7 Dark and Creepy Origins of Your Favourite Disney Movies.
If you're interested in reading more about these fairy tales, click on the numbered hyperlinks beside each story.
Fairy tales were originally written as cautionary tales to teach morals and dissuade bad behaviour. Surprisingly they were never meant specifically for children! When they were eventually turned into Disney movies many of these fairy tales lost their gritty edge.
Spoiler alert for Disney and fairy tale endings!
1. Frozen (2013) based on The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen (1844)
How You Think You Know It: Elsa and Anna grow up orphaned in the kingdom of Arendelle. Elsa has magical powers to control ice and snow, a secret that has trapped her in the castle for years. On the day of her coronation her secret is revealed and she runs away. With the help of a new friend Kristoff, Anna tries to find her sister but Elsa accidentally shoots ice at Anna's heart, which can only be thawed by an act of true love. Kristoff returns Anna to the castle to marry Hans, her betrothed, as an act of love but it ends up that he's the main villain and wants to kill Elsa so he can have the kingdom to himself. As Hans tries to kill Elsa, Anna comes to her rescue and uses her body as a shield to protect Elsa. This counts as an "act of love" and Anna's body thaws. Anna and Kristoff end as a couple and Elsa becomes the queen.
The Reality: A boy, Kai, and a girl, Gerda, grow up as next door neighbours. The Snow Queen is an evil figure who controls snowflakes. One day when playing out on his sled Kai is kidnapped by the Snow Queen. She kisses him twice: one to lose his memory, and one to be numb to the cold. Gerda goes on an elaborate quest to rescue Kai. Eventually she finds Kai, who is sitting alone on a frozen lake trying to spell the word "eternity" in order to gain his freedom. Gerda kisses him which breaks the previous kissing spells and the two spell eternity with ice to gain his freedom. The two return to their village and grow old together.
2. The Princess and the Frog (2009) based on The Frog Prince by Brothers Grimm (1812)
How You Think You Know It: Set in 1920s New Orleans, the Frog Princeis read to Tiana as a kid. Prince Naveen who has arrived to find a wife meets with a voodoo doctor who turns him into a frog. Naveen encounters Tiana and asks her to kiss him to turn him back into a human. Instead Tiana is also turned into a frog. They find a voodoo priestess who tells Naveen he must kiss a princess to turn human again. Tiana's friend Charlotte is an ideal candidate but the clock strikes midnight before Naveen can kiss her. Tiana and Naveen, who have fallen in love, decide they can be happy and together as frogs and marry. In marrying Naveen Tiana becomes a princess and as they kiss the spell is broken.
The Reality: After rescuing the princess' golden ball from a lake the frog has four demands: love and accept him as a friend, sit at the table, eat and drink food together, and sleep in the same bed. So excited to have her ball back the princess forgets about the frog until he knocks on the castle doors the next day. The king says that she must repay the frog for his kindness so she reluctantly ets him eat her food. At night he comes to her bedroom and says that he must sleep in her bed or he will tell her father. Outraged the princess throws the frog against the wall and when he stands up he is a prince. Following his demands she befriends and intends to marry him. The next day the prince's entourage arrives including his servant Heinrich who has placed three iron bands around his heart to keep it from bursting at the thought of his master becoming a frog. As the prince and princess ride back to his kingdom they can hear the sound of the iron bands breaking.
3. The Little Mermaid (1989) based on The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen (1837)
How You Think You Know It: Ursula disguises herself as a human, Vanessa, and using Ariel's voice seduces Eric into marrying her. During the wedding Ariel's sea friends cause a ruckus, destroying the necklace around Ursula's neck that holds Ariel's voice. Realizing that Ariel is the one he loves Eric tries to save her but the sun sets and Ariel becomes a mermaid again. Ariel is captured by Ursula who exchanges her for Triton and his trident, making her grow to an enormous size and take over the ocean. Eric drives his boat into Ursula, killing her. Realizing that Ariel and Eric are in love Triton turns Ariel permanently into a human and the two are married.
The Reality: The Little Mermaid turns into a human knowing that if the prince marries someone else that the next day she will die and turn into sea foam. The prince really enjoys having the human-mermaid around but he has fallen in love with the princess of the neighbouring kingdom, who he mistakenly believes was the one who saved him from drowning (psst - it was the mermaid!). The mermaid's sisters give her a dagger from the sea witch who took her voice, saying that if she can kill the prince and his blood touches her feet she can become a mermaid again. But since she loves him she can't bring herself to do it and the day after the wedding the mermaid dissolves into sea foam. Rather than dying though her selflessness is rewarded and she becomes an air spirit.
4. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996) based on The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo (1831)
How You Think You Know It: Frollo follows Quasimodo and Esmeralda into the cathedral to avoid Phoebos' gypsies. Quasimodo and Frollo fight and fall out of the balcony, killing Frollo while Phoebos catches Quasimodo. Quasimodo accepts that Esmeralda only loves him as a friend and gives Phoebos and Esmeralda his blessing. He finally leaves the cathedral where he is accepted into society and named a hero.
The Reality: Frollo, who is in love with Esmeralda betrays her when she continues to deny his advances. He hands her over to the authorities who hang her the for attempted murder of Phoebos, a crime that Frollo actually committed because he thought Phoebos was in love with Esmeralda. Quasiomodo kills his father. He goes to the graveyard and lies on Esmeralda's grave until he dies of starvation. Years later the tomb is opened and as someone tries to disentangle their bodies the skeletons crumble to dust.
5. Snow White (1937) based on Little Snow White by Brothers Grimm (1812)
How You Think You Know It: The Queen comes to the dwarfs' cottage disguised as a peasant woman and gives a poisoned apple to Snow White. The apple makes her sleep until she is awoken by true love's kiss, which the Queen thinks will never happen as Snow White will probably be buried alive. The Queen is chased out of the cottage by the dwarfs and is struck by lighting, causing her to fall down a cliff and die. Rather than burying Snow White the dwarfs place her in a glass coffin. One day a prince who had previously fallen in love with her arrives and kisses her, waking her up. The two are married and live happily ever after.
The Reality: The stepmother comes to the cottage three times disguised as a peasant woman and every time Snow White dies but is revived by the dwarfs, except for the third time with the poisoned apple. The dwarfs place her in a glass coffin and mourn her loss. One day a prince comes along and falls in love with the sight of her. He asks the dwarfs to carry the coffin to his castle so he can see Snow White whenever he wants to. In moving the coffin Snow White is jostled around which dislodges the poisoned apple stuck in her throat and she comes back to life. She and the prince marry, but when the stepmother finds out that Snow White is still alive she plots revenge again. She attends their wedding but Snow White is prepared and forces her to wear iron shoes and dance until she dies.
6. The Jungle Book (1967) based on The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)
How You Think You Know It: Mowgli is hesitant to return to the human village but changes his mind when he sees a young girl fetching water at the river. He follows her into the village and leaves his animal friends behind.
The Reality: When Mowgli decides to move back to his village the people there reject him and he's forced back into the wilderness. He asks Haithi (the elephant) to help him but the elephant takes it a step too far. It goes back with Mowgli and destroys the entire village.
7. Tangled (2010) based on Rapunzel by Brothers Grimm (1812)
How You Think You Know It: Hoping to rescue Rapunzel, Flynn climbs up the tower only to find her tied up and Gothel (the witch) holding her hostage. Gothel stabs Flynn, and in exchange for staying in captivity Rapunzel heals Flynn with her tears. Flynn cuts off what's left of Rapunzel's hair which destroys the magic and kills Gothel. Flynn dies but Rapunzel's tears bring him back to life. Rapunzel is reunited with her parents and she marries Flynn.
The Reality: Based on Petrosinella, an Italian tale, the Grimm tale is quite similar to the first half of the Disney movie. But when Rapunzel accidentally reveals that the prince has been visiting her in the tower the witch cuts off her hair and banishes her to the forest. The next time the prince visits the tower the witch throws down Rapunzel's braids and surprises the prince when he climbs up expecting to see his beloved. The prince, appalled by the witch and what she's done, throws himself out the window and blinds himself on the thorns below. He stumbles alone through the forest for years until he discovers the banished Rapunzel who has since given birth to their twins. She cries at the sight of him and her tears cure his blindness.
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Racism is an insidious, and unfortunately prevalent, force in all of our daily lives. Maybe we're on the receiving end of it, being treated differently and losing opportunities because of others' preconceived notions.
Or maybe we're on the other side of things. Even those who aren't actively racist or discriminatory still have to process the world through the filters of the things they've been told about people who are different.