress attempting to cook and eat the Princess and her two children. They survive in the end (with a resourceful cook substituting them for various animals!), but it still doesn’t make for the neat happily ever after Disney assigns to the story.
6. Tangled (2010)
Based on the story of Rapunzel, Disney’s ‘Tangled’ is cute, fun and heart-warming. The actual story? Not so much. In the Grimm’s version following Dame Gothel finding out that the King’s son has been visiting Rapunzel, she cuts off Rapunzel’s hair and abandons her in the desert (where she also happens to give birth to twins). Meanwhile Dame Gothel uses Rapunzel’s severed hair to lure the King’s son up to the tower, and when he finds out what has happened to Rapunzel he leaps from the tower and lands in some thorns which pierce his eyes and blind him. He eventually finds Rapunzel and they live happily ever after, but still!