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The Grimm Origins of Disney Movies

July 2, 2018

You’re likely aware that a lot of classic Disney movies are based on old, often dark fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany a couple of centuries back. How much did Disney change those stories? A lot.

Cinderella

The title character’s wicked stepsisters are even more unhinged in the Grimm version. To try to fit their feet into the shoe left behind by Cinderella, and thus claim the prince as their own, they mutilate themselves—one stepsister cuts off her toes, and the other her heel. It doesn’t work, and they wind up attending the wedding of Cinderella and the prince to get in their good graces. Unhappy ending: While there, birds peck out their eyes.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In both the Grimm version and the Disney version, the evil queen puts Snow White into a permanent coma with the use of a poisoned apple. Her loyal dwarfs watch over her indefinitely. (The Grimms didn’t bother to name the dwarfs, however.) Eventually, a prince shows up and revives Snow White with true love’s kiss…which is a little bit different than in the old fairy tale. In that, the prince carries the still comatose Snow White away, but trips. The accident dislodges the apple in Snow White’s throat and she wakes up. And while in the movie, the evil queen dies from falling off a cliff, in the Grimm take, the evil queen is forced to attend Snow White’s wedding and wear a pair of burning iron shoes and dance herself to death.

Tangled

This was based on the familiar tale of Rapunzel, a beautiful young woman imprisoned in a tower until she’s rescued by a prince, who climbs her incredibly long hair to get to her. In the Grimms’ version, published in 1812, the story goes on a little bit longer—Rapunzel and the prince spend a few days in each other’s company, and then she gets pregnant.

Sleeping Beauty

The 1959 Disney movie and its direct source material, a story by French writer Charles Perrault, both stem from the Grimm fairy tale “Briar Rose.” In that tale, it isn’t the kiss from her true love, a prince, that wakes the sleeping beauty (whose name is Briar Rose), it’s that the sleeping curse expires right when their lips touch. What a coincidence!

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