FROM THE ARCHIVES: Why We Should Stop Teaching Kids the Disney Versions of Fairy Tales

This post originally appeared on Hamsterdam, a blog that I once wrote for, so named because the writers were all from Baltimore and season three of The Wire had just come out. So I don't think I need to say anymore about how old it is, but that explains why you'll see references to Jersey Shore, which I assure you were very relevant at the time. But I was reminded of its existence today and thought, "Hey, now that I have kids I relate to some of this stuff even more." 

Life is harsh. And while adults realize this, we try to shield children from that reality for as long as possible. But protecting kids only makes the truth that much harder to take when the curtain is inevitably pulled back, revealing a world filled not with Santas and Dora the Explorer but with terrorists and Jersey Shore. It’s tough to go from a naive state where Barbie can be a doctor, a pilot and a fashion designer to the reality that her boobs would make all of those activities impossible.

What Barbie would look like in real life

"Do you think it's weird that my doctor's head is the size of a pool ball?"

Source: Life-size Barbie's shocking dimensions (PHOTO): Would she be anorexic? - CBS News

So how do we ease this transition? Well, we could start with the source of so many myths about love, goodness and beauty – the Disneyfied fairy tale. Disney has taken violent, cautionary tales and transformed them into sugar-coated movies that show kids that love conquers all, good wins out and evil people are easily identified by their disfiguring warts. After being spoon-fed those messages for years in the form of catchy songs and adorable animal friends, no wonder kids are disheartened to learn that there are no fairy godmothers and having crabs is a bad thing.

Here are a few of the stories that could provide valuable, real world lessons if we taught kids the original versions of them.

The Little Mermaid

According to Disney…

Eric and Ariel kiss at their wedding at the end of The Little Mermaid

"Giving up my entire life, family, friends, and literal parts of my body was a great decision. 10/10, would do again."

Ariel is a curious, busty young mermaid who desperately wants to be part of the terrestrial world – an ambition made impossible by the fact that she is half-fish. It’s basically the same as a little kid wanting to grow up to be an ice cream truck, except Ariel is sixteen.

But when this teenage mermaid rescues a prince from drowning, she falls in love with him and trades her voice to Ursula, the sea witch, in exchange for legs and the ability to breathe out of water. Ariel has three days to get the prince to kiss her or she’ll turn into this weird little algae creature in Ursula’s collection.

So, with new legs and no voice, she has to pantomime her way into the prince's heart. And it basically works! He's totally into her, despite her not being able to say a word and just silently smiling at him...which I now realize is its own horrifying message from Disney to little girls. Things are going swimmingly (puns!) until Ursula poses as another woman and uses Ariel's voice to get the prince to marry her. The plot is, thankfully, foiled and, in the end, the witch gets stabbed by a boat and everyone lives happily ever after. Except for the witch. Because of aforementioned boat stabbing. 

But in the original…

The Little Mermaid dies. Her deal with the sea witch is a little different. She trades her tongue for a pair of legs, but if the prince marries someone else then she will die the day after the wedding. And he does marry someone else – not because he was tricked, but because he legitimately falls in love with a woman. A woman who still has her tongue.

Her sisters try to give the Little Mermaid an out, though. They trade their hair to the witch for a knife that could turn the girl back into a mermaid. The catch is, she has to kill the prince with it and let his blood drip on her feet. Alas, she just doesn’t have that killer instinct in her and instead she jumps overboard and dissolves into sea foam. So…not as much “happily ever after” there.

Harsh Life Lesson: Never augment your body for a man, whether it’s a boob job or getting his name tattooed on your lower back. It will end badly. Maybe not “dissolve into foam” badly, but certainly “permanent scarring” badly.



According to Disney…

Scene from Disney's Tangled in which Rapunzel rides on a boat

"Wheeee! Running away from home was the best decision ever!"

Rapunzel is a giant-eyed young woman* who spends her life locked in a tower and never, ever gets a hair cut. Unbeknownst to her, she is actually a kidnapped princess whose hair is made of magic. Her hair can restore a person's youth if they brush it and sing. But if it’s cut, her beautiful golden hair turns dead and brown. (Blondes’ hair is magic, brunettes’ is death. Got it, thanks, Disney.)

Rapunzel is kept in the tower by her “mother,” a mean old woman who kidnapped the baby to stay young. Rapunzel longs to leave the tower and go on an adventure, but she doesn’t do it until a thief climbs up into the tower and agrees to escort her. So she ventures into the woods with a strange man and…it all works out! She discovers she’s the princess, her “mother” falls out of the tower and they all live happily ever after.

But in the original version...

Rapunzel gets knocked up and kicked out. Rapunzel does have a pretty rough childhood, locked in a tower, her only human interaction with a witch who climbs her hair to visit her. But, to be fair, in the original version Rapunzel’s parents basically traded their infant child for some lettuce, so it’s not clear that her life would have been better if she had stayed with them.

One day a prince hears Rapunzel singing and talks her into letting her hair down so he can climb up. Then, and this is something that’s definitely not in the Disney version, she gets pregnant. So they decide to get married. Sure it’ll be a weird story to tell the kids, but no more embarrassing than being one of those couples in the eHarmony commercials.

But the witch finds out, cuts Rapunzel’s hair off and hurls her out of the tower, where she’s left to wander the woods pregnant and alone. The witch hangs Rapunzel’s braid on a hook to trick the prince and when he climbs up she throws him out of the tower onto some bramble bushes that blind him. YIKES. But it’s not all bad news. After wandering the woods for years the two find each other, raise their twins and try to heal from their terrible physical and emotional scars.

Harsh Life Lesson: If you should meet a significant other with a complicated and dramatic home life, think twice before you get involved. And girls, don’t invite strange men into your home, because that road leads straight to teenage pregnancy. 



According to Disney…

Cinderella in her brand new ball gown

"If midnight is such a big deal I think it would have been nice to include a watch with the outfit."

Cinderella is the beautiful daughter of a lonely widower, who marries a heinous woman whose two daughters are obviously evil because they are ugly. Cinderella’s father dies, leaving her surrounded by step-family that treats her like a maid.

When the prince throws a ball to meet all the eligible women in the kingdom and choose one (like The Bachelor with fewer drunken meltdowns), Cinderella wants to go. So she calls upon her rodent and avian friends to sew her a lovely dress, which is remarkably not covered in rodent and avian shit by the time she tries it on. But alas, her terrible, jealous stepsisters see her looking lovely and rip her dress to shreds.

The mean women leave and Cinderella cries until her fairy godmother appears to help get her to the ball. Apparently this woman couldn’t be bothered to call social services a few years back and has been holding out for something really important. Cinderella gets a makeover and goes to the ball where she wins the prince’s heart and loses a shoe.

The prince orders that every woman in the kingdom must try this lost shoe on because surely there cannot be two women who wear 7 1/2 narrow, and thus he finds Cinderella. She becomes a princess, her stepsisters get their comeuppance and some mean cat falls out a window. Happily ever after.

But in the original…

Cinderella’s bird friends don’t make her a dress, but they do peck her stepsisters’ eyes out. In Grimm’s version, the stepsisters were actually quite beautiful despite being mean-hearted (but then how will we teach children to discriminate against the uglies and the fatties?). But they also suffer a bit more punishment than merely asking for forgiveness. They each try to fit their giant feet into the glass slipper and actually go so far as to cut off pieces of their feet to do so. The prince falls for it, too, until he notices that the shoe is filling with blood. Good plan, ladies, although next time you try to pull a fast one like that, make sure you’re not trying on a shoe that’s effing clear.

And at Cinderella’s wedding, as the women are walking into the church two pigeons fly to each side of the doorway and pluck out an eye from each stepsister. The women, not bothered enough about a PIGEON STEALING THEIR EYES to skip the ceremony, enter the church and watch. But when they leave, the pigeons take the other eye from each. And that, my friends, is how you teach kids to be nice to their siblings.

Harsh Life Lesson: Don’t be a jerk, especially to your family. And be careful around birds. Seriously, they’re mean.


*Seriously, her eyes are SO BIG, so I got it in my head that it would be funny to show what a Disney princess would look like in real life, and that is how I stumbled upon this whole set of Instagram filters. Enjoy your nightmare fuel, everyone! 

Disney princess instagram filters are downright horrifying

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