Many generations are familiar with the characters from The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast thanks to Disney's hit adaptations of the original fairy tales.
Images of big-eyed beautiful females and charming males as well as comical side-kicks are the details that many viewers conjure up when asked about these fairy tales.
But the truth is that the Disneyfied versions of these tales are often very different from the original story.
Here are some of our favorite Disney films and the original stories.
A comparison reveals the darker side of these classic tales.
The Purpose of Fairytales
To understand why the original fairy tales are so much darker and much more violent, it is important to understand the purpose of fairy tales.
While we often associate fairy tales with children's bedtimes stories, their original intent and purpose were very different.
Fairy tales in their original form were morality tales. They were meant to teach a lesson and to promote the ideas that evil, vanity, greed and lust ultimately lead to bad ends.
Their violent details and endings helped to reinforce the moral points to their listeners and readers.
Some fairy tales started out as oral stories, passed down from generations, as a warning to little children (and adults) to be good or else. At some point, writers such as the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson wrote down a version of them. And these are mostly the versions we have to build on today.
While some level of morality and story-with-a-purpose still exists in the Disney version of the fairy tales and stories, their original, darker material has been watered down or removed all together.
Beauty and the Beast
While Disney's Beauty and the Beast tells the story of father and his daughter and her act of selflessness to save him from being imprisoned by a beast, the original fairy tale version has some surprising changes.
In the original tale, Beauty is from a large, well-to-do family that falls on hard times. While the some of her siblings leave the family, she moves with her now-poor father, into the country to help take care of the house.
She is what every good woman was supposed to be: good at housework, cheerful and prone to pleasant hobbies such as reading or spinning.
In the original version, the beast takes the father in when he gets lost in the woods.He is kind and generous to the father. The father's transgression against the beast happens when he breaks off a rose from one of the beast's bushes as he is leaving.
The beast then tells the man that to pay for this he must either give up himself or one of his daughters. Beauty, in her act of selflessness, says that she will go and stay with the beast even though her father doesn't want her to.
In this tale, the beast was always courteous to Beauty and made sure she was entertained and taken care of.
Beauty begs the beast to let her see her family again. He finally consents but tells her she must return to him or he will die.
Just like the Disney film, Beauty does eventually return (after staying away too long and having a dream that the beast was in danger) and the beast then transforms into a handsome prince.
One of the notable changes is that the beast punishes Beauty's sisters because there weren't as good or virtuous as she was and turned them into stones that adorn the front of the castle. He notes that the sisters can then spend all time gazing at their sister's happiness.
While the basic plot line of the Grimm brothers' Cinderella remains the same, there are some surprising and shocking details.
The story has Cinderella, her evil stepmother and stepsisters. They plan to go to the prince's ball but don't allow Cinderella to come. (Setting her up with tasks they don't plan for her to finish in time).
In some versions of the story but not the Grimm brothers' one, Cinderella is helped by a fairy godmother and this is what Disney adopted. But in the Grimm brothers' version, she is helped by a white dove; he brings her a dress and slippers.
She goes to the ball and wows the prince. The stepsisters and mother don't recognize her. She goes back the next night and wows everyone even more and the prince falls in love with her. But as it gets near midnight (when the magic ends) she runs out and loses a slipper.
Just like in the Disney movie, the prince goes through the village looking for the maiden who will fit the shoe.
And here's where it gets shocking. The stepmother encourages the first sister to cut off her toes so that she will fit the shoe. But as she is riding with the prince, the magic white doves tell the prince to look at her foot which is bleeding.
Then the second sister cuts off her heel but met the same problem as the first sister. Finally the prince sees Cinderella and realizes she is the one he fell in love with at the ball.
At their marriage, the step sisters have their eyes pecked out by the doves. The final admonishment for their evil ways
I wonder why Disney eschewed that ending?
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
While Disney's version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is dark, it's not as dark as Victor Hugo's novel.
In the film Quasimodo, the hunchback who is the bell ringer at Notre Dame, helps to save the gypsy Esmerelda from the evil Frollo and ends up uniting her with the handsome Phoebus, even though he has a crush on her himself.
But the original novel is much more complicated. The gypsy Esmerelda resists the archdeacon, Frollo's, advances and this makes him angry. After disruption at the feast of fools, he trumps up an attempted murder charge for her and he tries to hang her but the hunchback swings down and saves her and takes her to the church where she is safe.
Eventually though, Frollo overturns the law and barges into the church to get Esmerelda. He tries to seduce her again and after she refuses he successfully hangs her. In anger, Quasimodo pushes Frollo off the church tower to his death.
He then goes and lays next to the body of Esmerelda (who is in a mass grave) and dies of starvation.
Happily ever after, right?
Much of Snow White is similar between the Grimm Brothers' version and the Disney version.
But there are a few, notable and gorier details in the Grimm version.
In the original fairy tale, Snow White's mother dies in child birth and when the king marries again, the stepmother is very vain and evil. But she has a magic mirror that assures her of her beauty until one day when it lets her know that Snow White has taken her place.
The queen has a huntsman take Snow White into the woods and tells him to kill her and bring back her lungs. But he takes pity on her and lets her go and instead brings back the lungs of a wild boar which the queen then cooks and eats thinking they are Snow White's lungs.
Snow White finds safety at the cottage of the seven dwarfs but that doesn't last for long since the magic mirror lets the queen know that Snow White still lives.
The queen disguises herself as a peddler and gives Snow White a beautiful corset which she encourages her to put on. When she does, the queen tightens it so tight that Snow White faints and the queen leaves, thinking she is dead.
But the dwarfs get back in time and loosen it and she lives.
Of course the queen finds out, disguises herself again, and this times sells her a poisoned comb which Snow White uses and faints again. But the dwarfs get back again in time to save her.
Finally the queen comes back in another disguise and offers her an apple. Snow White hesitates but the queen takes a bite of the non poisoned part so Snow White thinks she is safe.
This time the dwarfs can't revive her so they build a glass coffin for her. A passing prince sees her and instantly falls in love. The dwarfs pick up the coffin and in doing so the piece of poison apple in Snow White's throat falls out.
She wakes up and the prince and Snow White plan to get married. They invite the evil queen to the wedding and she goes.
But it's a trap!
When she arrives she is given a pair of iron shoes that are burning hot and she is forced to dance until she falls over dead.
Makes the Disney ending of her falling off a cliff seem kind of tame.
The Snow Queen (Frozen)
Disney's Frozen has been hailed as new type of Disney movie complete with strong women and a removal of the "someday my prince will come" attitude of so many of its female characters.
While Frozen is seen is progressive, it is ironic that the story the movie is based on was used as a morality tale to promote Christian values and virtues.
In the basic story by Hans Christian Anderson there is a prologue that explains about an evil troll or devil that has a magic mirror that makes everything ugly in its reflection. The troll gets the idea to take the mirror up to heaven to taunt the angels. However, before he gets it there it falls out of his hands and down to earth where it breaks up into very tiny pieces.
If one of these pieces gets into a human's eye it can cause them to become frozen--and only see the world through its distorted lens.
One day little boy named Kai gets one of these splinters in his eye and becomes disillusioned, rejecting his childhood friend Gerda. He is then taken by the Snow Queen to her castle but no one in the village knows about this and everyone but Gerda thinks he's dead.
Gerda sets out on a journey to find Kai. Gerda meets some people along the way who help her and finally meets a dove who gives her clues to Kai's whereabouts.
When she gets to the Snow Queen's castle, she has to say the Lord's Prayer to get past the snowflakes guarding it.
When she finds Kai, he starts crying and the mirror piece comes out of his eye. He can now see clearly! They are able to leave the Snow Queen thanks to some magic snowflakes which spell out the word "Eternity" and allow him to be free.
When they get home they discover that they have been gone so long that they have grown up. But what is important is that they have the faith of children.
The tale ends with Matthew 18:3 which says that you must be child-like in faith to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So in this fairy tale there is no set of sisters, no saving of themselves. Instead it is very dependent on virtue, goodness and the power of the Bible.
The Little Mermaid
The Disney version of The Little Mermaid is beautiful. Ariel's flowing red hair, her entourage of funny and encouraging friends and her determination to be more than what her predetermined fate suggests are admirable to today's audience.
And it works. Even though she grows through the terror of losing her tongue and having to learn to walk, she eventually overcomes the evil sea witch to save and secure her prince. Even her father, King Neptune, gets in on the action and helps her achieve her humanness, enabling her to marry her prince.
But the original, Hans Christian Anderson Little Mermaid is a bit darker and, unfortunately, there is no happy ending for the determined mermaid.
In the original fairy tale, the mermaid must wait until her fifteenth birthday to rise up to the top and view the "other world." When she finally gets her turn (she is the youngest of five sisters) she sees a ship and a handsome prince.
Just like the Disney movie, the mermaid (who is not named) saves the prince from a shipwreck. She then begins to plot about how she can become human and get the prince to fall in love with her.
The mermaid goes to the sea witch who tells her she is very foolish but she will make her a potion in turn for her tongue, because she has such a sweet voice.
But in the fairy tale version, though the mermaid will get legs, she is cursed to be in pain forever as at the sea witch tells her:
"You will still have the same floating gracefulness of movement, and no dancer will ever tread so lightly; but at every step you take it will feel as if you were treading upon sharp knives, and that the blood must flow."
The mermaid agrees and takes the potion and swims to shore after surrendering her tongue.
While the prince vaguely seems to recognize her and she lives with him, he never is able to realize she is the one that saved him from the shipwreck. The prince ends up thinking another princess is the one who saved him.
And because the mermaid did not win his love, she is cursed to die. As the sun sets on the prince's wedding night, she slips into the sea and becomes sea foam.
A decidedly different ending from the Disney version and a morality tale of knowing your place and not rebelling from that.
The Lion King
Did you know that Disney's super popular The Lion King is simply a retelling of William Shakespeare's Hamlet?
A plotting uncle kills his brother and takes over his throne. The uncle then tries to have the son killed as well. The son is visited by the ghost of his father and then realizes that he must avenge his father's death.
The climax comes as the uncle and the nephew battle it out to the death.
This is the basic plot of both Hamlet and The Lion King.
There are even comical characters. In The Lion King there are Timon and Pumbaa. In Hamlet there are Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's two, clueless friends.
In the Disney version, Simba wins and beats his uncle and peace is restored to the kingdom.
In Hamlet everyone dies--Hamlet, the uncle, the others plotting to kill Hamlet and the queen. The carnage in the tragedy is intense but complete.
Not a very Disney ending.
Read these and many other fairtytales and stories for free.
- Free ebooks - Project Gutenberg
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Disneyfication of Fairy Tales
So many of our beloved fairy tales and Disney movies originated from much darker and deeper tales. But as we become used to the Disney versions, we lose our collective knowledge of the original versions.
Many of these stories are in the public domain and free and available.
Read and discover the real world of dark fairy tales!
Serena Bergstrom on January 11, 2018:
The real endings must be known but a few are a little better principle wise without!
Natia on June 06, 2016:
So interesting,there are a lot of books containing interpretation of well-known fairy-tales,it was so common to use some not familiar symbols to hide the truth meaning of a story,same with the Pinocchio,which character also contains features that can be widely interpreted in a different ways
Radhika Sreekanth from Mumbai,India on May 21, 2015:
Disney stories are so attractive that kids love to listen and to watch them repeatedly. It's interesting to hear that they have different endings actually. But what I love is that these stories have good morals which Disney tales lack(I think so)..
Voted up, beautiful, useful and interesting.
John Hansen from Queensland Australia on May 21, 2015:
This is a very interesting hub LCD. I knew that most original fairy tales were much more gruesome than the later and Disney version. I wasn't aware of a lot of the details in the actual stories however. In recent years there have been a few movies made of fairy tales aimed more at adults and maybe they are more keeping with the originals. Voted up.
karen on May 21, 2015:
Wow! This is an eye opener.Thanks!By the way,you're a gifted story teller.I feel the excitement like a child while reading it .
The Gutter Monkey on May 20, 2015:
I dunno, maybe I'm just morbid (eh, who am I kidding, I'm throwing the "maybe" in there to save face) but I'm all in with the more disturbing versions. Then again, I've always been a fan of the deviant and macabre stuff; so perhaps I have personal issues.
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on May 20, 2015:
LCD, congrats on HOTD! I've heard about the Cinderella's gruesome ending a while back. But the rest were all new to me. Voted up for interesting!
poetryman6969 on May 20, 2015:
A bit disturbing. But in a good way? In real life I don't seek out those films of people getting decapitated by radicals like ISIS. I have heard some make the case that your really need to see what is done to get the full horror of it but I would rather not. On the other hand I saw on one website the notion of fashion and makeup for women who have been disfigured by acid in India.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 20, 2015:
Oh my goodness! Indeed, fairy tales are truly dark. Kinda makes one glad Disney went ahead and Disney-ized 'em. :) Voted up and interesting! Congrats on Hub of the Day! Well deserved.
Donna Herron from USA on May 20, 2015:
Great hub! I had a Cinderella book as a child where the sisters chopped off their toes to fit in the glass slipper, but the other original twists you listed were new to me. Interesting and very well written. Congrats on your well-deserved HOTD!
Molly Layton from Alberta on May 20, 2015:
These are really interesting! I think the changes to Beauty and the Beast were the most interesting to me, as I didn't know them. Thank you so much for sharing!
Melvin Porter from New Jersey, USA on May 20, 2015:
Very interesting hub. This one definitely deserves a thumb up. I enjoyed reading this hub from beginning to end.
Zhivko Stanev from Bulgaria on May 20, 2015:
Great hub! As a kid I read those stories and I was not familiar with the Disney's versions. I think it is only natural that every story changes through the ages to better meet our society's expectations and needs.
Akriti Mattu from Shimla, India on May 20, 2015:
I have recently submitted my dissertation on Fairy Tales and reading your post felt good. It has been well researched. Not only are the endings to some tales shocking but also , the gender stereotypes which are so replete. It is actually a matter of concern that young children are exposed to such innuendos. I'm going to write a hub about it soon.
Nice post.Voted up
tzwrites on January 22, 2015:
Wonderful hub. I was aware of the original ending of Cinderella but not the others. They are quite disturbing, no wonder Disney decided not to include those endings.
Bernie Ment from Syracuse, NY on March 13, 2014:
What always surprises me is that people don't get the Lion King/Shakespeare connection. But I digress. Disney has been diluting fairy tales for years, but it always seems to maintain some semblance of popular morality throughout. I enjoy your articles and am looking forward to reading more of them. Voted up!
L C David (author) from Florida on March 02, 2014:
Thanks RonElFran...it is certainly a valid question.
Ronald E Franklin from Mechanicsburg, PA on March 02, 2014:
The question this excellent hub left in my mind is, do our sanitized fairy tales still function as teachers of moral principles? If not, what has taken their place in the modern world? The need for moral instruction today seems greater than ever!
L C David (author) from Florida on February 26, 2014:
The Little Mermaid is certainly a very different story from the Disney/Ariel version!
KryssiNykki on February 26, 2014:
Great hub :) I'm always fascinated by the original stories so I had known about all but the little mermaid. Two thumbs up lol
Becki Rizzuti from Indiana, USA on February 26, 2014:
Absolutely right! It's my favorite of the Disney movies, to be honest with you, and this association with Shakespeare is perhaps the reason. I love Shakespeare much more than I love Disney lol
L C David (author) from Florida on February 26, 2014:
Thank you so much. I remember watching this movie for the first time and was blown away by how beautiful it was. It didn't hit me until the next day that, of course it's a good story---it's Shakespeare!
Becki Rizzuti from Indiana, USA on February 26, 2014:
Wahoo! Somebody mentions The Lion King and Hamlet connection! I've been saying this for years and not everybody agrees with me. I'm so glad to have seen this. So excited haha. I'm going to share this to Facebook so I can keep it.
L C David (author) from Florida on February 26, 2014:
It makes me so happy that you enjoyed it. I find it fascinating how storytelling, from its content to its purpose, has changed over the years. I love both the Disney versions and their original inspiration.
gypsumgirl from Vail Valley, Colorado on February 26, 2014:
LCDWriter - What a great Hub and Hub idea!! I knew that some of the fairy tales had dark original versions, but didn't realize that so many of the endings were changed.
This was most certainly an engaging read!!! I couldn't stop!
L C David (author) from Florida on February 25, 2014:
Thanks bravewarrior. This one was a lot of fun to research and write. I used to love reading the original fairy tales when I was young, but then I've always had a bit of a dark side in me! It just mostly comes out in my literature choices!
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 25, 2014:
You are doing a wonderful of revealing little known facts about Disney and the movies produced. I was aware of the original Beauty and the Beast story, but not the rest. In fact, I'd never heard of The Snow Queen until reading this hub.
I think if I'd heard the original stories as a child, I'd be scared to death to even breathe! What extreme methods of relaying the moral of the story!