The Disturbing Original Fairy Tales Behind Disney’s Greatest Movies

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More often than not, the stories Disney bases their movies off of aren’t as family-friendly as parents would like them to be. So to sell theater seats, park tickets, and merchandise, Disney tweaks these original fairy tales to their consumer-driven taste. In reality, many of these original tales are bloody, gruesome, and gut-wrenching. 

Readers of the faint of heart, you’ve been warned. Here’s a list of the original, bloody fairy tales many of the most popular Disney movies were based on.

Cinderella

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The Disney version of Cinderella is a classic romantic fairy tale. Both the original and animated Cinderella and her Prince Charming live happily ever after. Her stepsisters, on the other hand, not so much. 

In the original Grimm fairy tale of Cinderella, the stepsisters go to pretty bloody lengths just to fit into the glass slipper Cinderella left at the prince’s castle. Their feet being too big for the slipper, one stepsister cuts off her toes, while the other cuts off part of her heel. Their attempts to squeeze into the slipper fail miserably. As if this bloodshed wasn’t enough, Cinderella gets a bunch of birds to gouge out her stepsisters’ eyeballs, causing them to go permanently blind. 

Seems like the original Cinderella was a lot more vindictive than her Disney counterpart.

Brer Rabbit

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You’ve probably seen Brer Rabbit on the Splash Mountain ride at Disneyland singing “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.” But Brer Rabbit has some pretty dark origins tied to America’s historical mistreatment of, and violence toward, black people. Brer Rabbit dates back to America’s era of slavery. According to academics, Brer Rabbit is a metaphor for black slaves who sneakily rebelled against their masters.

The Ugly Duckling

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Disney produced “The Ugly Duckling,” an animated short, in 1939. In the original version of this classic fairy tale, the Ugly Duckling faces a lot more harassment before finding his fellow swans. In his journey, he encounters wild geese, who bully and attack him for his looks. But shortly after he leaves them, they all get slaughtered by hunters. 

Peter Pan

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The cheery boy with the power of flight and who never grows up isn’t as sweet or lovable in the original story of Peter Pan by J.M. Berrie. In fact, in the original, he’s a lot more bloodthirsty, killing pirates left and right. Berrie’s Peter Pan is also extremely proud of having chopped Captain Hook’s hand off. He constantly brags about his high kill count. H

onestly, the original Peter Pan is kind of a badass. But, to look at it from Disney’s perspective, maybe having a murderous magical boy for kids to look up to isn’t the best idea.

The Fox and the Hound

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This one ends pretty badly. Don’t like hearing about animals dying? Go ahead and skip this one, because it’s got us in tears. 

In the original story, the bloodhound follows his master’s orders and chases the fox until it dies. And even though the bloodhound was just being a good dog, his master covers his eyes and shoots him dead.

Rumpelstiltskin

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Disney never made a Rumpelstiltskin movie, but he is a character in the ABC show Once Upon a Time, which the company owns. Also, we just thought his story was too messed up to not be included in this list. 

In the original story, when the princess guesses Rumpelstiltskin’s name correctly, she no longer has to give her firstborn to him. So what does he do in response? He rips himself in half. 

Yeah, didn’t see that gruesome end coming, did you?

The Lion King

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Shakespeare buffs will tell you that Disney’s The Lion King is just Shakespeare’s Hamlet. And they’re not totally wrong. But Disney did take considerable license when turning Hamlet into a story between wild African animals. 

If Disney didn’t choose to deviate from the original, Simba wouldn’t end up king. He’d end up dead. He’d also have a soliloquy mid-film dedicated to his debate over whether to commit suicide or not. Probably not the best plot for a kids’ movie.

Pinocchio

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The real Pinnochio actually ends up killing Jiminy Cricket. We were sad to learn this, too. Pinnochio is a murderer! 

But he doesn’t get away with it. For his bad behavior, Pinnochio faces death by hanging. 

That said, the author of the original Pinocchio story, Carlo Collodi, faced backlash for ending on such a morbid note. So he changed the ending of The Adventures of Pinocchio so that the puppet boy would live.

Snow White

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Little distinguishes the Disney Snow White story from the original. That’s, of course, if you discount all the Disney movie’s musical numbers. But there is one key difference between the two. 

After the whole apple debacle, Snow White gets resurrected and falls in love with the prince. He, of course, reciprocates. And at their fairy tale wedding, the queen who tried to kill her gets invited. Weird, right? The last person we’d assume to invite. Anyway, in the original story, as part of the occasion’s entertainment, the queen is forced to put on a pair of burning hot shoes and dance until she’s dead. Unlike Disney’s Snow White, the original Snow definitely isn’t one to let go of her grudges

Sleeping Beauty

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Compared to the Disney version, the original story of the princess who essentially fell into a coma is significantly more messed up. The princess falls into a deathlike sleep after receiving a splinter on her finger. In her sleep, a king finds her body and rapes and impregnates her. Yikes. It’s no wonder Disney felt compelled to alter the original story for kids.

The princess even births her kids in her sleep, only to wake up to them. The king who violated her returns and she ends up falling in love with her sexual abuser. The story doesn’t end there, though. Apparently, the rapist king has a queen of his own, who learns about his affair and becomes rightly infuriated. So she tries to get the king to eat the princess’s kids and burn the princess alive. But instead, the king sets his wife on fire before she can hurt him or the princess.

The Little Mermaid

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The original The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen is much more tragic than the Disney version. 

  • While Disney’s The Little Mermaid heroine is named Ariel, the original mermaid remains nameless. 
  • The original little mermaid gives up her voice to a sea witch by having her tongue cut off. A painful procedure, to say the least. But her suffering doesn’t end there. 
  • While the original little mermaid was granted legs that could allow her to travel on land, every step she’d take would feel like a thousand needles pressing into her foot. 
  • Moreover, in the deal she made with the sea witch, the little mermaid agreed to sacrifice her life if she does not succeed in making the prince fall in love with her. 
  • When the little mermaid fails, losing the prince to the princess he was initially arranged to marry, she gets one last chance to live. Her only catch? Kill the prince. 
  • But, rather than killing the love of her life, the original little mermaid chooses to kill herself. Her body turns to seafoam and she ceases to exist. 

Yeah, she deserved so much better. Ready to cry yet?

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is pretty sad in itself. And considering how much darker the original fairy tales tend to be than their Disney counterparts, we’re not at all surprised how much more tragic Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is. 

In the original, Quasimodo still kills Frollo by pushing him off the roof, but it’s because the priest was laughing at Esmeralda’s hanging body. See, she dies in the original story. And after Esmerelda is buried, Quasimodo visits her grave and refuses to leave, dying of starvation. 

Tarzan

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One word: beastality. 

You’d think of all the fairy tales, Beauty and the Beast would be the one to bring this up. Nope. Wrong. It’s Tarzan. Apparently, in Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Jungles of Tarzan, Tarzan develops strong feelings for his childhood friend, Teeka, a female gorilla. And when another gorilla, Taug, wants to mate with her, Tarzan gets jealous and fights him for her. 

The Jungle Book

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Young Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book isn’t as innocent as he seems in the Disney version. In the Kipling version, Mowgli actually commits genocide. 

After killing Shere Khan, the murderous tiger who used violence to rule over the jungle, Mowgli learns that his biological parents have been kidnapped. He goes to the village where they’re being held captive and, with the help of his wolf family and elephant friends, he completely eviscerates it and kills all its inhabitants.

Beauty and the Beast

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Here’s one of the few original fairy tales that didn’t end in tragedy. 

A merchant has a number of daughters. The only one of the sisters who isn’t greedy and superficial is Belle, also known as “Beauty.” That’s what Belle actually means in French. The story of Beauty and the Beast originated in France. 

When the merchant goes off on a business trip, he promises to get his daughters gifts. While all the other daughters ask for something extravagant and expensive, Beauty, modest as always, asks for a simple rose. On his trip, the merchant steals a rose from a garden, which happens to be owned by the Beast. Beauty, hearing about the incident, offers to take her father’s place. The Beast eventually falls in love with Beauty for her goodness and purity of heart. The curse on the Beast is lifted and he turns back into a prince. And they actually live happily ever after. 

See, this one isn’t as all entrenched in scandal and bloodshed like the other original fairy tales out there.

Mulan

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Disney’s Mulan is based on an ancient Chinese poem. In the Disney version, getting down to business does really help them defeat the Huns. But in the real story of Mulan, China actually loses the war. Mulan is essentially held prisoner by the enemy but succeeds to escape. When she returns home, she discovers her father, whom she went to war for, is dead. Devastated, she commits suicide to be with him.

Hercules

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The original story of Hercules isn’t as romantic and triumphant as the Disney version. In the original Greek myth, Hercules basically forces Megara to be his wife. Together, they have two children. But Zeus’ perpetually jealous wife, Hera, who is tired of her husband’s constant affairs, drives Hercules mad. In his unhinged state, he kills Megara and their two children. Devastated, by what he’s done, he completes the 12 tasks but finds no meaning in it.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

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In the original tale of Goldilocks, it’s not actually certain what happened to her. Robert Southey’s version of the story, written in the 19th century, leaves two possibilities for how the story of Goldilocks ended. Either she broke her neck from falling out the bears’ window or she was sent to a correctional facility. Two pretty unfortunate outcomes if you ask us.

Jack and the Beanstalk

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Back in 1947, Disney released its own version of the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, titled Mickey and the Beanstalk. The giant in Mickey’s tale turns out to be a bumbling idiot. But Jack’s giant is incredibly frightening. Jack’s giant is intent on grinding his bones to presumably use as flour for baking bread from scratch. But both Jack and Mickey succeed and return the stolen treasures to their respective towns.

Aladdin

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Jafar has a brother? 

In the original story of Aladdin, he does. Aladdin and the princess succeed in killing the villain, who is Jafar in Disney’s Aladdin, by convincing him to drink poison. But their victory is short-lived when the villain’s brother shows up disguised as a holy woman with outrageous demands. Aladdin asks the genie to grant the holy woman’s wishes, who is insulted by his request. But before he leaves Aladdin, he warns him that the holy woman is not who she appears to be. Aladdin then stabs the villain’s brother and secures his “happily ever after” with the princess.

Little Red Riding Hood

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Back in 1922, Disney released an animated rendition of the classic tale of The Little Red Riding Hood. There are actually multiple versions of this fairy tale. 

In the Charles Perrault version of the 1690s, the wolf gobbles up Little Red. End of story. In the Brothers Grimm version, there’s at least a hunter to save the day. But in order to save the swallowed victims, the hunter must cut open the wolf’s belly. Still pretty violent, isn’t it?

Frozen

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Disney’s Frozen is very loosely based on its source material, The Snow Queen by Hans Christen Andersen–the author of The Little Mermaid. Elsa’s original counterpart is The Snow Queen. And she definitely isn’t as nice as Elsa. The Snow Queen kidnaps a young boy named Kai who had shards of an enchanted mirror embedded into his eyes. Because of this, Kai sees the world from a colder, more distant point of view. Kai’s sister Gerda sets out on an adventure to rescue her kidnapped brother. She breaks the spell the queen has put on him by kissing him on the cheek. And they return to the town they both came from.

Bambi

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Disney’s Bambi is already sad on its own, but the book it’s based on, Bambi: A Life in the Woods, is all the more disturbing. Bambi witnesses his fellow wild animals get slaughtered and hunted by humans. Bambi even gets shot himself, but survives with the help of an older, wiser deer called “The Great/Old Prince.” At the end of the book, The Great/Old Prince shows Bambi the body of a human to show that the creatures who hunt them for sport are just as mortal as they are.

Hansel and Gretel

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In 1983, Disney released a Hansel and Gretel movie directed by Tim Burton. But Jean and Jeannette are the names of the children in the Brothers Grimm version of the original story. Jean and Jeannette don’t happen upon a witch’s house, but a devil’s den. Like the witch, the devil plans to eat them, but Jean and Jeannette escape. They trick the devil’s wife to get on a sawhorse and slit her own throat. Don’t know how they pulled that off, but alright. They also steal all the devil’s riches right before escaping. Clever kids.

Puss in Boots

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Nowadays, the Dreamworks Shrek Puss in Boots seems more popular. But back in its early animation days (1922), Disney developed an animated short for the footwear-donning feline. The original Puss in Boots caught cats and rabbits and delivered them to the king. A mischievous fellow, Puss in Boots fools the entire kingdom, including the king, so that his master can marry the king’s daughter and become rich.

Alice in Wonderland

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While Disney took some creative liberties with its Alice in Wonderland animation, it didn’t change much of the book’s original plot. Alice still triumphs over the tyrannical red queen. But there are a few notable differences between Lewis Carroll’s version and Disney’s. 

For one, Alice is smarter in the book. She’s less naive. There’s also no trace of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum in the book. But they do appear in Through the Looking Glass. What’s creepiest about the original story of Alice in Wonderland is Carroll’s inspiration. Carroll was suspected to be a pedophile and it’s widely theorized the fictional Alice is based on a real-life little girl he met and fell in love with.

Pocahontas

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Disney’s Pocahontas is based on true events — so it’s not the classic “original fairy tales vs. Disney” trope. Pocahontas and John Smith were indeed real people, but in reality, they hardly interacted with each other. 

Smith was kidnapped and held hostage by Pocahontas’ father, the chief of their tribe. Pocahontas saved him, but that marked the extent of their relationship. The real-life Pocahontas didn’t have the happy ending her Disney counterpart did. She was eventually kidnapped and held for ransom by American settlers. At the young age of 17, she married an Englishman and then died five years later for causes unknown, though it’s suspected she died from pneumonia or tuberculosis.

Three Little Pigs

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In the original story of the three little pigs, the two piggies that decide to build their houses out of sticks and straws respectively get gobbled up by the wolf. The third pig, who was smart enough to build his house out of stone, survives. But unlike the Disney version, in the original he lives on, a lonely pig without the other two to keep him company.

Rapunzel

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The original story of Rapunzel isn’t as gruesome as the other original fairy tales out there. But Disney definitely made a couple of changes to the original with their movie Tangled

A bypassing prince hears Rapunzel’s singing voice from the tower she’s locked up in and falls in love with her. He uses her hair to climb up to her. That night, Rapunzel decides to marry him. But when the prince revisits her, that’s when things go south. When he climbs up the tower once more, Rapunzel’s mother finds him and throws him out of the tower. The prince lands in some thorns and loses his sight. He wanders around blind for months before finding her again. Once he does, her tears restore his eyesight. He sees that in the time they were apart, she birthed two children. He takes her to his castle and they live happily ever after.

The Princess and the Frog

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The original frog prince story is definitely a little more violent than its The Princess and the Frog Disney counterpart. The princess drops a golden ball into a fountain. A frog appears at the surface of the water and tells her that he’ll get her ball back if she complies with a bunch of his requests. She agrees, but in the middle of satisfying his conditions, she gets angry and hurls the frog’s body at the wall. While being chucked at a wall would at least hurt or kill most frogs, this one doesn’t die. 

Instead, he turns back into a prince? Inexplicable, we know. But aren’t a lot of these original fairy tales just as absurd anyway?

Original Fairy Tales Disney — Sources
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