Disney animated features are generally based on real stories, legends and fairy tales that have been passed down for centuries throughout various cultures. By the time the characters are animated into classic cartoons the story has generally been shaped to fit into the children’s genre. This had led to many of the stories that we have grown up with being very different from the version that is in the mainstream. In some cases, everyone actually dies or in other stories our beloved heroes live on miserably forever. The Disney princesses that we’ve known our whole lives as being one-half of “the perfect couple” generally don’t get the object of their affections in the end of their real tale.
The cartoons have been washed over from their original literary or poetic foundations and turned into a piece of candied Disney adaptations that fit into the ideals that are perpetuated by the almost 100-year-old company. Recently Disney merged with Pixar and has been making new films that feature a more updated outlook on where the stories would be going. However, despite this huge merge even our favorite newer films like Tangled and Frozen are warped drastically from the originals. This list contains almost all of the messed up and warped tales and legends that were told to us through a Disney filter.
15 The Fox and the Hound
This super vintage classic Disney film is based on the book by the same name written by Daniel P. Mannix. The utterly depressing tale follows the life of a Hound that leads hunts and, you guessed it, a Fox that they just happen to be hunting. What the book offers is a very descriptive array of smells through the poor eyesight of a hound and the dodgy interactions that a fox experiences on the daily. The plot of the novel is dire and shows the animals forced to move into the suburban world growing around them and lose their natural instincts.
In the Disney story about the only thing that happens the same as the book is that there are both a fox and a hound. The adorable but dramatic Disney film centers around the unlikely pair becoming best friends despite being pinned against each other. This is one of those tragic tales that Disney surprisingly shaped up into a children’s tale.
14 Peter Pan
Most of the original story of Peter Pan remains the same in the Disney cartoon except for one crucial fact. In the Disney film the Lost Boys never age because of the magic of Neverland. But the real tale is much, much darker. The original story is a book by J.M. Barrie entitled The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up and the Lost Boys are a group of young boys that end up in Neverland because of some very realistic causes. In the book, the Lost Boys are led on serious, dangerous adventures led by the one and only Peter Pan. If they didn’t die on these outings they still grew up, which wasn’t tolerated by their fearless ginger leader in green tights. When the Lost Boys started to age Pan would actually “thin them out” meaning that he offed them, one by one. The book’s dark plot explores the difference between innocence and “being good”.
With the new non-Disney film The Legend of Tarzan in theaters, more people are aware of the tragic story of Tarzan. The young feral man was found in the jungle but what happened afterward was not all fun and games. The original story of Tarzan was a strip by Edgar Rice Burroughs who created The Tarzan Series. The Disney cartoon shows us a story of a professor and his daughter coming upon a man living among the apes; this all aligns with Burroughs tale.
The stories diverge in terms of the happy ending regarding the romance of Jane and Tarzan. In the book, Tarzan follows Jane across the world to rescue her and tell her that he loves her. She reciprocates and loves him too but she’s already engaged to Clayton and at that moment in time there was no calling off an engagement as a woman. Later in the story, Tarzan receives news that he is the rightful heir to Clayton’s fortune which in those early times includes a wife, but Tarzan does nothing because he believes that she is happy. Basically everyone remains miserable for no reason at all.
12 Alice in Wonderland
There has been tons of various conjecture surrounding the real story behind Alice in Wonderland, most of these theories are based on psychedelic drugs. The true theme behind Alice in Wonderland is in no way related to drugs, in fact, Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson who was a mathematician for Christ Church College, Oxford. The book is completely saturated in math jokes and algebra references. Around the time that the book was written there was also quite a bit going on in the math world. Imaginary and abstract numbers had just been introduced to the scene and the Reverend was not pleased with these brand new math theories.
Alice in Wonderland was written as a trip into Hell, which is where Carroll believed that all of the mathematicians that believed in abstract numbers was going. It’s a little darker than all of the tripper based stories that circulated around Carroll’s theories.
The smash hit of recent times, Frozen is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story The Snow Queen. This Danish fairy tale was written in the mid-1800’s and the plot centers around the battle between good and evil. It remains Andersen’s most widely acclaimed and cherished stories being regularly included in compilations of his stories and reprinted in illustration books each year. It differs from Disney’s Frozen because the story actually surrounds Gerda, a little girl, and Kay, a little boy; instead of two sisters. The plot of the story is actually very different, with an evil snow queen coming into the story as a nemesis for the young children. She splits a wedge between them through trickery until Gerda finally approaches her castle to take her down. The castle is so evil that only the Lord’s Prayer can ignite the power to allow the young girl to enter. That’s right, there is no sisters, the snow queen is evil and the troll, by the way, is also known as the devil. The cuteness is not there at all in the original story that Frozen was adapted from.
Some crucial aspects of Disney’s beloved animated version of Cinderella differ from the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale. The first variation is that the fairy godmother doesn’t exist, instead, the magic in the tale comes from a tree. When she was a little girl Cinderella asked her father to bring her back a simple twig from his journeys. He returns with the treasure and she plants it on her mother’s grave then waters the trinket with her tears; a magical tree grows from that very place and grants her the things that she needs.
An R-rated addition to the Grimm tales is that the sisters actually cut their feet apart in order to fit into the glass slipper. One cut off her big toe and the other her heel in order to fit into the shoe that the prince brought around. If it weren’t for all of the pesky blood they would have gotten away with it too!
9 The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Like a lot of Disney cartoons, this began as a piece of literature of the same name written by Victor Hugo. The Disney story has lots of drama but like all of their children’s classics it ends happily and cleanly. In the novel things end quite differently. Esmeralda, the Gypsy seductress, and the Hunchback’s only friend, ends up fighting for her life with her own mother dying by her side. The Hunchback discovers her hanging from a noose tied to the scaffolds of his home and is completely devastated. He cuts her down and carries her to the belltower. He lays down and holds her in his grief and remains in the belltower that he calls home. He holds her and holds her until he starves to death. The pair were found 8 months or so later completely decaying together as one. We will take the G-rated version of this sad tale.
This is another story that was originally written by the Brothers Grimm and as usual with these things the original tale is quite a bit darker than the one portrayed in the animated kingdom. The sign that Rapunzel had for her love to enter the tower where she was trapped is to let her hair down the window. But in the original story the enchantress that is holding her captive finds out about this trick and cuts her braid off. She uses the cutoff braid to lure the prince up to the window where she attacks him and tells him that his princess is gone. The prince leaves with his life but falls into thorns on his way down from the tower window and is completely blinded. He wandered through the forest until he stumbled upon Rapunzel living in wretchedness with the twins that she birthed. She recognized him immediately and cried upon him, turns out here tears are magic and healed his eyes. They frolicked home to his castle where they were well received and lived happily ever after. At least this one still ends well.
Turns out that the real Greek story of Hercules is quite the tragedy and he wasn’t exactly well received by the gods on Mt. Olympus. In fact, he was the son of Zeus and another woman on Earth which absolutely infuriated Zeus’ goddess wife Hera. Hera threw countless dangers at Hercules in an attempt to kill him off out of anger and disrespect for human life. She sent two snakes into his crib as a baby but instead of dying the young half God strangled the snakes to death before they could bite him. Hera was pissed and continued to throw deadly stuff his way his entire life to get back at Zeus for his indiscretion.
Despite all of that Hercules found Megara and fell in love, the pair had two children. Unfortunately, in the real story, Hera sends a fit of fury down to Hercules so raging that he killed Megara and their two kids. Again, things don’t end the way that we’d hope.
6 Snow White
The 19th-century German fairy tale also features the poison apple, glass coffin and magic mirror we all watched in the old-school Disney cartoon. In the story, Snow White’s father marries the Evil Queen who is obsessed with her vanity and constantly asked the magic mirror “who is the fairest of them all”. When the mirror begins to answer that Snow White is the most beautiful in the land the queen begins to lose it. She orders the Huntsman to kill Snow White in the forest and bring her the White's heart. He instead sets her free in the forest and brings the queen the heart of an animal.
Snow White then finds a house filled with seven small men in the forest and lives with them cooking and cleaning their cottage. Of course, the mirror tells the queen that Snow White is still alive and she attempts to poison her unsuccessfully with a comb before getting it right with the infamous apple. The twist in this story is that the queen attends the prince’s wedding after he wakes White from her slumber and is so surprised to see Snow White that she chokes and dies right then and there.
Originally this story can be found in a song native of Northern China. In the Yuefu song, a young girl does disguise herself as a man and fight in the army. Yuefu describes a poem and song hybrid born of the Western Han Dynasty. She accomplishes many great feats in the ten years that she serves for the military. Eventually, she is given leave to go home and realizes that everything is different. She finds out that her father has died and her mother has remarried and left her old life behind, including Mulan. Even worse, Mulan finds out that the Khan has ordered her to be his concubine which was a future that she simply could not accept. The young woman commits suicide so that she doesn’t have to deal with living as a prostitute for the rest of her days. Yeah, just a little darker than the love story that develops in the Disney cartoon.
4 The Jungle Book
The happy ending of The Jungle Book shows us Mowgli smiling at a young girl and walking with her into a village where he lives happily ever after. This, of course, takes place just after he goes on wild adventures with his bear and panther friends. In the original book, things didn’t end so well for young Mowgli. He does end up going to the village but everyone there votes that he doesn’t belong and chases him back out into the jungle. The family that took the young boy in isn’t treated to well either, they are tortured as sorcerers and eventually killed for helping the feral little dude. When Mowgli learns of what has happened to his friends in the village he recruits Hathi the Elephant for help but instead of being sweet like the Disney film the elephant gets his giant friends and they burn that village to the ground. That’s a good lesson about the jungle, turns out that the giant animals in there are not all friendly.
3 Sleeping Beauty
Originally the tale of Sleeping Beauty comes from two different sources but most commonly when speaking of origins, Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s story is most widely accepted. A king just happens to walk past Sleeping Beauty’s castle and decides to knock on the door. When no one answers he decides that it is in his power to wander in and see what is inside. The king finds the girl in a deep slumber and notices that she won’t wake up so he carries her to the bed and he rapes her lifeless body. Afterward, he decides to leave and Briar Rose eventually gives birth to twins which wake her up from her sleep. Once she’s awake the king returns and they fall deeply in love but unfortunately, the man is still married to another woman. When this woman finds out about Briar Rose and her children she tries to have the young girl burnt at the stake and the children murdered, cooked and served to the king for dinner. Luckily she is unsuccessful and after her swan song the king and Briar Rose are married and live happily ever after despite the breaking & entering and the rape.
The young Native American woman’s real name was Matoaka and Pocahontas is a nickname that means “spoiled one”. This is not the only variance from the original legend to the Disney animated movie; the rest of the changes are a bit darker. First of all, when young Pocahontas saved John Smith her age is speculated as being between 10 and 13; far too young to start a consensual love affair as depicted in the film. She was friends of the “white man” though, and frequented Jamestown to deliver food when the village was running low. It was on one of these visits that the young Native girl was captured as leverage against men that had been captured by her father. She spent an entire year as an indentured servant in Jamestown when a tobacco farmer named John Rolfe took interest in her and freed her if she agreed to marry him. After being freed Matoaka was baptized “Rebecca” and stripped of her Native American traditions. She was trucked back and forth from England to America to be shown off as the “tamed savage” until she eventually fell ill and passed away at the young age of 21. The worst part about this tragic tale is that this is only one small drop in the ocean of pain that the Native Americans have suffered.
1 The Little Mermaid
This beloved tale of a mermaid learning to walk in order to gain the love of a prince is loved by pretty much every female millennial in the country. The story originates from Hans Christian Andersen and has a much gory premise than the Disney animated feature. The evil sea queen does split the young girl’s tail but she does so in a graphic way and Ariel claws to shore bleeding profusely. When the prince finds her instead of helping her he is amused by her trauma and has her dance for him which she does for some reason.
After their meeting, the Prince thinks another woman saved him from drowning and is set to wed her; he eventually does marry her which causes issues for Ariel. Since she didn’t win his love she was faced with dissolving into sea foam as per the witches parameters, but Ursula tells her that if she kills the prince then she can live. However, due to the power of love, Ariel decides to let him live and instead lives in eternal unhappiness.
Sources: moviepilot.com, bustle.com, perseus.tufts.edu, kipling.thefreelibrary.com, andersen.sdu.dk and ancient-origins.net
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