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The Original Fairy Tales Behind These 10 Disney Movies Aren't as Magical as You'd Think

Apr 16 2020 - 12:35pm

Nearly every animated Disney classic [1] begins and ends the same way, from "Once upon a time" to "happily ever after." When it comes to the centuries-old fairy tales that often serve as source materials for these wholesome films, though, it's not always so cut and dry. Did you know that The Frog Princess doesn't end with a kiss? Or that Cinderella has no fairy godmother, and there's a lot more blood at the end? We're summarizing the original fairy tales [2] that inspired some of the most memorable animated Disney films [3] of all time.

— Additional reporting by Haley Lyndes

The Princess and the Frog

Strangely enough, the original version of the tale has nothing to do with a kiss. The story, taken from the Grimm Brothers, features an unfortunate princess who loses a precious possession in the swamp. A nearby frog agrees to retrieve it under one condition: that the princess allow the frog to dine with her and sleep with her like royalty. She hastily agrees and rushes off, forgetting the deal she's made.

When the frog shows up at the princess's door, her father urges her to hold up her end of the bargain. For three nights, the frog comes to her door, eats at her table, and sleeps in her bed. After the third night, he transforms into a prince and says that he'd been under the spell of an enchantress. He could only break the spell by dining and sleeping with a princess for three nights. The two happily marry.

The Little Mermaid

This original fairy tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen, and it's vastly different from its Disney sister [5]. Here's what goes down: the little mermaid spots her prince aboard a ship and rescues him from drowning after a terrible storm breaks the vessel. From there, she becomes obsessed with him and can't stop thinking about him, so much so that she sacrifices her voices to get a pair of legs from the sea witch. That all checks out with the animated movie, but then it takes a sharp left.

There are different conditions for this leg-bestowing spell. If the mermaid can't get the prince to marry her, she'll die and turn into sea foam. Additionally, having legs creates torturous pain for the mermaid. Every step feels like knives, and she even bleeds when she takes steps. Also, as it turns out, the prince is in love with someone else entirely: a young maiden who found him on the beach just after his rescue. He eventually marries this maiden instead. As a last-ditch effort to prevent their sister from dying, the other five mermaid princesses under the sea give their hair to the sea witch and obtain a knife. If the little mermaid drives it into the prince's heart, she will get her fins back.

The little mermaid [6] opts not to kill the prince and throws the knife into the sea. She falls into the waves, but instead of becoming sea foam, she finds herself "among the daughters of the air" to live for the rest of eternity.

Cinderella

There are actually quite a few differences when it comes to the Grimm Brothers' story of Cinderella [7]. First of all, there's no fairy godmother to speak of, and there are a lot more birds. Instead, Cinderella gets her wishes from a bird in the tree above her grandmother's grave. She goes to a festival (not a ball) three nights in a row, each time wearing a dress more extravagant than the last. It's not until the final night that the prince runs to the castle staircase, finding Cinderella's (golden!) shoe.

The prince does bring the shoe around the kingdom, and the stepsisters can't fit into it. To try to make it work, one stepsister cuts off her toe, and the other slices off a piece of her heel. Each time, two birds cry out that the shoe was filled with blood and that the prince had picked the wrong bride. Finally, he finds Cinderella, and all is well. Oh, and the birds peck out the eyes of the evil stepsisters. Karma, right?

Aladdin

In Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, [8] Aladdin isn't an orphan or a thief; he's the son of a young tailor. He's deceptively recruited by an evil magician to retrieve an enchanted oil lamp from a magic cave. When he refuses the turn the lamp over, the magician leaves him for dead.

In this version, Aladdin has unlimited wishes. He finds the genie [9] by accident and wishes to escape the magic cave. He then wishes for riches upon riches, lavish meals, and more. He uses his wealth to convince the sultan to offer his daughter's hand in marriage. Aladdin builds an opulent palace, and eventually, the magician comes back to claim the lamp.

The magician tricks the Sultan's daughter into handing over the lamp, then moves her and the palace into the middle of the desert. Aladdin finds them, kills the magician, and returns the palace and princess to their rightful place. The magician's brother comes to seek vengeance, but Aladdin kills him too. Then, they all live happily ever after.

Tangled

While much of Disney's Rapunzel's story [10] is the same as the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, there are a few key difference. For starters, Rapunzel isn't a kidnapped princess. She's born to a regular man and woman, who have wronged a sorceress by stealing "rapunzel" from her garden. As punishment, the sorceress steals the couple's child and locks her away in a high tower with no doors. It's not long before a prince finds Rapunzel and figures out how to climb her hair.

When the sorceress catches onto what's happening, she chops off all of Rapunzel's hair and casts her into the wilderness. She then confronts the prince, who throws himself out the tower and goes blind from landing in a thorn bush. Eventually, the blind prince finds the lost Rapunzel, her tears give him sight, and they marry.

Snow White

Little Snow White is yet another tale from the Grimm Brothers, and the animated movie hews pretty close to the original tale. The queen does have a magic mirror that says she's the fairest of them all . . . until Snow White [11] outshines her. In an attempt to get Snow White killed, the queen sends her out with the huntsman who cannot do it and lets her go. She soon finds the house of the dwarves, who agree to let her stay in return for her cooking and housekeeping.

The queen attempts to disguise herself and kill Snow White [12] three ways: she constricts her breathing with a bodice, poisons her with a comb, and finally poisons her with a the infamous apple. The dwarves place her in a glass coffin, and a prince finds her and begs to take the coffin away. The apple becomes dislodged in Snow White's throat, and she wakes up. The two of them marry, and the mirror once again says someone is fairer than the evil queen. When she shows up to the wedding [13], though, they've prepared a pair of iron shoes, heated over hot coals. They put her in them, and she dances until she falls down dead.

Beauty and the Beast

This story was originally written in French and titled La Belle et la Bete. Belle is the French word for "beautiful girl," which is where the movie character gets her name from, but the tale's English translation is more direct, calling her "Beauty." They have so much in common, although Beauty has two older sisters and three older brothers. Her father does, indeed, go broke, and goes on a trip to find fortune. While Beauty's sisters request lavish dresses and other riches, Beauty only requests a rose.

On his trip, the merchant encounters Beast's castle and spends the night. The Beast remains out of sight, but cares for the man. On his way out, he gathers roses from the garden for Beauty, and the Beast angrily accuses him of being ungrateful. He lets the merchant return home, on the condition he sends one of his daughters as a replacement. Beauty, feeling stricken with grief, insists on replacing him.

The Beast treats Beauty like a treasured guest, offering her everything her heart desires. He asks every night if she will marry him [14], but every time she declines. Finally, she becomes so homesick, he lets her go home for a week.

Beauty's sisters are so jealous, they conspire to make her outstay her promise to Beast. Beauty eventually misses him so much, she returns to find him dying, having attempted to starve himself. Beauty confesses her love, and he transforms into a handsome prince. For their misdeeds, the fairy who had cursed Beast casts a new spell. The two sisters are forever doomed to be statues at the front of the castle.

Sleeping Beauty

This Grimm Brothers' tale is remarkably similar to Disney's adaptation; the only major difference is that Maleficent [15] doesn't have quite as big as a role. In the original story, the king and queen invited all the fairies in the kingdom to come to their daughter's christening as godmothers. He found seven fairies, but forgot to extend an invitation to the oldest fairy in the kingdom, who hadn't appeared in over 50 years.

As penance for his oversight, the old fairy punishes the king and his princess with a curse: that she would prick her finger on a spindle at the age of 17 and die. One of the younger fairies counteracts the curse, saying she would only sleep for 100 years. When the princess is 17, the curse comes true, and a thick, impenetrable wood grows around the castle. Over the years, the castle is forgotten, until a prince spots it and forces his way through the forest. He finds the princess, breaks the curse with a kiss, and marries her [16].

Hercules

According to the mythological stories, Hercules [17] was born of infidelity. Zeus impregnated a Grecian woman named Alcmene, and Hera was incredibly jealous. She sent two snakes into Hercules's crib, but he strangled them before they could bite him. Hera was hellbent on making Zeus pay.

Hercules did end up marrying Megara and having two children, but Hera sent a fit of madness to Hercules, and he ended up killing all of them. (Bleak.) Hercules surrendered himself to the will of the god Apollo in hopes of atoning for his crimes. Apollo forces him into 12 labors, which include killing the creature called Hydra and kidnapping Cerberus from the Underworld (we see you, Disney). After that, other adventures included rescuing the princess of Troy from a sea monster and helping Zeus defeat the Giants.

In the end, Hercules marries again. His wife, Deianeira, gives him a cloak covered in a balm given to her by a centaur. The centaur assures her it will make him love her forever, but it's actually a horrific poison that burn Hercules's skin. He can't get the cloak off, and instead begs his friends to build a funeral pyre. He throws himself on it to burn alive, and Hera finally relents, sending Athena to carry him from the pyre up to Mt. Olympus.

Frozen

Although Frozen [18] was originally said to be an adaptation of the original tale by Hans Christian Andersen, Snow Queen, the two are completely different. In the origin story, an evil fairy creates a mirror that turns all the beauty of the world into something ugly and repulsive. The sprite drops the mirror, and it shatters into a million pieces that lodge into the hearts and eyes of people around the world.

The story shifts, talking about a little boy named Kay and a little girl named Gerda. Kay gets some of those mirror splinters in his eyes, and later gets abducted by the Snow Queen and taken to her ice palace far away. Gerda seeks to find him, going through trials that include imprisonment by a sorceress in the garden of eternal Summer, a prince and princess in a different palace, a robber, a captive reindeer (Sven? Is that you?), and finally, the Snow Queen's palace.

Kay has been frozen on a giant frozen lake called the Mirror of Reason, but Gerda's warm tears thaw him out. Meanwhile, his own tears get all those pesky mirror splinters out of his eye. They return home, where it's Summer.


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