Disney Update: The Grimm Stories

So far I’ve completed the Disney movies that are based on stories by the Brothers Grimm. I read the stories from this version. (You can read about my Disney Challenge here.)

#1 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1939)

products_snowwhite_digital_c1ee24c6The movie is fairly faithful to the fairy tale, “Little Snow White” by the Brothers Grimm (embellishing, of course, to make it a full-length feature instead of a cartoon short).

In the Grimms’ version, the queen tries 3 times to poison Snow White – once with a cursed corset, once with a poisoned comb, and finally with a poisoned apple. In the movie, she tries and succeeds just with the apple.

In the Grimms’ version, the prince first came upon Snow White when she was already poisoned (in the movie they share a duet near the beginning of the movie).  Speaking of the prince, in the fairy tale, he is a total creeper. He buys Snow White from the dwarves and he just wants to sit and stare at her all the time. Even his servants are finally, “dude, this is weird and we’re tired of carrying her everywhere just so you can stare at her.” The servants eventually drop Snow White and – oh! – the poisoned apple falls out of her mouth and she’s awake! Who needs True Love’s Kiss when you can just Heimlich?

One minor point that the Disney version doesn’t deny, but kind of glosses over.  The Evil Queen is not Snow White’s stepmother. She’s her actual mother. She’s just so vain she can’t stand her daughter being prettier than she.

#12 Cinderella (1950)

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Cinderella was not a Grimm original. The basic story has been told and retold several different times, several different ways, in several different cultures.  The Greeks and the Chinese have their own versions dating back to 7 BC. The Italians first published their version in 1634. The most popular version, of course, is by Charles Perrault in 1697.  In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published their own version.  For the purposes of this project, I read the Perrault and Grimm versions.

Perrault tells the basic story we all know a few different details.  Cinderella’s father doesn’t die (he’s just so entranced by the stepmother to do anything about his daughter’s abuse).  The ball is three nights long and Cinderella ends up going on the 2nd night.  Cinderella (whom the stepmother and the eldest sister actually call Cinderbutt) doesn’t get locked away by the stepmother towards at the end. Cinderella makes a kind of joke saying, “hey, maybe I should try on the slipper, wouldn’t that be hilarious?” And the stepsisters laugh and the prince’s man lets her try it on and – BAM – she breaks out the other glass slipper.

In the Grimm version, the shoes are gold, there is no fairy godmother. Cinderella just shakes the tree on her mother’s grave and dress, slippers, and carriage magically appear.  Cinderella loses her shoe because the prince covers the steps of the palace with pitch so she can’t run away from him.  The stepmother isn’t mentioned as being mean until she advises her daughters to chop off parts of their foot if the slipper doesn’t fit at the end (which they do). The father is not mentioned as having died in this version either – but there are talking animals!  Pigeons help Cinderella sort lentils and peas – menial chores given to her by her stepsister while they attend the balls.

#16 Sleeping Beauty (1959)

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I’m going to admit something to you that very few people know and something that I am ashamed of as a Disney fan: this was the first time I ever saw Sleeping Beauty.  While the Disney credits claim that the story is from the Charles Perrault version of Sleeping Beauty, the Grimm’s Briar Rose influences are unmistakable (her name growing up is Briar Rose).

The story stays fairly faithful to the original tale, with several embellishments to make it a compelling and G-rated movie.  The princess is never taken by the fairies to be raised in the woods.  The fairy tale skips from her gifts from the fairies right to her 15th birthday (Disney changed it to 16th).  Instead of being hypnotized, the princess goes up to a tower to an old lady (who’d never heard of the ban on spindles) who teaches the princess how to spin yarn, and then she pricks her finger and falls to sleep.

The princess is not awakened immediately – she (along with the rest of the castle) sleeps for a hundred years before a prince comes along and does not kiss her.  He just falls to his knees at her bedside and she wakes up.

Obviously, there is no reappearance of the evil fairy in the fairy tale so there is no final battle or dragon.  However, the story goes on and the prince marries the princess but doesn’t tell his parents. He splits his time between his wife and children and his parents.  He has to go on a hunting trip and wants his wife and children looked after while he’s gone, so he comes clean with his mother, who happens to be part ogre.  While he’s away she tries to eat the princess and the children.  The cook, who adores the three, tricks the ogre mother by making her other meats and claiming them to be the children and the princess.  When she finds out, she puts together a vat of spiders and vipers intending to poison the three of them, but then the king comes back and she throws herself in and dies.  Happily ever after…?

On a slightly related note, the following provides an interesting perspective (click to enlarge):

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#49 The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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“The Frog King” and “The Frog Prince” are both tales by the Grimm brothers. However, in neither of the stories is there ever any kissing of the frog. Disney seems bent on inserting a bunch of kissin’ where it don’t belong. In “The Frog King” the princess loses her golden ball in the pond and the frog fetches it for her after making her promise that he will be a companion for her.  When she reneges on that promise, he follows her until she complies.  When she picks him up and throws him against a wall, he returns to being a king.  In “The Frog Prince,” the frog promises the princess clean water if she promises to be his sweetheart.  She allows him to come to her room and on the 3rd night, he turns into the prince and they live happily ever after.

The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker is a juvenile fiction novel wherein a clumsy princess comes across a talking frog, kisses him, and turns into a frog herself.  For a middle-grade novel, it’s a cute story and provides the basic premise for Disney’s version of the tale.

The Princess and the Frog, however, only bears a vague resemblance to any of its source material.  It involves a prince being put under a spell, a girl kisses him and turns into a frog herself, and he marries a princess at the end.

#50 Tangled (2010)

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“Rapunzel” by the Brothers Grimm gives the vague setup for this movie.  There is a queen who eats a special plant while pregnant, a princess who is trapped in a tower with incredibly long hair and her tears have healing powers. That’s where the similarities end.

In the fairy tale, the queen doesn’t get sick – she just craves rapunzel, which her husband gets for her by stealing from a fairy’s garden.  When the fairy (named Mother Gothel) catches him, she bargains the child for more lettuce.  According to the tale, the father is so terrified (presumably of his wife’s wrath should he not come through for her pregnancy cravings) that he agrees.  When the baby is born, she goes off to live with the fairy in a high tower.

One day, a passing prince hears the fairy’s call, “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” and he tries it out.  Rapunzel takes a fancy to the guy and he pays her some very non-PG visits when the fairy is away.  One day Rapunzel realizes her dress is too tight and – you guessed it! – she’s pregnant with the prince’s child.  The fairy chops off her hair and banishes her.

Meanwhile, the prince comes and calls to Rapunzel and the queen lets down Rapunzel’s hair (which she kept) and tells the prince that Rapunzel is lost to him forever.  In his despair, he throws himself off the tower.  Don’t worry, he lives! But he loses both of his eyes.  He wanders far and wide in despair until one day he hears Rapunzel’s voice calling to the twins she’d birthed.  He finds her and they are reunited, she cries, and her tears magically cure his eyes. The End.

Disney did try to include details, if not the spirit, of the fairy tale, like the queen eating a plant, Mother Gothel’s name, keeping Rapunzel’s magical tears, and the plot point where Mother Gothel tricks the prince by throwing down Rapunzel’s hair.

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