8 times traditional German kids' tales were way too brutal for Disney

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8 times traditional German kids' tales were way too brutal for Disney
Photo: DPA

Disney's endearing family movies drew heavily on the Grimms' fairy tales - but left out all the child abuse, cannibalism, and murder.


When the German brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm started collecting folktales, they probably didn't expect that the stories would still be read to kids around the world 200 years later.

The narrations were first published in two volumes between 1812 and 1815 under the title Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children's and Household Tales). Over the years some stories were revised and others were added, so that the book now contains some 200 tales, many of which were adopted from oral tradition.

And a little over a hundred years after the initial publication, thousands of viewers were gazing in amazement as the stories unfolded on movie screens - many of them made by world-famous film producer Walt Disney.

But the Grimms' fairy tales often contained elements of child abuse, murder or even cannibalism that Disney then - and the Walt Disney Company still today - didn't seem to find child-appropriate. 

Here are eight times Disney sugar-coated the German brothers' stories.

1. Rapunzel (aka. Tangled)

In Disney’s “Tangled” (2010), Rapunzel is kept in a tower by her controlling mother, Gothel, until one day a young man helps her escape and they live happily ever after.

In the Grimm version though, the road to young romance is a lot more rocky.

The story goes that Rapunzel lets down her hair so that a prince can climb it up to her window, but when the evil sorceress that guards her gets wind of what's happening, she cuts off Rapunzel's hair and keeps it for herself.

One day upon climbing up the rope of hair dangled by the sorceress, the prince finds the witch instead of his beloved girlfriend and throws himself from the tower in desperation, landing face-first in a bed of thorns and thus blinding himself.

The prince then wanders blindly for years until he finally stumbles into Rapunzel, who apparently had been living "miserably" in the forest as a single mother of twins all this time. Her tears heal his eyes, and then they live happily ever after.

2. Cinderella

In Disney's version of this fairy tale, Cinderella is stuck living with her evil stepmother and stepsisters after her father dies, forced to be their servant. With the help of a fairy godmother, she manages to go to a ball one day and meet a handsome prince.

After the ball, the prince searches his kingdom for the mysterious beauty, his only clue being a glass slipper she left behind.

But when his entourage gets to Cinderella's house, the evil stepmother locks the girl up and prods Cinderella's stepsisters to get their feet into the shoe.

Now, here’s how Disney wrote the ending: the sisters' meaty feet simply won't slide into the delicate slipper, Cinderella breaks free, proves that she's the mysterious girl and she and the prince get married.

In the Grimms' version, Cinderella leads a similarly dreadful life, constantly oppressed by her stepsisters, except for one troubling difference: her father is still alive and doesn't do anything to protect her from their torments. Great guy.

And when the prince arrives at their house with the shoe, one stepsister wants the prince so badly that she cuts off her toe while the other sister slices off a piece of her heel to get into the slipper.

But the prince can't be fooled. And when the stepsisters defeatedly show up at Cinderella’s wedding, two birds come and pluck the young ladies’ eyes out. The end.

3. Snow White

In the Disney movie from 1937, a wicked queen feels threatened by Snow White’s beauty and gives her a poisoned apple, putting a deathlike spell on her.

But a prince who has become infatuated with the young lady comes to her rescue and kisses her, freeing her from the curse.

In both the versions by Disney and the Grimm brothers, the evil queen is assigned a cruel fate: In the film, she falls off a cliff and greedy vultures follow her to pick at her dead body.

But in the Grimms' Schneewittchen - "Little Snow White" - the wicked lady has to suffer longer. She goes to Snow White's wedding and is forced to put on red-hot shoes and dance until she dies.

4. Sleeping Beauty

But even the Grimm brothers had a soft spot - it seems they couldn’t quite stomach the original ending of the Sleeping Beauty story.

In their version, as well as the Disney movie, the princess falls asleep on a spell after pricking her finger with the spindle of a spinning wheel. Eventually, a prince manages to kiss her awake and free her from the curse.

Still, in the Grimm version it takes a whopping 100 years for the poor princess and her castle to be awoken - and most of the blokes who had tried to kiss her awake died in what was probably a slow, horrible death by getting stuck in the hedge of thorns that grew around the castle.

In Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s original version, astrologers predict on the day of the girl's birth that she will be put in great danger by a splinter of flax. Her father bans all kinds of flax from the house, yet she still one day fiddles with a spinning wheel, runs a splinter of flax into her finger and falls dead on the ground.

Now, Basile's plot takes a very different trajectory: everyone believes Sleeping Beauty is dead and her father abandons the house in grief. Then a married king one day passes by and decides to enter the home. There he finds the young woman unconscious, and can't get her to wake up. At first he cries, but then he rapes her, leaves and doesn't think about it for a while. 

After nine months, she somehow gives birth to a twin boy and girl. When they try to nurse from her, they end up sucking out the splinter of flax because they can't find her nipple, and she finally wakes up.

Eventually the rapist, necrophiliac king decides to wander back and look in on that woman he thought was dead, only to discover her alive and with the children. He explains what he did to her - which somehow Sleeping Beauty finds totally acceptable - and promises to bring the little family back to his kingdom. Mind you, where his wife lives.

After the jealous queen attempts to cook the children for the king to unwittingly eat, tries to burn Sleeping Beauty alive, and generally do horrible things, the king swoops in to cast his own wife into a fire and then marry Sleeping Beauty. What a lucky girl.

5. Little Red Riding Hood

The Grimm brothers’ Rotkäppchen has made generations of school girls think twice before visiting their grannies.

In the tale, a wolf devours an old lady and when her granddaughter comes to visit, he tricks the girl and quickly swallows her too.

Luckily, there’s a hunter nearby who cuts open the predator’s tummy in his sleep, lets girl and granny out, and fills the animal's stomach with stones.

In his 1922 short movie based on the Grimms' story, Disney doesn’t get quite as graphic.

There, a man instead of a wolf awaits Little Red Riding Hood at her grandmother's house, as the granny is out running errands.

When Little Red RIding Hood arrives, the man tries his luck with her, but a young guy in an airplane rescues the girl at the last second and the two of them fall in love.

6. Hansel und Gretel (aka Babes in the Woods)

In Disney's Babes in the Woods (1932), Hansel and Gretel stumble upon a forest where they befriend a group of gnomes. Suddenly they are kidnapped by an old witch who wants to turn them into a spider and a rat.

At last, the gnomes defeat the witch and rescue the children.

But in the Grimm version, the kids don’t just stumble upon a forest – their mother convinces the father to abandon the two children there, because there's a famine and the parents are too poor to provide for the whole family.

Left to fend for themselves, the kids meet a witch who takes them in. But instead of helping them, the wicked woman locks up the brother and spends days fattening him up so that she can devour him later.

At last, Gretel manages to free herself and her brother - but only by locking the witch in an oven and baking her to death.

But the story still ends on a dark note: when the children arrive home, their mother has died.

7. The Pied Piper from Hamelin

Disney’s The Pied Piper (1933) is almost exactly the same as the Grimms' story, but is likely based on the version by English poet and playwright Robert Browning, as they share very similar endings.

The tale goes that the town of Hamelin is plagued by rats, so that the Pied Piper is asked to lure the animals out into the wild with his mesmerizing pipe-playing.

But the town denies him the reward he was promised, and out of revenge the Piper strikes up another song leading the town’s children into the mountains.

Now, if it was left up to the German brothers, that would be the end of the story - the children were never to be seen again.

But Disney couldn't stomach a tragic ending and let the Piper lead the kids into a land of joy.

8. The Princess and the Frog

Disney's The Princess and the Frog (2009) differs from the Grimm original in just about every aspect – the film is set in New Orleans and revolves around a young woman who wants to open a restaurant.

One day a frog comes along and begs her to kiss him so that he can finally become a prince again - and she eventually gives in.

But in the Grimm story, the princess doesn't even have to get intimate with the slimy, little amphibian.

The frog harasses her to do favours for him - including that she allow him to sleep with her in her bed. This agitates her so much that she throws him against the wall - and voilà, he turns into a prince.

By Max Bringmann



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