You know that most of the classic Disney animated films are adaptations of fairy tales. What you may not know is that some of these fairy tales are actually quite terrifying and don’t have that “happily ever after” we typically imagine. Here’s a look at some of the Disney classics we’ve grown to love and compare them to their fairy tale counterparts.
Snow White teaches a valuable lesson: don’t take anything from strangers. Unlike the Disney adaptation, the original Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs shows the Queen tricking Snow White three times: the first time with a bodice (the Queen laces it so tight on Snow White that she faints) and the second with a poisoned comb. On her third visit, the Queen disguises herself as a farmer’s wife and offers Snow White the poisoned apple, which puts her in the death-like sleep. In both stories, the Prince saves Snow White, but in very different ways. In the Disney version, the Prince awakens Snow White with a kiss. In the fairy tale version, however, the piece of poisoned apple is dislodged from her throat, waking her up.
Cendrillon (Cinderella) by Charles Perrault, 1697
The story of Cinderella taught us beauty in a woman is a rare treasure and graciousness is priceless. Despite how terribly Cinderella’s stepsisters treated her, she obeyed them and still grew up to be a beautiful, kind-hearted woman. One of the most infamous scenes is when the clock strikes midnight and she rushes home before the spell is broken. In the Disney adaptation, there’s one grand ball. In Cendrillon by Charles Perrault, there are two balls. Both versions end with Cinderella and the Prince marrying, but in the fairy tale version, Cinderella takes her stepsisters to live with her at the castle and matches them with two lords of the court.
Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, 1697
In the Disney version of this classic fairy tale, Princess Aurora is betrothed to Prince Phillip at her christening, as a way of King Hubert and King Stefan keeping their kingdoms united forever. In Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault, the story is broken into two parts. The first part covers the premise of what viewers see in the Disney version. One major difference is that in Perrault’s story, the Prince and Princess are not betrothed to each other during the princess’s christening. The Prince doesn’t know about the Princess until he accidentally stumbles upon the castle during a hunting excursion. When he learns of the curse, he rushes to the tower and awakens her with a kiss. The second part, which is rather darker, tells of what happens after the Prince and Princess marry. The Prince’s Ogress Mother tries to eat the Princess’s children, but ends up cooking to death. Despite the dark and somewhat gruesome elements, however, the Prince and Princess live happily ever after with their children.
The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen, 1837
In Hans Christian Andersen’s version of The Little Mermaid, the Little Mermaid does not get her happy ending. Out of all the fairy tales discussed, this one is the darkest, and not just because of the ending. In the original fairy tale, the Sea Witch literally cuts the Little Mermaid’s tongue so she cannot speak. She also gives her a magic potion, that, when consumed, makes it feel as if a sword is passing through her. When the Little Mermaid gets her human legs, she has a little difficulty walking because it feels as though she’s walking on broken glass. Each step comes with excruciating pain. When the Little Mermaid fails to win the Prince’s love, she’s given the chance to turn back into a mermaid, end her suffering, and live with her family again. However, in order for that to happen, she must kill the Prince and let his blood drop on her feet. She can’t bring herself to do this, so she throws herself overboard and turns into sea foam, ceasing to exist forever.
Beauty and the Beast by Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, 1756
This story taught us to look past one’s physical appearance, and focus on the heart and inner being. Out of all of the Disney movies discussed, this one is most similar to its fairy tale counterpart. In Jean-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s version of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty has two older sisters, both equally vain and wicked. When Beauty finds out her father is being held captive at the Beast’s castle, she goes to take his place. For several months she lives in luxury. One evening at dinner, she tells the Beast she’s homesick and he lets her return on the condition that she return within a week. Knowing she has to be back by a certain day, Beauty’s sisters convincingly beg Beauty to stay longer, hoping she’ll break her promise to Beast and he’ll eat her alive. Beauty stays, but when she learns that the Beast lying half-dead from a broken heart, she immediately returns and tells him she loves him. When her tears strike him, he’s restored back to human form and they live happily ever after.
The Frog King by The Brothers Grimm, 1889The Frog King by The Brothers Grimm, a spoiled young princess loses her golden ball in the lake. A Frog bargains with her and says he can retrieve the ball is the Princess allows him to eat from her plate and sleep on her bed for three nights. When she wakes up the next day, she’s shocked to see a handsome Prince, who tells her he was cursed by an enchantress, and the only way he could restore himself was if a princess let him eat from her plate and sleep on her bed for three nights. He asks her to marry him and she says yes.
Rapunzel by The Brothers Grimm, 1812
In Rapunzel by The Brothers Grimm, the princess is willingly given to Dame Gothel to raise as her own. One day, a Prince stumbles across Rapunzel’s tower and when they meet, he helps her plan her escape. Each day, the Prince brings a piece of silk, which Rapunzel weaves into a ladder she’ll use to leave the tower. Dame Gothel learns of the Prince’s visits and tries to stop them from escaping. When the Prince arrives at the tower and sees Dame Gothel (no Rapunzel in sight), he flees the tower in despair and is blinded by the thorns below. The Prince and Rapunzel are reunited when he hears her singing in the forest. She sheds tears of happiness, which heal the Prince and restores his sight.
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen, 1844
For years, Disney wanted to make a film based off of The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. That dream finally came true with the creation of Frozen, which is loosely based off this fairy tale. Although there are similar elements in both, the two stories are actually quite different. The basic premise in The Snow Queen is that a young boy, Kai, is cursed when splinters from the Magic Mirror strike him in the eyes and heart, freezing him. His friend, Gerda, sets out on a quest to find her best friend. When she finally finds him, she kisses him and he is saved by the power of her love. Her tears melt away his heart and burn away the troll-mirror splinters in it. They dance around on the lake of ice and celebrate.
While not all of these fairy tales necessarily have dark endings, they do have dark elements to them. However, with some Disney magic, these cryptic fairytales transformed into the beloved animated classics we grew up with and still love today.