Disney’s Tangled puts a different spin on Rapunzel’s charming prince, instead having the long-haired heroine helped down from her tower by a thief named Flynn Rider. In the original story, the escape never even takes place. Mother Gothel discovers Rapunzel’s plans and casts her out into the desert, where she eventually gives birth to twins and lives in misery for years. Her handsome prince is tricked into climbing the tower to find Gothel waiting for him at the top. She throws him from the tower into a thorn bush that pokes out his eyes. The poor prince is also left to wander for years, completely blind and surviving only by eating grass and roots. The lovebirds eventually meet and Rapunzel cures his blindness with a magic tear and they live happily ever after – and probably both pretty traumatized.
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.
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.
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.