As most people my age probably have, I grew up with Disney starting as far back as I can remember. When I was 3 or 4, my grandfather started taking me to the Disney store and I used to pick out items for my whole family. To this day, he has saved every Disney t-shirt and sweatshirt I’ve “bought” him (cute, I know). I have seen and loved almost all of the cartoon films, but as a little girl my absolute favorite were the princess movies. Surprise, surprise. Something about them was just so fascinating, and the “happily ever after” endings definitely added to the charm.
It was wasn’t until I was older that I realized many of the Disney princess stories are based on German fairytales dating back to 1812 and were written by brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Princeton press). Disney, for the most part, just used the main character and the overall theme of the original fairytales and there’s an important reason why: the real stories are not quite Disney or even child appropriate…
Let’s use Cinderella as an example. I’m sure everyone knows the basic storyline of how Cinderella secretly goes to the ball and leaves her slipper which the prince uses to find her again. The Disney version has that same idea, to say the least, but there are some intense details that are left out. We don’t get as much back story as to what happened to Cinderella’s mother. In the fairytale, her mother dies and Cinderella plants a tree on top her grave. Cinderella’s tears over the grave prompt a bird to fly down and dress her in the ballgown and gold slippers (not glass!). There is no fairy godmother business at all. And for 3 days, Cinderella went to the festival (not a ball!) and got away from the prince, except on the third day he put tar down on the steps to try and catch her (stalker status).
Little did the prince know, Cinderella wasn’t dumb and she ditched her shoes. To find her, the prince set out to have all the maidens in the land try on a shoe to see whom it belongs to. Because all girls wears different sizes, obviously. So far, this doesn’t sound like a story that could be a problem for Disney, but this is where shit gets a bit gruesome. In the Disney version the two evil stepsisters attempt to stuff their feet in the slipper with a fail. In the Brothers Grimm version, however, that just wasn’t enough. To make the shoe fit, the stepmother cuts a toe off one sister and the heel off the other. Obviously, this is way too gross and graphic for Disney to put in a cartoon and I can understand why they changed the story around.
So who cares? I don’t have problem with Disney changing the original stories around to make them more appropriate for kids today. It’s completely understandable. But Disney’s films and stories have become so iconic that not many people know the real stories and where they came from. Even I grew up thinking the Disney versions were the real deal. Disney stole the ideas right out from under the Grimm Brothers and since they are dead nobody seems to really care. These iconic fairytales don’t actually belong to Disney, yet it gets all of the credit for the iconicity. I think it is important to know that the people behind Disney are not as original as we give them credit to be. It’s “Grimm”, but it’s the truth.