The Disney princesses have been a defining part of so many childhoods. Since Disney princess movies started in 1937 with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, audiences have flocked to the theater for each new princess Disney had created.
In the 1990s, the Disney princess franchise turns out hit after hit with classics like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Mulan. Disney princesses have become a lasting part of pop culture, and everyone has a favorite princess and princess movie.
While these Disney princess classics seemed like the perfect family-friendly entertainment when they hit the screen, even the Disney princess movies were not immune to behind-the-scenes conflict, fan controversy, and creative difficulties.
The Disney machine has never exactly run smoothly, even in the beginning. In fact, nany of these movies have had difficult and demanding productions.
The Disney princess movies often started out entirely differently, sometimes in strange, dark, and disturbing forms. The behind-the-scenes productions creating these movies have been wracked with conflict stirred up by studio executives, rushed and risky venture, and tragic circumstances.
Before and after the movies were released, many of them faced backlash from fans and accusations of prejudice.
Here are the 15 Secrets You Didn’t Know About Disney Princess Movies.
15. There were three disturbing scenes left out of Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast is one of Disney’s darker films even in its final form, but it was a much darker and more gruesome story in development. Animators storyboarded scenes that eventually had to be cut for being too dark for a children’s movie.
The first cut scene showed Gaston visiting the mental asylum in which he was trying to imprison Maurice, while the second showed the Beast dragging the carcass of an animal that he had killed. Both were considered too gruesome and removed from the story, though an animal skeleton is still seen in the West Wing.
The climactic scene of the movie where the Beast battles Gaston was also originally different. Gaston was supposed to stab the Beast twice, then throw himself from the tower while laughing. Gaston’s apparent suicide was also deemed too disturbing for children.
14. Walt Disney risked everything on Snow White, even his home
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs cemented Walt Disney’s reputation as an innovator in movie and animation, but the film’s success was never certain. Walt Disney had made his name producing shorts, and he thought he could make a feature-length movie about Snow White for $250,000.
However, the work and detail involved in creating the project quickly exceeded the budget, costing Disney almost $1.5 million.
Walt Disney had to borrow money to finish the movie, even mortgaging his own home. Despite all of Disney’s work, the industry had no faith in the film, expecting that the film would flop because neither kids nor adults had the patience to sit through a full animated fairy tale movie.
Even Disney’s wife thought the movie would fail. Before it premiered, it was dubbed “Disney’s Folly.” After it premiered, it was an enormous success, and Disney was likely laughing all the way to the bank.
13. Mulan started out as a movie about an oppressed Chinese girl saved by a British man
Mulan was another progressive step for Disney, breaking the mold of the usual Disney princess to show Mulan as a tough, intelligent soldier. However, the original concept for Mulan was drastically different.
Instead of Mulan, Disney intended to make a film called China Doll. This film would focus on an oppressed Chinese girl, living in misery until a British “Prince Charming” rescues her, taking her away to the West where she can finally be happy.
At the same time China Doll was in development, Disney consultant and author Robert D. San Souci pitched a story based on the Chinese poem “The Song of Fa Mu Lan.” In the end, the two projects were combined.
12. Disney had to change Princess and the Frog because of backlash from African-American media
In 2009, Disney introduced their first African-American princess, a movie that many people had been waiting for. Unfortunately, when the details of the film were announced, African-American media outlets were not pleased with the direction Disney had taken. Tiana was originally a chambermaid named Maddy, and the original title was The Frog Princess.
African-American critics pointed out that her occupation as a chambermaid played into racial stereotypes, and Maddy sounded too close to the derogatory term “mammy.” “The Frog Princess” could also be taken as a slur against French people.
Critics also questioned the setting of New Orleans while the city was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and the use of a black male witch doctor as the villain. Disney accepted the criticism, changing some of the film and hiring Oprah Winfrey as a technical consultant.
11. Robin Williams severed ties with Disney when they ignored his conditions for voicing the Genie
When Robin Williams was cast as the Genie in Aladdin, he was at the height of his acting career with an asking price of $8 million. He agreed to play the part for the minimum that Disney could pay him ($75,000). In return, Williams stipulated that his name and image would not be used for marketing and the Genie could not take up over 25% of the advertising artwork.
Disney ended up ignoring him and going back on both of his conditions, and they found ways to use the Genie’s voice for marketing without paying Williams any additional money.
Williams commented, “The only reason Mickey Mouse has three fingers is because he can’t pick up a check.” He refused to return for the sequel. When Jeffrey Katzenberg was replaced by Joe Roth as Disney chairman, Roth publicly apologized to Williams, and Williams agreed to return for the third Aladdin installment.
10. Pocahontas was the first Disney movie to be censored before its release
Pocahontas was a breakthrough movie of the Disney Renaissance, featuring a complex story and diversifying the Disney princesses. The movie dealt with heavy racial issues, which drew some heat about the way Disney handled it.
Pocahontas ended up being the first Disney film to be censored before it was released in theaters. Disney had to change the song “Savages” to remove racial slurs and darker phrases.
Disney ended up editing three lines of the song. “Their whole disgusting race is like a curse” was changed to “Here’s what you get when races are diverse,” “Let’s go kill a few, men” was changed to “Let’s go get a few, men,” and “Dirty redskin devils” was changed to “Dirty shrieking devils.”
9. The creator of Brave fought Disney’s redesign for Merida
No matter what the animators do with the princesses in the original movies, Disney redesigns the princesses in a “glamorous” way to introduce them into the Disney princess line and include them in their marketing.
This practice became a big point of contention when Disney redesigned Merida, changing her design to make her older, thinner, and more sexualized than her movie counterpart.
After this development, Brave writer and director Brenda Chapman, who created Merida, fired back at Disney. Chapman stated, “I think it’s atrocious what they have done to Merida.”
“When little girls say they like it because it’s more sparkly, that’s all fine and good but, subconsciously, they are soaking in the … ‘come-hither’ look and the skinny aspect of the new version. It’s horrible,” she said.
8. Beauty and the Beast’s screenwriter had to fight prejudice in her story team to create Belle
Beauty and the Beast was the first time a Disney princess’ intellect was highlighted in the movie, making Belle a role model to many girls who grew up with her.
However, Belle would not have been such an intellectual if not for screenwriter Linda Woolverton. Woolverton wanted to create a Disney princess that would move women forward, portraying Belle as the hero of her own story.
Disney’s story team evidently did not share Woolverton’s vision and reinforced some of the sexist ideas that Woolverton tried to fight. In one scene, Woolverton wrote Belle showing the places that she wanted to travel to on a globe.
When the scene went to storyboard, it had somehow turned into Belle in the kitchen decorating a cake. Finally, Woolverton compromised with them to make Belle love reading, making her the bookworm we all know and love.
7. There were two alternate versions of Jasmine
As Disney princesses were slowly diversifying and becoming more active in their stories in the Disney Renaissance movies, the production crew often seemed to struggle in creating a realistic, likeable heroine. Aladdin‘s Jasmine ended up a rebellious and active, but still somewhat demure character. Her final character was the result of a process that discarded two alternate versions.
One version portrayed Jasmine as a spoiled brat who wanted to marry the richest prince, but learns humility in the story. The production team eventually found her too unlikable and cringe-inducing. Another version went in the opposite direction, giving Jasmine a very active role.
In this version, she confronted the Sultan and rescued herself when trapped in Jafar’s hourglass. The production team decided to settle between the two for a likable princess who still had to be rescued by Aladdin.
6. The crew of Aladdin was told to throw out the whole story and start over a short time before release
Aladdin began in a very different form before it was turned into the major hit everyone loved. The original focused on a younger Aladdin trying to make his mother proud. The production team had moved forward with this story in the developmental stages, until the day studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg viewed the story reel and script.
Katzenberg ordered the production crew to throw out everything they had worked on and start over. The scheduled theatrical release was only 19 months away, and Katzenberg refused to push the release date to accommodate all the work they would have to do to start over.
The crew dubbed that day “Black Friday.” The production crew scrambled to finish a new version, bringing on new writers and significant changing their ideas for the story. Eventually, the writers were able to turn Aladdin into the story we know in time for the release deadline.
5. The Tiananmen Square protests almost delayed The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid was one of the most visually ambitious projects Disney had attempted. The underwater scenes required heavy animation work, especially since the directors insisted all the bubbles would hand-drawn. Animating the bubbles took so much work that Disney farmed out some of it to a Chinese firm with a production facility in Beijing.
Unfortunately, this production facility happened to be only a few blocks away from Tiananmen Square. When violence broke out at the Tiananmen Square student protests in 1989, thousands of completed cells of animated bubbles for The Little Mermaid were trapped in a vault in Beijing.
4. Snow White’s voice actress was prevented from ever singing professionally again
Walt Disney poured tremendous amounts of time and money into Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, trying to create a unique movie. Part of his plan was to keep Snow White’s beautiful voice as a “unique” sound.
To do this, Disney bound her voice actress, Adriana Caselotti, to a strict contract. Caselotti reportedly could not appear in movies, television, or radio again after her role.
At the time, Jack Benny wanted to interview Caselotti on a radio show, but Disney denied it, saying, “I’m sorry, but that voice can’t be used anywhere. I don’t want to spoil the illusion of Snow White.”
Caselotti’s only singing role after Snow White was an uncredited one-line part in Wizard of Oz. Not long after, Caselotti tried to sue Disney for a larger share of the profits, but was told she had signed away any rights to her performance.
3. Mulan has a higher body count than any other Disney character, hero or villain
Mulan is, by far, the most hardcore female character Disney has ever produced. In the course of saving her father’s life, she went to war and completely wiped out the opposing army. To this day, Mulan holds the record for the highest body count of any Disney character, greatly surpassing the casualties racked up by any and all Disney villains.
In the battle scene of Mulan, she creates an avalanche which buries the entire advancing Hun army in snow. The production crew animated 2,000 Hun soldiers for this scene riding a further 2,000 horses.
Six Huns, including Shan Yu, survive the avalanche that she started, which means Mulan killed 1,994 people. If the horses are included in her body count, it brings the number to a whopping 3,994 casualties.
2. Disney changed lyrics in Aladdin because of backlash from Arab-American groups
Disney has a long history of creating controversy with an apparent lack of racial sensitivity. One of the earliest controversies of the Disney Renaissance was a contentious line in the song “Arabian Nights”.
In the opening number of Aladdin, the Peddler sings the line “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face” when describing the Arab land in which Aladdin is set.
The song, as well as the scene where someone tries to cut off Jasmine’s hand for stealing, prompted a backlash from Arab-American groups, objecting to the unnecessarily barbaric and stereotypical portrayal of Arab people.
1. Lyricist Howard Ashman died before he could see the movie that later won him an Oscar
Lyricist Howard Ashman and his longtime collaborator Alan Menken wrote many of the iconic Disney songs, including the songs of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Unfortunately, during the course of his career at Disney, Ashman was diagnosed with AIDS. He kept his diagnosis a secret at the company, fearing he would lose his career.
Before the premiere of Beauty and the Beast, Ashman died from his illness. He would later win a posthumous Oscar for his work on the film. Alan Menken shared, “There’s an incompleteness about not being able to share [the success] with your collaborator. Howard passed away not having seen Beauty and the Beast, much less knowing it would be a success.”
Disney included a tribute to Ashman at the end of Beauty and the Beast: “To our friend, Howard, who gave a mermaid her voice, and a beast his soul.”
Can you think of any other dark secrets about Disney princess movies? Let us know in the comments!
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