Anyone who grew up with Disney movies knows that they can get pretty dark, from Mufasa getting trampled to death in The Lion King to Quasimodo’s mother being brutally killed in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Still, many of Disney’s animated classics have had to soften or remove the more gruesome or depressing aspects of the fairy tales that they were based on.
Here’s Screen Rant’s take on Dark Disney: The Grim Stories Behind Popular Disney Films.
The Big Bad Wolf (1934)
The cautionary tale of Red Riding Hood dates back as far as the 10th century, and there have been many different variations on the story over the years. You might think that a little girl being eaten by a wolf is as dark as this tale gets, but there’s more to it than that. In one of the more common retellings, “The Story of the Grandmother”, Red Riding Hood is tricked into eating her own grandmother’s flesh and drinking her blood. After that, the Wolf forces Red Riding Hood to remove her clothes one by one and throw them in the fire, telling her, “you won’t need them any more.” As you might imagine, this was not the version that Disney decided to go with when Little Red Riding Hood was adapted into The Big Bad Wolf in 1934.
You might think that Disney’s version of Pinocchio is dark enough already – especially the scene where a bunch of misbehaving children get horribly transformed into donkeys. Still, Pinocchio makes it out alright by the end of the film with the help of his good friend – and conscience – Jiminy Cricket. What happens to the lovable Jiminy Cricket in Carlo Collodi’s original novel? Well, he doesn’t get a chance to sing about wishing upon a star. When the talking cricket shows up to offer Pinocchio a bit of moral guidance, Pinocchio immediately murders him with a mallet, and is haunted by the ghost of the dead cricket throughout the rest of the book.
Disney’s tale of two sisters, Frozen, is very loosely based on a book called The Snow Queen by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. In the original version of the story, a demonic troll creates a looking-glass that reflects even the most beautiful things back as being ugly and hideously distorted. When the mirror is accidentally shattered, the pieces scatter all over the world and splinters of glass land in people’s hearts, turning them cold and cruel, or in their eyes, making them incapable of seeing beauty. One unfortunate little boy gets a splinter in his heart and his eye, corrupting him so much that he runs away to live with the powerful Snow Queen. This fairy tale does at least have a happy ending, but it doesn’t have a happy snowman.
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Hans Christian Andersen is also the writer behind The Little Mermaid, which Disney adapted in 1989 and sprinkled with some classic songs, a great villain, and a characteristically happy Disney ending. The original story is considerably more depressing. After the Little Mermaid is given human legs, every step she takes feels as though the soles of her feet are being stabbed with knives. To make matters worse, the prince ends up marrying someone else and never finds out that the Little Mermaid was the woman who saved him from drowning. The Little Mermaid is given a chance to get her tail back by stabbing the prince in the heart, but she can’t bear to kill him and instead throws herself into the ocean and dies, her body dissolving into froth.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
Like many animated Disney films, early classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ends with the villain getting a deadly comeuppance. After trying unsuccessfully to kill Snow White several times, the evil Queen falls off a cliff, gets crushed by a boulder, and then vultures descend to feed on her corpse. It doesn’t get any darker than that, right? Well, in the Brothers Grimm version of the story, the Queen is forced to put on a pair of glowing hot iron shoes and dance in them until she dies. Suddenly falling off a cliff doesn’t sound so bad.
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
A handsome, charming prince is a common trope of Disney movies, and they’re usually the perfect gentleman. In Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, Princess Aurora and Prince Phillip meet each other and fall in love in the forest, and Phillip later rescues Aurora from an enchanted sleep. It’s a lot more romantic than 17th century author Giambattista Basile’s version of the story, in which the Sleeping Beauty is discovered by a passing king. Instead of breaking the spell, he rapes the sleeping woman and then leaves, forgetting all about her. The poor girl wakes up nine months later after giving birth to two children, with no idea what happened.
After being forced to play servant to her wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters, Disney’s Cinderella is eventually rewarded with a handsome prince and a royal castle to live in. But in the Brothers Grimm version of the story, Cinderella’s stepsisters are so desperate to get the glass slipper on that they cut off bits of their feet to try and make it fit. It works, but all the blood kind of gives them away. To make matters worse, when the stepsisters attend Cinderella’s wedding, birds descend on them and peck out their eyes. Apparently birds have a very low tolerance for brats.
Those are our favorite dark versions of Disney fairy tales. Have you heard any grim variations on happy kids’ movies? Share your favourite gruesome fairy tales in our comment section and don’t forget to subscribe to our channel for more videos like this one.