10 Gruesome Original Stories Behind Disney Movies
The recent outrage over Disney's casting of black actress Halle Bailey to play Ariel in the live-action Little Mermaid film has taken over social media, but people crying foul over the entertainment giant "changing" the source material have another thing coming. First of all, as author Tracey Baptiste points out in an article for The New York Times, mermaids have always been black. Second of all, there are plenty of fairy tales that Disney has changed over its 80-plus-year movie-making career, and I've got 10 of them explained for you below.
Book nerds should know by now that no page-to-screen adaptation can be 100 percent faithful to the original. Everything diverges from its source material in degrees, and fairy tales are no exception.
Regarding the argument that Halle Bailey can't or shouldn't play Ariel because Ariel is white and Bailey is black, let's get one thing right here: Ariel's race has nothing to do with the story of The Little Mermaid. Disney has had enough white princesses, and casting a black actress to play Ariel doesn't take anything away from the narrative.
If anyone wants to argue with that, let's see them take it up with these 10 fairy tales that are way more gruesome in their original form than in the Disney movies:
There are lots of versions of "Cinderella," but let's focus on "Aschenputtle" by the Brothers Grimm. The story tells of a gentleman's daughter, forced to wear rags and do her stepmother and stepsisters' bidding. Although Aschenputtel marries the Prince in the end, there are few similarities between the Grimm version and the 1950 Disney film.
Unlike Cinderella, Aschenputtel has no fairy godmother to help her, but she does have a white birds, who give her fine clothes to go to the royal festivities, where she meets her Prince. From there, the story is fairly similar: She goes to the ball, meets the Prince, and loses her slipper, which he uses to find her. But the Disney movie skipped the part where on stepsister cuts off her big toe and the other cuts off her heel in their attempts to trick the Prince into marrying them.
"Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp"
Collected in One Thousand and One Nights, "Aladdin" tells the story of a poor Chinese man, who is coerced by a Maghrebian sorcerer into retrieving a magic lamp from a cave.
In this version, Aladdin summons two genies: the Slave of the Ring and the Slave of the Lamp, the second of whom helps Aladdin marry the Princess by torturing her new husband, the vizier's son, every night, and allowing Aladdin to sleep in her bed in his place.
Even though the Slave of the Lamp is more powerful, and is the genie who eventually winds up in service to the sorcerer, it's the Slave of the Ring who teleports Aladdin to reunite with his wife and face off against the bad guy. The Princess convinces the sorcerer to drink poison, and everything seems to be fine — until the sorcerer's brother shows up.
Disguised as a holy woman, the brother convinces the Princess that Aladdin's palace needs the egg of a roc — a gigantic, predatory bird. When Aladdin commands the Slave of the Lamp to bring him the item, the genie is highly offended. He leaves Aladdin's service, but not before warning him of the threat posed by the "holy woman." Aladdin stabs the sorcerer's brother in the chest, thus securing his happily-ever-after.
'Beauty and the Beast'
The original Beauty and the Beast was a novel, written and published by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve in 1740.
In the published fairy tale, Belle's father is a merchant who has 12 children, and he agrees to bring them each back a gift, including a rose for Belle. Like in the movie, he accidentally crosses the Beast, who has been cursed by an evil fairy whose advances he rejected. He is released only on the promise that he'll send someone in his place, and Belle is the one chosen.
As in the Disney story, the Beast must get Belle to love him if he wants to break the spell. But in Villeneuve's novel, he tries to do this by asking Belle to sleep with him every night. A 1753 novella, written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, has the Beast ask Belle to dine with him every night, a detail that eventually granted us one of the best Disney songs of all time.
"The Little Mermaid"
Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid" is much more gruesome than Disney's version, and does not end with the Little Mermaid and her Prince living happily-ever-after.
Andersen's mermaids live for 300 years, but have no immortal souls, so they simply turn into seafoam when they die. The Little Mermaid's grandmother tells her that she'll gain an immortal soul if a human man falls in love with her, but that humans find mermaids' tails too ugly for that to happen.
Intent on marrying the Prince, the Little Mermaid goes to see the Sea Witch, who warns the Little Mermaid that the transformation of her tail to legs will cause her constant pain, as if she is walking on knives. She also warns that if the Prince marries anyone else, she will immediately die and turn to seafoam.
The Sea Witch doesn't sabotage the Little Mermaid, but the Prince still marries someone else. The Little Mermaid is given the option to stab and kill him and live out the rest of her days, but instead she throws the knife and herself into the sea. Instead of becoming seafoam, however, she finds herself among the "Daughters of the Air" — good, melodious spirits who gain immortal souls after doing 300 years of good deeds.
"The Frog King, or Iron Henry"
Disney's The Princess and the Frog is a rollicking ride through 1912 New Orleans, but it deviates from the original story quite a lot. In the movie, Tiana is not royalty, but in the Brothers Grimm's "The Frog King, or Iron Henry," the girl is an actual princess who cannot stand the frog.
In "The Frog King," the Princess meets the Frog when she drops her gold ball into a fountain. He promises to retrieve it, "if thou wilt love me" and a whole lot of other conditions. Her father, the King, has commanded her to keep her word, but it doesn't go well, and it results in her hurling the frog against the wall, turning him back into a human.
The Disney movie also leaves out Iron Henry, the Frog King's servant, who was so hurt by the Frog King's transformation that literal iron bands wrapped around his heart to keep it from breaking. As Henry drives the newlywed couple back to the Frog King's kingdom, the bands around his heart begin to snap, because his heart is so full and healthy once again.
"The Snow Queen"
Of all the stories on this list, Disney's Frozen might have the least in common with the story its based on. Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" begins when a mirror, which reflects and amplifies the ugliest and worst things about the world, shatters over the earth. Two tiny pieces of the mirror become lodged in the heart and eye of Kay, a young boy, and as a result he becomes cold and cruel toward his best friend, Gerda.
One day, the Snow Queen kidnaps Kay, and he forgets Gerda. Thanks to the Snow Queen's kisses, he can no longer feel the cold, thus he does not realize that his whole body has become frostbitten and black. He toils in the palace, trying to shape ice into the word "Eternity," but he cannot. The Snow Queen leaves him, and he freezes in place, alive but unmoving.
After a long journey, Gerda finally finds Kay in the Snow Queen's icy palace, and she kisses him to restore his body to warmth and health. The piece of the mirror becomes dislodged from Kay's heart, and he feels so deeply that he cries, flushing the other mirror fragment from his eye. The ice around them forms the word "Eternity," and they are able to leave the Snow Queen's home together.
"Jack and the Beanstalk"
Some fans might not remember "Mickey and the Beanstalk." It follows Mickey, Donald, and Goofy up a magical beanstalk to a giant's castle, where the Golden Harp, which once ruled over their land and protected it with her song, has been locked away.
The biggest change from the source material relates to the giant. In the original story, the giant's famous rhyme — "Fee fi fo fum, / I smell the blood of an Englishman. / Be he alive or be he dead, / I'll grind his bones to make my bread." — reminds readers that Jack is always in mortal danger. When Mickey faces off against the fearsome Willie, however, he discovers that the giant is a bumbling buffoon who doesn't pose that much danger to the trio.
Mickey does save the Golden Harp, but doesn't really secure wealth and fame for himself, as Jack does in the original story.
Disney's Tangled kept a lot of the key details from the Brothers Grimm's original "Rapunzel" story, but the 2010 film watered down a lot of the fairy tale's spicier details.
In the original story, a poor, young couple expecting their first child steal some lettuce from a neighbor's garden in order to satisfy the mom-to-be's pregnancy cravings. That neighbor, Dame Gothel, turns out to be an evil fairy, and she demands the couple hand over their child as repayment.
Locked away in her tower, the Brothers Grimm's Rapunzel finds herself visited by a Prince, who climbs her hair every night, when Dame Gothel isn't there. Rapunzel gets pregnant, and Dame Gothel casts her out into the wilderness — but not before cutting off her hair, which she lets down for the Prince to climb that night.
Upon discovering that Rapunzel has been lost to him forever, the Prince throws himself from the tower. He survives the fall, but is left blinded by thorns that poke into his eyes. He wanders for years, surviving in the forest, until he comes into the desert where Rapunzel now lives with their twin children. She embraces him, and her tears restore his eyesight, which allows him to see his children for the first time.
"Sun, Moon, and Talia"
Of all the fairy tales Disney turned family-friendly, this one takes the cake.
The earliest "Sleeping Beauty" is found in Perceforest, a 16th-century collection of Arthurian legends, but I want to focus on "Sun, Moon, and Talia," from Giambattista Bastile's Il Pentamore, in which a nobleman rids his home of flax, after a prophecy predicts that a splinter of it will harm his daughter, Talia. Of course, he can't protect her completely, and one day, Talia gets a splinter while investigating an old woman using a spinning wheel. She falls down dead.
When a King finds the country house, he moves Talia's corpse to the bed, rapes her, and leaves. Nine months later, she gives birth to twins, and comes back to life when her babies dislodge the flax while suckling on her fingers. She cares for the babies, Sun and Moon, in the house, unaware of what has transpired. The King eventually returns, but cannot bring his new family home with him, because he is already married.
His Queen soon finds out, however. She orders that the children be brought to the castle and cooked for the King, but the Cook hides the children and prepares lamb instead, with the Queen none the wiser. The Queen then asks for Talia to be brought to the castle and put to death. The King discovers her plan, and has the Queen and all who helped her killed in Talia's place.
The Brothers Grimm's original "Snow White" story is more terrifying than the Disney version — as if sending the Huntsman to kill Snow White, and then trying to finish her off with the poisoned apple wasn't bad enough.
In the original story, the Evil Queen visits Snow White three times in an attempt to kill her. First, she laces the girl up with enchanted bodice strings, which tighten until they suffocate her, but the dwarfs find Snow White and save her before she dies. Second, she sells the girl a poisoned comb, which nearly kills her, but the dwarfs arrive in time to remove the comb and save Snow White. On the Queen's third visit, she gives the girl a poisoned apple, which kills her.
Unable to revive her, the dwarfs place Snow White's body in a glass casket, which is eventually found by a Prince, who instructs his servants to carry it back to his castle. When one of the servants stumbles, Snow White's mouth falls open, and the bite of poisoned apple drops out, allowing her to come back to life. She goes off to the Prince's castle to become his wife.
The punishment for the Queen? The Prince and his wife have iron shoes heated in coals, which they force the Queen to wear and dance in, until she dies before them.