Walt Disney Studios is known for their "happily ever afters" and magical tales. However, the original fairy tales weren't always so perfect and magical. They're actually much darker and much grimmer than Disney likes to portray.
The Little Mermaid
Originally written in 1836 by Hans Christian Anderson, "The Little Mermaid" story has a much darker tone than the one Disney portrays. We all know the classic cartoon tale: girl wants something bigger than her ocean home and dreams of walking on land, has a fight with Dad, swims off to a sea witch and sells her voice for legs, meets her prince who's put under a spell, there's a cruise ship, a fight, a marriage, and then they all live happily ever after. That's the whole story, right? Wrong.
In Anderson's story, our favorite little mergirl dreams of going above the water, and on her 15th birthday she does just that. She sees a ship with the prince, and a great storm rolls through, the ship is destroyed, and she saves the life of the prince. She leaves him on a beach, just like in the Disney tale, but this is where the story begins to change tracks. The prince is found by a girl whom he cannot get off his mind, but the little mermaid is still in love with him, and she gives up her voice to the sea witch to gain human legs. Every step she takes feels as if she is walking on knife blades. She is taken in by the prince and is loved by him, but then the prince is set to marry a princess of a neighboring kingdom. This princess turns out to be the same girl who found him on the beach, they marry, and the little mermaid's heart breaks after she refuses to kill the prince to save herself. She dies and turns into sea foam but is given a chance at the kingdom of heaven if she spends 300 years as a daughter of the air.
This version is filled with much more sorrow, pain, heartbreak, and death than the Disney version. It makes sense why they gave it the "happily ever after" stamp for the kiddies.
Here's a name not many recognize: Giambattista Basile. Basile is the man who originally wrote the story "Sun, Moon and Talia" in 1634. This story is the basis for the Grimm's "Sleeping Beauty" (1812), and from the Grimm's tale Disney created their version of "Sleeping Beauty."
So, what happened in "Sun, Moon, and Talia" that makes it so different from the Disney version? Talia, the sleeping beauty character, had her fortune told when she was a baby, and it was said a great peril awaited her from a piece of stalk. The King ordered all such things out of the kingdom to keep her safe, but she still wound up being enraptured by an old woman and her spinning wheel. A piece of stalk went underneath Talia's nail, and she dropped dead. Out of grief, her father set her body up under a canopy in the castle and left to forget all of the misery that had befallen him there. Now, the King from another land happened upon this place and found the dead Talia, and finding himself so struck by her beauty, he had intercourse with her before leaving the palace. Talia gives birth to twins named Sun and Moon. While trying to nurse, one of the babies sucked on Talia's finger and sucked the stalk from the nail bed. Talia awakens and is really confused by what happened.
The King returns to find Talia awake and with the twins. He falls in love with them all, and when he returns home, the names Talia, Sun, and Moon are always on his lips. The Queen becomes jealous and suspicious of her husband. She orders for him to be followed, learns of Talia and the children, and orders the cook to kill the twins and serve them as a meal to the King. The cook takes pity on them, saving them and giving them to his wife, and he prepares two other children to feed the King. The Queen is still not satisfied and orders to have Talia burned alive. The King sees Talia in his home and finds out the truth. The Queen is killed instead, and Talia becomes his new wife.
At least the King, Talia, Sun, and Moon ended up together for a somewhat happy ending. Even though the King raped Talia while she was pretty much dead, and that is not okay. No wonder Disney had to make some serious changes to the cartoon version.
Learning that every child has to grow up eventually is the main theme behind Disney's "Peter Pan." With catchy tunes, pixie dust, and a magical, colorful place called Neverland, the story of Peter Pan is any child's dream.
But Disney left out some rather morbid facts in their retelling. In the original "Peter Peter" by James M. Barrie (1904), Peter was a boy who lived with fairies and would accompany dead children part of the way to wherever they would go. Mrs. Darling sees Peter in the nursery one night, unlike in the cartoon where the parents aren't even important characters, and she is able to catch his shadow, roll it up, and keep it in a drawer so that she can try to catch the boy. She vaguely remembers this boy from stories told in her youth.
When Peter returns for his shadow on an evening when the parents are away, he accidentally wakes up Wendy. He tells Wendy about Neverland and the Lost Boys, who were babies that had fallen out of their carriages and were never found again. Wendy and her brothers fly with Peter to Neverland, and jealous Tinkerbell convinces the Lost Boys to shoot down Wendy with an arrow. Wendy is thought to be dead, but the kiss around her neck had saved her. When Wendy, John, Michael, and the Lost Boys plan to return to the Darlings' home, the pirates (fully grown men) capture the kids and want to make Wendy their mother. Peter finds out and begins to kill off the pirates one at a time. Captain Hook winds up throwing himself off his own ship to kill himself and he is eaten by the crocodile.
The kids return to the Darlings' house, except for Peter, and the Lost Boys are adopted by the family. Wendy visits Peter once a year to clean his house and tries to convince him to see her as more than a mother. As Wendy gets older, she loses her ability to fly and cannot go with Peter anymore. She has her own daughter, Jane, who flies off with Peter for spring-cleaning now. When Jane grows up, her daughter Margaret takes over the cleaning and also continues to tell Peter the stories he likes hearing so much.
This is another classic Disney fairy tale that was changed from the original Brother's Grimm story "Ashputtel" (1812). The Disney retelling is not all that different from the original fairy tale, except for a few minor details.
In the version by the Grimm Brothers, there is no fairy godmother but a wishing tree that had grown from Ashputtel's mother's grave. The father is also still alive and still allows the treachery his new wife and step-daughters put Ashputtel through.
When Ashputtel wants to go to the three-day feast held by the King, she has to complete all of her chores first, which she does with the help of doves, not mice. Her step-mother still won't allow her to go because she doesn't have a dress, but Ashputtel receives a silver and gold one brought to her by her bird friend from the branches of the wishing tree. She goes to the feast all three days and dances with the Prince. When he wishes to take her home and see where she lives, Ashputtel slips away and hides from him first in the pigeon-house in her backyard and then in the pear tree in her family's garden. The third time she slips away, she loses her golden slipper (that's right, it's not glass in this version) on the stairs of her home. The Prince talks to Ashputtel's father to see if the shoe fits any of his daughters.
Ashputtel's step-sisters are so desperate to marry the prince that one sister cuts off her big toe in order to fit in the golden slipper and the other saws off her heel. The dove in the wishing tree is the one who warns the prince that the sisters are lying and to ask again for a third daughter. Ashputtel is finally given the chance to come forward and try on the shoe, and, of course, it's a perfect fit.
"Little Snow White" by The Brothers Grimm was originally written in 1812, and then later re-written with many changes in the 1819 version. Although most of the original story is similar to the Disney depiction, the cartoon left out the more horrific details.
The Evil Queen was originally written as Snow White's biological mother, and she still wants to kill her (in the 1812 version). Later on, though, the Grimms rewrote it as her step-mother (the 1819 version). The Evil Queen wants the Huntsman to cut out Snow's lungs and liver so she can eat them. The Prince doesn't kiss Snow White to awaken her. Instead, his servants are forced to carry her coffin back with him. One of the servants strikes the maiden out of anger for having to carry her around, and this causes the poison apple piece to become dislodged from Snow's throat (1812). In another version, the servant stumbles while carrying the coffin, and the poisoned apple is dislodged (1819). Also, the Evil Queen is punished by being forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she dies.
Other Tales Worth Noting:
"The Adventures of Pinnochio" by Italian Carlo Collodi (1883)
One of the first major differences is that Jiminy Cricket is killed. Pinnochio steps on him, but he still reappears later on in the story as a ghost. Another difference is that when the puppet first meets the Blue fairy, she tells him she's actually dead and waiting for a hearse. With all his troubles and poor choices, Pinnochio is left to die quite a few times. The original version seems to have many more talking animals than the cartoon and it, of course, has more violence.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo (1831)
Far from the happy ending of the Disney retelling, the original story ends with Esmerelda being hanged by Frollo, Quasimodo killing Frollo, and then he starves to death over the body of Esmerelda. Other differences include Quasimodo actually being deaf from how loud the bells are that he rings (which makes sense) and the fact that he is really mean to everyone because everyone else treats him so poorly. Frollo is actually a priest who made a deal with the devil, which Disney had to change because of the problems that could have caused with intended audiences.
"The Fox and the Hound" by Daniel P. Mannix (1967)
There is no adorable friendship between this fox and hound. Tod actually from exhaustion after being chased by Copper, and to make things even worse, Copper is shot by his master when his master moves to a nursing home.
All in all, it's fascinating to learn the original stories of some of the most classic Disney films children have grown up on, even if the originals are rather disturbing and violent.
What other retellings have you heard about?