Here are the disturbing and gory origins of 5 beloved fairy tales

December 22, 2018
Mermaid's tail

Sure, Disney movies are full of cute talking animals, upbeat songs, and happily-ever-afters. But it’s no secret that the fairy tales they’re based on are often much darker, more violent, and more sinister. If you want to know what really happened in the original stories, we’ve got you covered.


Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Cinderella tale in the 1800s. The Disney version of that fairy tale features a poor, beautiful young girl forced to serve her evil step mother and two step sisters. When a fairy godmother gives her a chance to attend the prince’s ball, Cinderella makes a connection with the handsome prince. And since Cinderella accidentally left behind a glass slipper, the prince is able to test the shoe out on every woman in the kingdom until he finds that Cinderella is indeed his tiny-footed love connection.

In the Grimm brothers’ version, things go a little differently: One of the step sisters, unable to fit her foot in the glass slipper, cuts part of her heel right off. The other cuts off her big toe to make her foot fit, since “when you are queen you will no longer have to go on foot,” Mommy dearest tells her. The bloody slippers give them away, and the prince then finds that Cinderella’s foot is a perfect fit.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

In the Disney version, the princess Snow White flees her evil step mother (sense a pattern?) and takes refuge in the home of seven dwarfs. These dwarfs protect Snow White and sing a few jaunty songs before the princess eats a poisoned apple, given to her by the evil queen. She’s revived by a handsome prince, and they live happily ever after.

In the Grimm brothers’ version, the huntsman who was supposed to kill Snow White kills a bear instead, and brings back its lungs and liver for the evil queen to eat -- which she does, believing that she is feasting on Snow White’s innards. And at the very end, the evil queen attends Snow White’s wedding, where she is forced to put on iron-hot shoes and dance until she drops dead.

The Little Mermaid

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel falls in love with a prince and, after an entirely mute courtship, manages to break the sea witch Ursula’s curse and live happily ever on land as a human, married to the prince.

Not so in Hans Christian Andersen’s version. There, the stakes are even higher: for unless the mermaid is able to get a man to fall madly in love with her, she won’t manage to get an immortal soul (#lifelessons). She fails -- the prince sees that she’s madly devoted to him, but somehow he never catches the feels. Luckily, the mermaid is granted a soul anyway by the daughters of the air, who float around and do good deeds and take the mermaid with them.

Beauty and the Beast

In the Disney film, a very beautiful Belle rushes to save her father and is imprisoned in his stead by the very ugly Beast. After a little dancing and a pinch of Stockholm Syndrome, she falls in love, and the Beast’s curse is broken, revealing the handsome prince that he was all along.

In Jeanne-Marie LePrince de Beaumont’s version, Belle has a couple of ungrateful sisters, Gaston is nowhere to be found, and the Beast goes to melodramatically starve himself in his garden when he thinks Belle doesn’t love him -- though just as in the movie, he transforms into a prince and all is well in the end.


Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the Disney movie Frozen centers on two sisters: one with magical ice powers that are out of control, the other who sets off to rescue her. At the end, sisterhood rather than romantic love saves the day.

Not so in “The Snow Queen”: there, the Snow Queen kidnaps a kid and has a near-deadly, icy kiss, and there are no rescuing sisters around to thaw her out. In fact, it’s one kid rescuing another, and no one is trying to save the Snow Queen, who kind of seems pretty dastardly anyway.

By Stephanie Bucklin