- Amy MacKinnon
Disney and Fairy Tales
Updated: Apr 12, 2020
The Disney versions of Cinderella and Snow White were based on the versions of the story by Mother Goose (by Charles Perrault) and the Brothers Grimm. Charles Perrault is the one who added the famous glass slipper to the Cinderella story, and Walt Disney kept that in the animated version.
For the most part, the Disney versions of those two stories stay very close to each of those classic versions of the stories. There are some adaptations, but that always happens whenever a new storyteller tells a story--even the versions by Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm are re-telling other versions of those stories.
Both of those cartoons also keep the Christian symbols and virtues that Perrrault and the Grimms emphasized in their versions of the stories (read my posts summarizing the Christianity in Cinderella and Snow White by clicking those links, or the links at the bottom of this post).
When they used Hans Christian Andersen's stories The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen (Frozen is based on this story), it was long after Walt Disney passed away and the company went in a different direction. Man of the Christian elements that Andersen included in his stories were removed in the Disney animated versions.
Comparing Disney with the Original Stories
I know that many people have strong (sometimes very strong) opinions about the Disney versions of fairy tales. When they compare the Disney version with the original version, it’s always to show that Disney has changed the story.
What are the comments people make when comparing them?
The movie isn't as good as the book
They took out the part(s) that I liked
They changed the story
They changed the characters and just kept the names of the characters the same
If they’d kept it as the same story, then I would have liked it
I have some questions for them:
Would you compare Little Red Riding Hood with Cinderella and say that one is better than the other because it was written first?
If Mother Goose (Charles Perrault) and the Brothers Grimm had made Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella into the same story, would it have been better in some way?
Of course not, because obviously they’re very different stories, and those questions I just asked are completely absurd.
But I asked them because it's obvious that they're very different stories. That is how I think we should look at the classic fairy tales and the animated or cartoon versions: they're different stories.
The Grimm Brothers collected folk and fairy tales so that they could study the language, and how it changed. In collecting those stories (many of which were oral versions), they had a good 50 versions of Cinderella alone, and there were differences in each of them—no two versions were exactly the same.
Those differences are sometimes in the actions of the stepsisters, or in Cinderella’s response to them, or any number of other things. Sometimes different versions retain only a few elements between them, so even the story arc itself is completely different. Unless you studied the versions very closely, you wouldn’t recognize them as having the same foundation for the story.
This is why J.R.R. Tolkien said in his talk, “On Fairy Stories,” that when there are several versions of a story, they should actually be seen as different stories instead of versions of the same story.
Sometimes the characters are more alike than not, or there are characters in one story that aren’t in another, and sometimes there are completely different characters but some of the plot elements are shared. The actions and reasons for those actions are different, and the relationships between the characters changes.
That means that both the heart of the story, and the story itself, have changed.
And this is why I think that Tolkien was right:
it’s better to view the Disney versions of stories
as different stories
and then let them stand or fall
on their own merit
In the Disney stories, they’re told in a completely different medium: film and images instead of words that are read.
So for Cinderella, each of the versions in print, on TV, and in the movies have to be seen as different stories instead of as the same story, in order to really understand the deeper meanings (click here for why Cinderella wore glass slippers).
Of course we’re going to compare and contrast the ideas and elements in the stories that we read and see, because that’s part of how human beings are created to think, but I think that there’s a lot of value in Tolkien’s point about this.
The first time you read a story, you should just be immersed in that story. Analysis and comparisons can come after that, but wait until the story is over. Then think about what happened, why it happened, what else could have happened, and how those changes would have affected the other characters and events.
List of "Fairy Tale Friday" Posts
Check out these previous posts in this series:
Disney and Fairy Tales (this post)
Women in Fairy Tales: Good or Bad?
Fairy Tales, Cautionary Tales, and Myths
How Are Fairy Tales Christian?
Cinderella: A Christian Fairy Tale
Snow White: A Christian Fairy Tale
Hansel and Gretel: A Christian Fairy Tale
Sleeping Beauty: A Christian Fairy Tale
Beauty and the Beast: A Christian Fairy Tale
Little Mermaid: A Christian Fairy Tale
Velveteen Rabbit: A Christian Fairy Tale
Why Are There So Few Fairies in Fairy Tales?
Fairy Tales and Multiculturalism
Originally published June 2019; updated April 4, 2020
All photo images (other than the ones from classic fairy tales, which are in the public domain) used are from pexels.com and are used with permission