Folklore and fairy tales have been the source of inspiration for the moviemakers at Walt Disney Studios for generations. The film studio magically transforms stories of old and into something entirely one of a kind.
If you watched movies as a kid, chances are many of them were produced by Disney. Filled with catchy tunes, goofy antics, gentle jokes, and happy endings, these films most often had you giggling with delight.
But did you know that many of the stories that inspired the Disney storytellers weren’t originally meant for children at all? In fact, most of them were exceptionally dark. The real origins of these 12 Disney classics might make you think twice about them…
1. Cinderella: We all know about the rags-to-riches story of the young woman who captured the heart of a prince. Ask any starry-eyed tot and they’ll happily recite for you the story of the girl who married a prince with a little help from her fairy godmother…
But did you know that, in the original version of the story, Cinderella’s sisters had to cut off parts of their feet to try and fit into the prized glass slipper? It didn’t stop there, either: their eyes were also eaten by pigeons. Yeah—it’s not exactly G-rated.
2. Sleeping Beauty: In the movie, Princess Aurora pricks her finger on a spindle and falls into a cursed sleep that can only be broken by the prince’s kiss of true love. He battles a vicious dragon and hacks through a wall of briars all for her!
In the original version of the story, however, she wakes not because she’s been kissed, but because she’s giving birth to twins. Naturally, the prince is nowhere in sight… because he left to go home to his wife! Yep, he was already married.
3. Beauty and the Beast: In the Disney version, Belle becomes smitten with the Beast despite his horrifying appearance, ultimately turning him back into a handsome prince. What got rid of the curse? Why, the love of the bookish Belle, of course!
In the original story, Belle invites her sisters—yes, she has sisters in that version—to come stay for a week. When they see how nice the palace is, they encourage her to stick around, jealously hoping that the Beast will eat her.
4. Snow White: In Disney’s Snow White, the eponymous princess bites a poisoned apple and falls into a doomed sleep. The reason for this? Her wicked stepmother can’t handle the fact that she is the fairest in the land.
But in the original version, when the wicked stepmother is brought to justice, she is forced to dance in white hot metal shoes until she faints and dies! Try explaining that to your little niece who is already scared of her own shadow.
5. The Little Mermaid: In this movie, a mermaid named Ariel gives up her voice to become human, hoping to win the heart of the prince she loves. In Hans Christian Andersen’s original version, things don’t quite work out that way…
In the original, Ariel doesn’t lose her voice—she has her tongue cut out. On top of all that, the prince marries someone else. Ariel’s sisters try to get her to kill the other bride with a knife. Making matters worse, every step Ariel takes with her human legs feels like she’s being stabbed. In the end, she turns into sea foam. Tough break, huh?
6. Mulan: In the Disney movie, Mulan disguises herself as a man named Ping to help the Chinese army get down to business and defeat the Huns. Yet, in the poem on which the movie is based, the war is lost and Mulan takes her own life so that she can be with her dead father.
7. Rapunzel: In Tangled, the Disney version of the Rapunzel tale, the long-haired princess escapes from the tower and goes on many adventures with a handsome bandit. In the original version, however, she’s forced to marry a prince who has been blinded by the wicked witch who is keeping Rapunzel prisoner.
8. Pocahontas: In the Disney version, Pocahontas and John Smith form a loving relationship that almost divides two nations. Additionally, Pocahontas has a special bond with a raccoon and a talking tree.
According to actual history, while the famous Native American did save Smith from being murdered, that was about the extent of their relationship. She was actually forced to marry a different Englishman when she was 17.
9. Hercules: According to Disney’s version, Hercules is eager to become a hero and goes through 12 tasks to prove his worth. In the process, he sings a bevy of songs and wins the heart of one seriously jaded minion of Hades.
In the original tale, he does the same—only with a lot more rape and murder. Megara, his love interest in the film, was actually his wife in the myth. After Hercules was cursed by Hera, he killed poor Meg in a fit of madness.
10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame: In the movie, Quasimodo falls in love with the gypsy Esmerelda and helps save her from being killed by the church. In the novel, he doesn’t actually save her. In fact, he watches as she’s hanged, and then sits by her grave until he starves death. Yikes.
11. Pinocchio: According to Disney, Pinocchio is a wooden puppet desperate to become real boy, and, in the end, he does! Of course, first he has to work with his conscience in the form of Jiminy Cricket and learn from many, many mistakes along the way.
In the original story, however, he was kind of jerk who probably didn’t deserve a happy ending. Even his father calls him a “wretched lad.” In the end, he is literally murdered by a cat and left hanging by a tree. Fun, right?
12. The Jungle Book: In the cartoon Disney movie, Mowgli is left in the jungle to be raised by the animals. In Rudyard Kipling’s novel, Mowgli learns that his parents were kidnapped by villagers, and he and the animals exact revenge… by burning the village to the ground and killing everyone in it. Woof.
Did you have any idea that some of your favorite Disney films were this dark in origin? You will never be able to watch these movies the same way again!
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