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The Dark Stories Your Favorite Disney Movies Are Actually Based On

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    February 26 is National Tell a Fairy Tale Day. This, of course, makes us think of the preeminent teller of fairy tales in our culture: Disney. The thing is, Disney is not the originator of the tales it tells. Ol’ Walt wasn’t sitting around in his apartment on Main Street concocting tales about little mermaids and magical lamps. I mean, it’d be cool if he had been, but Walt Disney had other things on his mind. Mice named Mickey and ways to make people linger in his parks longer, for example. I imagine his scratchpad contained notes like, “Enclose entire thing under massive roof? No, would lose so much money selling plastic ponchos when it rains.”

    Anyway, Disney and his team of animators merely adapted tales about Cinderella and Snow White into feature films that became beloved classics. They found source material in folklore from various cultures and countries, although the majority of the Disney Princesses’ back stories seem to come from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.

    Before these stories could be told to impressionable young children via the Disney conduit, however, they had to be cleaned up and neutered. The stories needed to get that oh-so-recognizable Disney formula — you know, the pretty Princesses have to find their perfect, handsome Princes, the big bad whatever must be thwarted, and everyone has to live happily ever after. In many cases, though, they also needed to undergo some massive changes to eliminate some horrifyingly dark details that you might never know exist in the originals if you only know the Disneyfied versions.

    Well, on this National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, we’re going to tell you the real versions of your favorite Disney fairy tales. It’s time to blow the lid off the twisted, sordid details in The Little Mermaid, The Snow Queen (the basis of Frozen), and more beloved tales that became Disney classics. Are you ready? Say it with me: Once upon a time...

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    Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

    Year of Disney adaptation: 1937

    Story Disney told you: Snow White lives in a palace with her vain and wicked stepmother, the Evil Queen, who asks her Magic Mirror who the fairest person in the land is on the reg. She’s afraid that the answer is going to be Snow White, so she forces her stepdaughter to work as a scullery maid.

    One day, her greatest fear comes true, and the Magic Mirror confirms that Snow White is the fairest in the land. The Queen orders her Huntsman to kill Snow White in the forest. He can’t do it, so he tells her to run away and never return.

    Snow White discovers a cottage in the woods inhabited by seven dwarfs named Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey, Grumpy, Bashful, and Doc. They learn to live harmoniously together, with the dwarfs working in the jewel mines during the day while Snow White keeps the cabin clean with the help of her woodland creature friends (even Disney fairy tales conform to gender stereotypes).

    When the Queen finds out that Snow White is still alive (the Magic Mirror blows up her spot when it says that S.W. is still the fairest in the land), she transforms into an old hag and journeys to the cottage to pay Snow White a visit. The hag gives Snow White a poisoned apple, which causes Snow White to fall into a sleeping death that can only be broken by love’s first kiss.

    The dwarfs put Snow White in a glass coffin in a clearing in the forest and watch over her with her adorable animal friends. Eventually, a prince Snow White met once upon a time finds out about what happened to her, visits her in repose, and offers up true love’s first kiss. Snow White awakens, everyone celebrates, and the two return to the prince’s castle.

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    Cinderella

    Year of Disney adaptation: 1950

    Story Disney told you:
    Cinderella’s kind widowed father thinks she needs a mother, so he remarries Lady Tremaine, who comes with two daughters of her own, Drizella and Anastasia. After Cinderella’s father passes away, Lady Tremaine turns her into a scullery maid, and her stepsisters treat Cinderella like a poor servant, even though they’re living in Cinderella’s house. Cinderella is still a kind and loving soul, and she has tiny woodland creatures as friends.

    Elsewhere in the kingdom, the king wants Prince Charming to choose a bride, so they throw a ball, inviting every eligible maiden to attend. With help from her fairy godmother and the mice, Cinderella is able to make it to the palace, where she and the prince fall in love. When the clock strikes midnight, though, Cinderella flees from the palace, leaving her glass slipper behind. Her carriage turns back into a pumpkin; her dress back into its formerly raggedy state.

    Prince Charming sets off through the kingdom to find the woman whose foot fits the glass slipper. When he gets to Cinderella’s house, she starts humming the song played at the ball, and Lady Tremaine realizes that she’s the owner of the slipper. She locks Cinderella in the attic when the prince and his royal shoe brigade arrive. Drizella and Anastasia try to shove their big feet into the slipper to no avail.

    The mice steal the attic key and free Cinderella, but Lady Tremaine breaks the glass slipper, knowing that it will fit. No matter; Cinderella produces the matching shoe, proving that she was the mystery woman at the ball. She and the prince marry and live happily ever after.

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    Sleeping Beauty

    Year of Disney adaptation: 1959

    Story Disney told you: After years of wishing for a child, King Stefan and Queen Leah welcome Princess Aurora. At her christening, she is betrothed to Prince Phillip, the son and heir to a nearby kingdom. Also present are three fairies, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather, who bestow Aurora with gifts. Flora gives the princess beauty; Fauna gives her song. Before Merryweather can present her gift, the evil witch Maleficent appears.

    Maleficent is angry that she wasn’t invited to Aurora’s christening, and she places a curse on the infant. When the sun sets on Aurora’s 16th birthday, she’ll prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. After Maleficent vanishes, Merryweather is able to slightly change her curse, making it so that Aurora will only fall into a deep slumber. She can be awakened from this sleep by true love’s kiss.

    In order to keep his daughter safe, King Stefan has all the spinning wheels in the kingdom destroyed. The fairies don’t think this is enough of a precaution, so they take Aurora to a woodcutter’s cabin in the woods to raise her under the name of Briar Rose until her 16th birthday, when they plan to reveal her true identity, and also reveal themselves as fairies.

    On the day of her 16th birthday, Aurora is gathering berries and singing when Prince Phillip hears her beautiful voice. They fall in love at first sight and have no idea that they’re actually betrothed. Rose tells Philip to come to cottage to meet her family that evening, but when she returns to her home, the fairies tell her that she’s actually a princess named Aurora, and that she’s betrothed to a prince. She’s dismayed when they tell her that she’s promised to another.

    Back at his the palace, Philip tells his father that he’s in love with the peasant girl he just met and wants to marry her. His father, of course, says no. As a wise man named Will Smith once said, “Parents just don’t understand.”

    When the fairies take Aurora back to her own palace, Maleficent appears and lures the princess away, using magic to trick her into touching a spinning wheel. Aurora fulfills the curse and drops into a deep sleep. The fairies place her on a bed in a high tower, then cast a spell that puts all of the people in the kingdom to sleep as well. They also realize that the man Aurora met in the forest was actually her betrothed, Prince Philip, and they set about getting him up to the tower to bestow true love’s kiss upon her lips.

    Unfortunately, Maleficent also catches on to what’s happening, and she does everything possible to thwart Phillip, like putting a forest of thorns around of the castle. Finally, she transforms into a giant dragon to fight him. The fairies give the prince the Shield of Virtue and Sword of Truth to help him in battle, and he throws the sword into Maleficent’s heart, making her plunge to her death.

    With all the obstacles out of his way, Prince Phillip scales the tower and places a kiss on Aurora’s lips to break the curse over not just his true love, but the entire kingdom. Everyone lives happily ever after.