A majority of my childhood was centered on watching Disney movies and dreaming of one day becoming a princess. I think it’s safe to say that the Disney Corporation has a huge impact on kids growing up. They instill beliefs they value into children, and most people don’t realize just how much children are influenced. After taking this class on Disney, I have come to learn how big their impact is and how racist and gendered Disney actually is. As a child, I never noticed the blatant gendered stereotyping or white superiority. However, now that I am older, it is so obvious I cannot believe I missed them as a child. These tales that Disney is remaking have been around for many years, originating as oral tales. Did they change the original morals or plots of the tales? In this WordPress, I will be doing a thorough comparison between two classic Disney princess movies and their corresponding original versions: Cinderella, and the Little Mermaid. We often do not think anything of the Disney movies; instead we accept them as being accurate and entertaining. Little do we know that in actuality, the movies differ greatly from their originals. Throughout this blog, I will also discuss why Disney has chosen to alter these fairytales so greatly. Please enjoy!
We will start our analysis with Cinderella and the fairytale version by the Grimm Brothers. Firstly, we will take a look at the differing roles Cinderella’s family play.
The biggest difference between the stepsisters in each versions is the fact that in the movie they are ugly, and in the Grimm version, they are beautiful. They are portrayed as delicate and pretty, while in the movie it is clear they are not supposed to be pretty. They have squeaky voices, scrunched up faces and lanky bodies. Why make this difference? Perhaps Disney wanted to show that the only way you can get a prince is if you are beautiful. Or perhaps, Disney was trying to draw a parallel between ugliness and cruelty. In the original, the beautiful stepsisters have a greater role in making Cinderella’s life miserable. For example, they constantly throw lentils into the ashes so she has to pick them out individually and clean them. In this version, it is ok to be cruel yet pretty at the same time. However, in the Disney version, the stepsisters merely mock Cinderella and deride her with their words, and, as mentioned earlier, they are ugly. I strongly believe that Disney is trying to say that you cannot be pretty and mean at the same time. They altered the looks of the stepsisters to visually show that ugliness and cruelty go hand in hand. What is this telling the youth? That kids who are ugly are mean? Or that people who are pretty are automatically assumed to be nice and gracious?
One of the main things the Grimm version emphasizes is the grieving of Cinderella for her mother. It states that “three times a day” she would visit her mother’s grave and cry. In the Disney version, the main focal point is Cinderella trying to get to the ball. There is no mention at all of Cinderella’s birth mother. Is there a deeper meaning with this choice of Disney’s? Disney is promoting the fact that in order to be happy in life you need a handsome prince and pretty clothes. Or perhaps their aim is to encourage moving on with your life and not living in the past. In the original, the mother is also seen as helping Cinderella. Cinderella plants a branch that her father picked by her mother’s grave. This sprouts and a little white bird would start flying to her and giving her what she wishes. The mother, perhaps, is responsible for this, and is looking out for Cinderella, even after her death.
Another difference with her parents is the father. In the Disney movie, there is no mention of her father. Instead, there is only the stepmother present. In the original, the father is present in the story the entire time. He knows that Cinderella suffers from her stepmother and stepsisters ridicule/demeaning tasks, yet he does nothing about it. Disney probably excluded the father because they don’t want to show that your real parents can be so cruel, even if it is indirectly. In the original, he is in charge of the house, instead of the stepmother. When the prince comes searching for the right foot, the father talks to him and it is he, not the stepmother, that is sure Cinderella is not the right fit. Cinderella goes to the ball three times in the original, and each time, the prince asks her father if it is Cinderella. Each time the father is doubtful but the two look for her anyway. To her father, Cinderella is nothing more than a servant at the house. Disney excluded all of this in order to give a positive image of parents and show that your true parents would never be mean or mistreat you.
Stepmother, as seen in the Disney movie:
The only thing I want to talk about with the prince is the fact that he has more initiative in the original story. In the movie, the prince is just there to look good. He has no personality and he doesn’t do anything for himself. On the other hand, in the original, the prince is the one who goes searching for his bride, instead of sending out one of his servants. Each night after the ball, the prince asks who she is and actively tries to find her. We see none of this initiative in the movie. I’m not sure why Disney chose to make Cinderella’s prince do nothing. Perhaps it was to keep the main focus on Cinderella. It does send a message though; it doesn’t matter what the personality of your husband is, as long as he is good looking you should be happy.
Cinderella’s Prince, as seen in the Disney movie:
The fairy godmother in the Grimm version is a little white bird. In the Disney movie, it is a plump, old lady with a magic wand. This is the biggest difference. Both serve the same purpose, to help Cinderella during her hard times. Another difference is the fact that the godmother’s magic in the movie wears off and Cinderella cannot keep her dress or carriage. In the original, the bird gives her glorious dresses and shoes that she can keep, without having a time constraint. In addition, the bird gives her more than pretty dresses for the festivals; he gives her anything she asks for, and appears whenever she visits her mother’s grave. In the movie, the fairy godmother only shows up after Cinderella’s stepsisters have torn apart her dress and she runs away crying. Lastly, the little bird in the original plays a more active role as a godparent. The bird is the one that warns the prince he has the wrong girl, and not his common sense. If it weren’t for the bird, the stepsisters would have gotten away with fooling the prince that the shoe fit them.
In both versions we see the use of animals as characters. With the Grimm tale, it is all birds, but in the movie, it is a mix of animals, such as mice and birds. However, they play different roles. In the original, the stepmother prevents Cinderella from going to the ball by throwing lentils into the ashes and forcing her to pick them out. Cinderella asks and the birds easily complete this task. In the movie, her task is a bunch of chores around the house. Cinderella completes these herself, while her animal friends work on making her a dress. While both are helpful, the tasks they do are different and help Cinderella in different ways.
Perhaps Disney makes these changes with the godparent and the animals to show that we need to take care of things ourselves, and we shouldn’t rely on other people. Cinderella does get a lot of help from her godmother in the movie, but not as much as she gets in the Grimm tale. In addition, Cinderella relies more on the white bird than she does on the godmother in the movie.
Little birds helping Cinderella pick lentils from the ashes, a scene depicted in the Grimm Brother’s version:
There are quite a few major plot points that have been altered in Cinderella. For one, in the original, Cinderella goes to three different balls on three different nights, instead of just one night. She sees the prince and dances with him three different times. On the third night, the prince is smart and devises a plan. He puts pitch on the grand staircase so one of Cinderella’s shoes will get stuck. In the movie, Cinderella’s glass slipper falls off because she is in a hurry to leave. As mentioned earlier, we see the prince take a lot of initiative in the original, as he purposely gets one of her slippers in order for him to set out and look for her.
In the Grimm tale, when the prince sets out to look for his bride, the stepsisters do some pretty drastic things. The mother encourages the eldest daughter to cut off her big toe so the shoe can fit. She squeezes it on, as her foot is gushing blood. Again, as mentioned before, the little bird warns the prince that the girl is lying. When he returns to the house, the mother urges the second daughter to cut off part of her heel. Again, the daughter listens and squeezes her foot in, gushing blood as the eldest’s had. The little bird warns the prince and so he returns to the house for a third time to see if there is another daughter. Cinderella is not locked in a room to avoid being found, she is simply summoned by her father to come and try on the shoe.
The ending of the Grimm tale is quite brutal compared to the movie. When Cinderella and the prince have their wedding to get married, the stepmother and stepsisters are invited. They arrive at the church, but before the sisters could enter, two birds pecked out one eye from each of them. On the way out after the wedding ceremony, the birds pecked out their other eye. This was their punishment for being so brutal. In the movie, they are not punished. The fact that Cinderella gets the dream prince and life is punishment enough for them.
One can see why Disney wouldn’t include this ending, or cutting off parts of their foot. It is a movie geared towards kids and this is not appropriate material at a young age. However, by taking out some of these parts, they are altering the morals of the story. Is Disney saying that even when you are mean or do something bad, nothing will happen to you? Nothing happened to the stepsisters, despite all their cruelty. Or perhaps the main message Disney is trying to portray is no matter how bad your life is, good things will happen to those that deserve it.
Birds pecking out the eyes of the stepsisters at Cinderella’s wedding, as depicted in the Grimm Brother’s tale:
As you can see, the Grimm Brother’s original version of Cinderella greatly differs from Disney’s portrayal. Disney definitely cut out the graphic scenes in order to make it child appropriate. In addition to this, they changed up the role of family in the story and the role of other main characters. What is their reason for doing this? Perhaps Disney simply wanted to create their own version of the tale. Or, perhaps they were trying to fit in the messages they want kids to take from the tale. Either way, the changes Disney made are not seen as changes, but rather, accepted as the true story. Cinderella went from a story of reward/punishment based on behavior to a story of needing a man in order for your life to be complete. Nobody questions these changes because a lot of people believe these tales originated with Disney. The differences found in the movie add in a lot more gender stereotyping and has changed the values that children take from the story.
Hans Christian Andersen wrote the version I am comparing to the Disney movie, The Little Mermaid. A lot of the minor details of the story remain similar, however, there are a few striking differences that change the story completely. In this next part of my WordPress, I will be pointing out these major differences in the plot lines, and discussing the possible motivation Disney had for making these changes.
Disney’s, The Little Mermaid:
In both versions of this tale, Little Mermaid decides to go visit the sea witch to see if there is any possibility that she can become human. She makes a scary journey to the sea witch’s home, and sees strange things that scare her. However, she perseveres because she knows the sea witch is the only chance she has at making her dream a reality. The deal made with the sea witch differs a bit in that in the original, it is more brutal on Little Mermaid. In both, Little Mermaid must give up her voice as a payment to the sea witch. In the original, the sea witch actually cuts of her tongue, but in the movie, they have the sea witch store it in one of her magic shells. Also in the movie, Disney leaves out the other part of the deal Little Mermaid made with the sea witch. When Little Mermaid drinks the potion to make her human, it will feel like a sharp sword is going through her. In addition to this, whenever she walks, although she will have graceful movements, it will feel like she is treading on sharp knifes. This will hurt so bad it will make her feet bleed.
Disney excludes the brutality of her deal to make the movie child appropriate. By keeping in the part about losing her voice, Disney is keeping in the belief that you can’t get something without giving something in return. The severity of the deal made with the witch in the original doesn’t add much to the story, except it makes her transformation more permanent in that her tongue is actually cut off. This can be represented as giving up her voice as a female in society. In the movie, she earns her voice back, but in the original, she can never get it back.
The sea witch, Ursula, as seen in the Disney movie:
Hans Christian Andersen’s sea witch:
There is a terrible storm in which the Prince falls out of the boat and begins to drown in the sea in both versions. Little Mermaid rescues him and brings him to land. By doing this, she falls in love and this makes her long to be human. It is important to note, however, that in the original, she longed to visit the human world long before she met the prince. Meeting him only amplified her desire and fueled her determination. When Little Mermaid became human, the prince found her and brought her to his castle. This is where the story begins to differ. In the movie, the prince falls in love with Little Mermaid. Although she cannot talk, her beauty enchants him and eventually they get married (we will talk about the endings later). In Anderson’s version, the prince loves Little Mermaid as much as one loves a “dear good child”. He never imagines making her queen, and he called her his “little foundling”. Little Mermaid slept outside his room on a pillow and he took her everywhere with him. They did various activities together and she never left his side. Little Mermaid was madly in love with him, but he loved her in a different way. In the end, they do not get married.
Perhaps Disney made this drastic change because they wanted to promote a happy ending. However, by doing so, Disney is saying that looks are the most important thing. Despite the fact that Little Mermaid cannot talk, the prince still falls madly in love with her and doesn’t care she can’t talk. In the original, the prince never falls madly in love with her, even though she is the most beautiful and graceful child.
The prince, as seen in the Disney movie:
The prince and Little Mermaid, as depicted in Hans Christian Andersen’s version:
The last major difference in the plot is the ending of the two tales. In the Disney version, Little Mermaid and the prince are madly in love, get married, and she gets her voice back. They live happily ever after in his palace. The ending in the original is not so perfect. The prince had to go to a neighboring kingdom and meet the princess there. He was extremely hesitant at first, sure that he would not love her or marry her. Little Mermaid and him went on the boat and sailed away. He met the princess and believed she was the most charming woman to look at. The prince recognized her as the one that saved him on the beach and he knew they were meant to be. It was the happiest day of the prince’s life because he was so sure he would never meet that woman again. According to the deal made with the sea witch, Little Mermaid had to get the prince’s love and hand in marriage. If she failed to do this and he married someone else, the morning after his wedding she would turn into sea foam. After the wedding between the prince and his new mate, Little Mermaid prepared to become part of the sea. Her sisters, however, had gone to the sea witch and made a deal with her. In exchange for their long flowing hair, the sisters received a knife. Little Mermaid was to stab the prince in the heart with this knife. His blood on her legs would transform them back into a tail and she would be able to live the rest of her 300 years as a mermaid. Little Mermaid was about to stab the prince when she realized that she didn’t want to, she wanted him to be happy. So again, she prepared to die. All of a sudden, she began to float up into the air. Little Mermaid noticed something floating by her and called out to it. It was a daughter of the air. These daughters have 300 years to do good and then they can win an immortal soul. If they see a child who is naughty, they weep tears of sorrow and a day is added to their sentence. If they see a good, happy child who doesn’t notice when they fly by, a year is taken off their sentence. Little Mermaid gladly accepted her new role and floated away, leaving the prince to be with his new wife.
Disney changed the ending of this tale to make it happy for all. In Andersen’s version, Little Mermaid does not end up getting what she wants- she doesn’t become human and she doesn’t get the prince she is in love with. Instead, she will be forever taunted by the small possibility that she could win an immortal soul. There will never be a time when the daughters of the air see no bad children, so therefore, there will always be days added to their sentence. This change drastically affected the entire mood of the story. The original is definitely more depressing, as we don’t see Little Mermaid get her ideal ending. It is an obvious representation of the fact that not everybody gets a happy ending, despite what we sacrifice for it. Disney tones down this message and chooses to teach children that if you sacrifice some things, you will be rewarded in the end.
Little Mermaid becoming a daughter of the air, as depicted in Hans Christian Andersen’s version:
Although each character in the Little Mermaid generally played the same part, there were still major differences between the original version and the Disney movie. The deal with the sea witch, relationship with the prince, and ending of the Hans Christian Andersen tale completely changed the direction of the story. Disney cut out these parts and left us with another one of their classic happy ending stories. On the other hand, Andersen left us with a very true, yet kind of sad moral. He was showing us that we don’t always get what we want, no matter how hard we try and how much we want it. While it may seem harsh, fairytales are supposed to teach us values and life lessons. Disney’s version gives us a superficial idea that good things always happen to good people and a false hope that we are guaranteed to get a happy ending.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid:
As you can see from the previous in-depth comparisons, Disney made quite a few changes when they adapt classic fairytales into movies. It is understandable that they want to make these tales child appropriate, seeing as their target market is children. They feel the need to make the tales suitable for family viewing and don’t want to raise controversy. In more cases than not, Disney changes the main message of the fairytales they adapt. I think Disney changes the stories in order to put the values that they deem important. Because Disney is such a big and influential company, the values they instill are engrained in our youth. Disney knows the impact they have and they use it to their advantage. This brings up questions of Disney’s beliefs. How do we know they are what’s best for our children? Who gets to decide what is important for children to learn? I hope this comparison between originals and movies opened your eyes to just how much Disney changes. I also hope it makes you question the values Disney chooses to put in their movies for the youth to see and learn. The effect Disney has on children is so great that we really need to be cautious about what exactly they are instilling in them.