Hello everyone! It is I, Allie, your favorite resident Disney obsessed JL blogger. I took my nine month old to Disneyland again this weekend. Why? Because. He loved it. He was so excited to meet the princesses. Cinderella was his favorite, I think. It was so much fun to see how magical it was, even for his young age. I mean, he barely knows what is going on, and he has full blown separation anxiety from me, but he would’ve sat on Cinderella’s lap for hours, just smiling and babbling at her.
It got me thinking about why the Disney versions of fairy tales are so popular. Is it because of their famously happy endings? Or maybe it’s just that by this point, 81 years after Disney’s Snow White first came to theaters, the Disney name is so commercial, so wide-spread, that they have an easier time reaching the masses? I mean Disney just opened their sixth resort across the globe, the twelfth park (two in California, four in Florida if you don’t count the water parks, two in Tokyo, two in Paris, one in Hong Kong, and one in Shanghai). Either way, the Disney Effect is spreading.
We’re now cruising our way through the 90s, though I am skipping the Lion King because while it is loosely based on Hamlet, it isn’t actually based on Hamlet. They’re just eerily similar.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1996-
Originally written by Victor Hugo to preserve the architecture of the cathedral Notre-Dame, his version centers around the gypsy Esmerelda, and how everyone lusts after her. To be fair, the Disney version focused on that plot point as well, but with Quasimodo as the main character. Frollo, an archdeacon, sends Quasimodo to kidnap Esmerelda, but Phoebus saves her. In the Disney version, Phoebus works for Frollo, but in the original, he is a soldier for the king. He flirts with Esmerelda, so Frollo stabs him, but Esmerelda takes the blame and is sent to be hanged (even though Phoebus lives).
Quasimodo takes Esmerelda to the cathedral for sanctuary, and this is where everything goes wrong. The gypsies come to the cathedral to help Esmerelda escape, but Quasimodo scares them off, thinking they mean to harm her. That’s all very similar to the Disney version. Later, the king’s men come to take Esmerelda to be hanged, and Quasimodo thinks they mean to help her. Frollo comes in to save Esmerelda from the king’s men, but she rebukes his affection so he lets her hang. When he finds out Esmerelda is dead, Quasimodo commits suicide. This story does not get a happily ever after. Disney’s version had a kind of bittersweet ending, in that Quasimodo doesn’t get the girl, but the death count is strictly limited to Frollo, who falls into molten lead that Quasimodo poured into the street to stop anyone from entering the cathedral to get Esmerelda. Also, let’s not forget Quasimodo’s talking gargoyle companions, Laverne, Victor, and Hugo. Really subtle, Disney.
Considering most Greek myths are either sexually explicit, graphically violent, or both, Disney had to make major changes to this story to turn it into a family friendly movie. The first major change is that Hercules’s name isn’t actually Hercules, it’s Heracles. Hercules is the Roman name for the hero, but it’s set in Greece and uses the Greek names for the Gods. The story starts when Zeus disguises himself as Amphitryon, a hero returning from war, and impregnates Alcmene, Amphitryon’s wife. After Zeus leaves, Amphitryon actually returns from war (literally the same day!), and impregnates Alcmene again, so she has twins born of different fathers. Heracles reminds Hera of her husband’s inability to keep it in his pants, so she plots against him from the day he’s supposed to be born. That’s right, Hera is the villain, not Hades. And Hera is NOT Hercules’s mother. She delays his birth, hoping to keep him from ever being born, but fails. When he is eight months old, she sends a snake in to kill him and his twin, but he stops it. That scene was parodied in Disney’s version.
Later, Heracles marries Megara, the daughter of King Creon (a princess, not some lost soul pledged to Hades). Hera causes Heracles to temporarily go insane, and he murders Megara and their two children. Nice, huh? When he is healed, he goes to the Oracle of Delphi to figure out what to do next, and he pledges himself to King Eurystheus who gives him ten tasks to complete, and later two more. Disney skims over the twelve labors of Heracles, but they do mention them all in some way or another. It was actually really entertaining to rewatch the movie and see how they incorporated them all in. Phil, the satyr who trains him, is listing off his schedule while Hercules is being painted on a vase wearing the Nemean Lion’s skin (which is Scar from the Lion King!), and he mentions how he needs to clean some stables and talk to some Amazons about a girdle. We see him fight the Hydra and the Erymanthian Boar, while the Minotaur and Gorgon are both mentioned when he’s talking to Zeus. My favorite is at the end when he storms into the underworld riding Cerberus.
The Ballad of Mulan has a couple variations to it. She spends twelve years fighting in the war in her father’s place. Mulan does have a brother (and a sister, she was not an only child like Disney portrayed) who could fight in their father’s place, but he is still a child. After being promoted to general, she reveals her true identity to her soldiers, but it does not affect her relationship with them. Some versions end happily with her returning home from the war after refusing to accept numerous awards. Others say her father died while she was off to war. In those versions, she feels like she failed to save her father and ends up committing suicide when she returns home. In another version, she is summoned to become a concubine of the Khan after returning home from war, and she adamantly refuses, instead choosing to commit suicide.
The Princess and the Frog, 2009-
The Brothers Grimm wrote the Frog Princess. Disney really branched out with this story, setting it up in an untraditional way—the Jazz Era in New Orleans. And let’s not forget that Disney had the gall to reference the original story repeatedly in their version, leading Tiana to prompt the frog for a kiss and Naveen to offer to pay her for changing him back into a human. Although, this is part of the problem with the Disney Effect. That’s not how the Frog Prince originally ended! When the princess (who is spoiled) sees the frog, she throws him against the wall in disgust, breaking the curse. How hilarious is that? Disney sort of references that when Tiana, and later Charlotte, smashes Naveen with a book. In later versions of the story, the frog has to spend a night on the princess’s pillow before the curse is broken. It became easier, and more romantic, for the curse to break with a kiss instead.
This is probably my favorite fairy tale adaptation ever, so be warned, I will gush over this. I grew up knowing very little about this story, written by the Brothers Grimm, which is based on a version by Friedrich Schulz, which is based on a version by another fairy tale called Persinette, which is based on another fairy tale, etc. Here’s the story I knew—a princess is captured by a witch and held in a tower. She is found by a prince who falls in love with her and rescues her from the tower. Yeah, that is nothing like the actual story.
After a couple finally gets pregnant, the wife craves rapunzel (also known as rampion, a kind of lettuce) from the neighboring garden. The husband sneaks over and steals the plant for his wife to eat, but it only makes her crave it more so he has to sneak back over to steal more. This time, he is caught by the neighbor, Dame Gothel. She trades him the rapunzel to feed his wife, if they give her the child when she is born. Of course, the husband agrees. I love how Disney utilized the plant for their story. It’s really in the true spirit of a fairy tale retelling. Dame Gothel takes the child and names her after the plant her mother craved. When the child is twelve, she is so beautiful, so Dame Gothel locks her in a tower.
One day, a prince hears her singing and is so enchanted that he keeps returning to listen to her. He hides when Dame Gothel returns, but discovers that Dame Gothel climbs Rapunzel’s hair to get up into the tower. After Dame Gothel leaves, the prince calls out to Rapunzel and climbs her hair. They fall in love, and after some time, he asks her to marry him. He returns with pieces of fabric that they tie together into a ladder for her to climb down.
One day, Dame Gothel notices that Rapunzel’s dress is growing tighter around the waist, hinting that Rapunzel is pregnant with the prince’s children (she has twins). In later versions this was changed so that Rapunzel absentmindedly mentions the prince to Dame Gothel. Disney changed the story so that Rapunzel gets to leave the tower, and that’s how Mother Gothel finds out about Flynn. Dame Gothel chops off Rapunzel’s hair in anger, so when the prince returns, she throws down the hair for him to climb, and when he sees Dame Gothel at the top, he throws himself off the tower and is blinded by brambles at the bottom. Dame Gothel threw out Rapunzel and let her fend for herself, but Rapunzel (with her twins) wanders into the blinded prince. She cries when she sees him, and her tears magically restore his sight. Disney took that idea of healing tears and really ran with it, and I love it. As someone who didn’t know this part of the story at all, it really caught me by surprise.
In some versions of the story, Dame Gothel loses her grip on Rapunzel’s hair after the prince falls, leaving her trapped forever. Some versions of the story show Rapunzel’s hair magically growing back after the prince touches it. Interestingly enough, Disney made a Tangled TV show where Rapunzel’s hair returns, but without the magic powers.
Anyway, that catches us up on Disney’s renditions of stories and the truth behind them. Thanks for listening to me ramble on.
Allie May is a dog lover, mom, and Dr. Pepper addict who turns her caffeine-fueled dreams into believable fiction. She fell in love with the impossible at a young age and has been telling stories (some fiction, some mostly non-fiction) ever since. She married her high school sweetheart because he takes her to Disneyland (oh, and because she loves him). Together they have a dog child and a human child. On the weekends, you might catch a glimpse of her in the shadows as a lightsaber-wielding superhero.