The Disney Fairytales: Does 'Disneyfied' mean Dumbed-down?

It's time for another list and with the impending UK release of Frozen on the 6th December (excited!) this one involves those fairy-tales adapted by Disney into feature length animated films. Walt Disney and his successors have taken well-loved stories by the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault and Hans Christian Anderson - among others- and created films that have delighted children throughout the generations.


 But have these stories been softened and sweetened beyond all recognition? People are always condemning Disney for being sickly sweet, but I'm not one of them - there's plenty of darkness and death in these films (Bambi and The Lion King anyone? The Black Cauldron?? The Hunchback of Notredame?) and if they're not as creepy as the originals it's understandable. These are films made for children after all and a happy ending never hurt anyone. But that's only my opinion. Read on to discover the differences between the original fairy-tales and their Disney counterparts and make your own mind up about what should or shouldn't have been changed...

Note: I haven't included The Princess and the Frog - not because I didn't enjoy it - but because it's not based on the original fairytale, but a novel called The Frog Princess by E.D Baker. I might review it further down the line! 





Snow White

First published by: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Disney Release: 1937



Snow White was Disney's first full length animated film and one of the truest to its original source. However, there are a few small differences.
In the original, Snow White is only seven (ew) and so Disney bumped her age up to fourteen so at least she'd have hit puberty. The Disney adaptation also cuts the Wicked Queen's earlier attempts to finish Snow White (by poisoned ribbon and comb) and has the queen fall to her death rather than being forced to dance in red hot steel shoes until she dies.
Then there's Snow White's awakening. In both stories our heroine is placed in a glass coffin following her untimely death. In the original the Prince has his servants begin to carry her away to his castle so they can be together (slightly morbid??) but one coffin carrier slips and the apple is dislodged from Snow White's throat, bringing her back to life. In the Disney version it's true love's kiss that revives her, which I think I prefer. Both probably confuse children about the finality of death, but the second is at least romantic.  
Snow White as a character has been critisised as dull and sexist, but it was the thirties so she's hardly going to be a modern woman. At least in this version she has a prior meeting with the Prince before he carries her off into the sunset (they sing to each other over the palace wall).

Read the original here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm053.html



Cinderella

First published by: Charles Perrault
Disney release: 1950




Again, Disney's Cinderella is a pretty close match to the original. Although in the fairy-tale Cinderella attends the ball three nights running, this is necessarily cut down for the film, while additional scenes are included to flesh out both plot and characters. The additional scenes are some of the best - I love the drama of the homemade dress being ripped up and the comedic scenes between Lucifer and the mice.The Prince remains pretty bland and although our heroine is interesting enough, the animal characters are the real scene-stealers. Admittedly, it is all a bit 'Disney' but if you want something grittier you can always read the retelling by the Brothers Grimm, who got rid of the fairy godmother and put in some additional gore, with the ugly sisters cutting off bits of their feet to better fit the slipper, and bleeding all over the prince.

The Disney Cinderella is one of those films that I always find to be both less soppy and generally better than I remember. The stuff with Lucifer (the cat) is genuinely funny and although I've watched it a hundred times I still always manage to be surprised when the first glass slipper gets smashed.

Read the original here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault06.html




Sleeping Beauty

First published by: Charles Perrault
Disney Release: 1959




Sleeping Beauty is the story of a princess who pricks her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel, falls into a deep enchanted sleep and is awakened by a handsome Prince. However, there are many different variants of the tale. In Perrault's version it is a kiss that wakes the princess, yet in another the Prince prays to the gods and in a third retelling he rapes resulting in two children, one of whom awakens the princess by sucking the piece of spindle from her finger. For obvious reasons Disney chose to go with the kiss.

Sleeping Beauty is the first Disney film to include a prince with an actual personality (Prince Phillip - possibly named after the Queen's husband??) as well as probably the best Disney villain to ever appear - the wicked fairy, Maleficent. With that deliciously sinister voice and the ability to turn into a dragon at will, Maleficent is so memorable that she is even getting her own film (see below). The film's capture of Prince Phillip and his stand-off against Maleficent are both additions to the original tale, while Perrault's 'part-two' involving the sleeping beauty's children and the prince's ogress mother is absent from the Disney film.




Some random trivia:
Did you know... Although Sleeping Beauty is famed for its 'Once upon a dream' sequence the director of that sequence was fired afterwards, because he took too long and spent too much money on it? All the music of Sleeping Beauty is taken from the ballet by Tchaikovsky? Briar-Rose (the princess's peasant name in the Disney film) is the name of the princess in the Grimm Brothers version of the tale?

Read the original here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/perrault01.html



The Little Mermaid

First published by: Hans Christian Anderson
Disney release: 1989



Hans Christian Anderson's 'Little Mermaid' is not so different from the Disney adaptation as I had first thought. In both the mermaid is the youngest daughter of the sea king, who rescues a prince from drowning and -  having fallen in love with him -  sells her voice to the sea-witch to become human. In the original tale the witch actually cuts off the princess's tongue, but the general effect is the same. In both stories the young prince spends time with the mute girl who appears devoted to him, but will not marry her, believing himself to be in love with another, the girl that rescued him from a shipwreck. So far so similar, although of course Eric is much sweeter than Anderson's prince, and Ariel doesn't have to endure agonising pain when she walks like the princess in the story.

The plots begin to diverge after the Prince meets his new woman - in the Disney tale he is under the sea-witch's spell, in the original he simply convinces himself that a beautiful foreign princess is the girl from the shipwreck. In the Disney version the sea witch is outed before the wedding, and subsequently defeated by Eric and Ariel. In the original he marries, and the little mermaid will die because of it. The bit in the original that I hated as a child (I had a ladybird book of the story) was the scene in which the mermaid's sisters sell their hair to the sea witch, to save their sister's life. All the little mermaid has to do is stab the prince in his sleep, and everything will be ok! The mermaid almost goes through with it, then chickens out at the last minute and throws herself into the sea instead. And her sisters are bald. Forever.

So the original ending is depressing, even if the Mermaid does become a 'daughter of the air'. Apparently mermaids don't have souls, so she can't get to heaven until she's done 300 years as a spirit - marrying the prince would have got her a soul, so its a double whammy of disappointment. Needless to say I prefer the Disney ending, although we all could have done without Little Mermaid 2.

Read the original here: http://hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html



Beauty and the Beast

First Published by: Madame de Villeneuve
Disney Release: 1991




Disney's version of the classic fairy-tale replaces talking animals with enchanted furniture and a spurned governess with a preachy enchantress, but it is the characters  that make Beauty and the Beast something special.

Although Disney's Beast was cursed as a result of his once mean and selfish nature and Villevenue's Beast was originally a nice guy (transformed by his creepy governess after he rejected her advances) neither he nor Belle are hugely different from their fairytale counterparts. The love story between these two is central to all tellings of Beauty and the Beast and we love to watch them fall for each other. In the original, Beauty dreams of a handsome prince whom she assumes the Beast is keeping captive, and this gets in the way of her growing feelings for the him (well that, and the fact that the Beast asks her to marry/sleep with him every night that she's his prisoner. Clearly he's a bit full on) In both versions however, we see Beauty/Belle's natural doubts slowly disappear as she spends more time with the Beast.
 Gaston is a Disney addition. An arrogant alpha-male type who becomes steadily more villainous throughout, making a great contrast with our lovely Beast (nothing will convince me that his name is 'Adam' IMDB, nothing!) and hammering home the message that inner beauty is what matters.

Other differences in the plot involve Belle's father - in the original an affluent merchant fallen on hard times, rather than an eccentric inventor. The merchant meets the Beast when stealing a rose from his garden in order to give to Beauty. In the Disney version the motif of the rose is used differently - it is the Beast's ticking time bomb, when the last petal falls he will be stuck as a Beast forever. Also in the Disney version we have the plot to put Belle's father into an asylum, which culminates in Belle proving the Beast is real, and Gaston leading a mob on his castle. All of this makes for good drama, while not detracting from the message of the fairytale. And the songs are great.

Read the original here: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=f7ABAAAAQAAJ&printsec=titlepage&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false


Tangled (AKA Rapunzel)

First published by: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Disney Release: 2010




The first of the Disney fairy-tales to be differently named from the original (maybe to get boys to watch it too?) Tangled is Disney's newest success - although I'm not counting Frozen since I haven't seen it yet. A return to classic Disney, albeit with a new and beautiful animation style, Tangled has quickly become one of my favourites. As in the original, Rapunzel is taken from her natural parents and brought up by an old woman who keeps her imprisoned in a tower, where she can only be reached by climbing her long golden hair. In the original fairytale she is taken, Rumplestiltskin-like, by the witch as payment for a 'rapunzel' lettuce, that her parents stole from the witch's garden to feed the mother's craving while pregnant. In Tangled Rapunzel is a princess, stolen by Mother Gotthel as her magic golden hair has healing powers that will keep the old woman eternally young. It sounds far-fetched but it works - Mother Gotthel is a great balance of the funny and the sinister, and Rapunzel's struggle to break free from what is, in her eyes, simply an overprotective mother, works well too.

Rapunzel is a great creation - innocent and girlish in true Disney princess style, but also brave and resourceful, not waiting to be rescued as in the fairytale, but stepping out on her own (well, with Flynn) and eventually SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER even figuring out the mystery of her situation all on her own. And now we come to the man himself, Flynn Rider, who I'm assuming is now a lot of people's favourite Prince (I still prefer Aladdin, but I'd say I'm in the minority). Obviously most of the stuff with Flynn (I refuse to call him Eugene) is not in the original tale. It's a new story basically, but a good one. And I like what they made of the ending. In the original, the Prince comes to see Rapunzel, not knowing that the witch has learned of his repeated visits. Rapunzel is pregnant and obviously the Witch realises there is a man involved and tricks him into climbing the tower. She then pushes him from the window where he falls into a thorn bush and becomes blind. The Witch herself dies, and Rapunzel wanders the wilderness looking for her prince (what happened to the baby? No idea.) on finding him, she starts to cry, and her tears fall into his eyes giving him back his sight. In Tangled... well, if you've seen it you'll know and if you haven't I won't spoil it for you. But it's clever and heart-wrenching, and very romantic.

Read the original here: http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm012.html




So after all that, my humble opinion is that Disney have not dumbed-down these stories. In fact I would argue that all are more fully developed than the original tales - if less realistic, as some happily-ever-afters are engineered (The Little Mermaid took some weaving). Disney have done well so far, but will Frozen, an adaption of The Snow Queen, live up to what's gone before? The animation looks great, not so much the trailer, but then the Tangled trailers weren't up to much either. So, I'm betting it'll be good -  now all that's left is to find a small relative to drag along to see it with me.






 

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