15 Disney Films and Fairy Tales That Have Extremely Morbid Origin Stories
Disney movies and fairy tales are meant to provide comfort—and life lessons, for little children.
But their origins—that is, the fairy tales and myths the scripts are sometimes based on—are sometimes the stuff of nightmares. Surreal, possibly drug-induced, nightmares.
Since we never get any sleep anyway, we took a real deep dive into the background of these horrifying Disney and fairy tale origins. What we found involves murder, sabotage, abuse and a whole lot of poison.
In the Disney movie, we’re supposed to assume that Hercules is the son of happily married couple Zeus and Hera.
But in the original Greek tale, Hercules is the son of Zeus and a mortal, Alcmene. That’s right, Zeus had a wandering thunder bolt, which is a pretty tame origin story compared to some other Disney adapted fairy tales.
The Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve original and the Disney remake are pretty similar.
Girl meets beast, beast steals girl, girl falls in love with beast in spite of the kidnapping. The largest difference is Belle is actually granted a furlough from captivity in order to visit her family.
In the original tale, her sisters are jealous of her new luxe lifestyle with ol’ Beasty, as most sisters are when they learn one of their own has been kidnapped, and try to plot a sabotage.
In short, it’s to keep Belle from going back to the palace in hopes that she’ll get in major trouble with the beast (read: eaten). Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work.
We’re ranking this as a two out of five on the scary scale, since it’s actually pretty tame.
This story, written by Carlo Collodi, includes the addition of Pinocchio’s majorly rebellious stage.
He runs away from home, which causes guardian Geppetto to spend some time in the slammer on account of his poor supervision. Pinocchio is then forced to go to school, but he sells his books for drugs. (Just kidding, it’s theatre tickets.)
Like so many of us, P eventually wises up and becomes a real boy. Two out of five scaries—there’s some messed-up stuff, but nothing that most ordinary angsty teens haven’t tried.
Besides all the sad stuff about the stags abandoning their young after the does give birth, Bambi is also shot in the original book.
And he is taught to walk in circles to spread the blood around to confuse the hunters and the dogs tracking him. Yeah. No one wants to see cartoon blood, so we understand why Disney cut this out.
Oh, and “He” (the hunter) is shot and killed by another man, and the old Prince makes sure Bambi sees the body to prove that man isn’t all-powerful.
5. Snow White
The Brothers Grimm book paints the evil queen as much more goal-oriented; she straight-up tries to kill Snow White twice before resorting to the poison apple.
The Prince, who she eventually marries, takes her away while she’s unconscious in a glass coffin (creep alert!), and it’s only a coincidence that she wakes up.
At the wedding the evil queen has to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she’s dead. Three out of five on the scary scale, for a very troubling relationship.
6. The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
The animated version is certainly one of the darkest films released by Disney, but the book version is even darker.
Esmeralda is hanged after Frollo betrays her, and Quasimodo pushes him off the roof to his death. Later, Quasimodo visits Esmeralda’s grave and refuses to leave, so he starves to death. Happily ever after? Nope, not so much.
7. The Little Mermaid
Man, Hans Christian Andersen was one creepy dude. For starters, the stakes are higher in his tale: If Ariel fails to convince the prince to fall in love with her during her tenure as a human, she will DIE (instead of just turning back into a mermaid like the Disney version).
Also, the price Ariel must pay for the privilege of having legs is that every step feels like walking on broken glass. And not the happy-go-lucky Annie Lennox kind of broken glass. The actually walking on broken glass kind.
Spoiler alert: the prince does not fall in love with her, because—long story short—he has to marry someone else, so the sea witch orders Ariel to murder him in exchange for being turned back into a mermaid and escaping death. Well, she can’t do it so throws herself into the sea and basically commits suicide.
But she becomes sea foam so it all works out in the end…we think?
The Brothers Grimm, you guys are sickos. This version has no adorable bird helpers, but instead some seriously messed-up sisters.
In their overzealousness to fit into the iconic glass slipper and get an in with the Prince, Cinderella’s stepsisters resort to self-administered plastic surgery. One cuts off her toes; the other cuts off her heel.
When they are forced to end Cinderella’s eventual wedding to the Prince, they have their eyes pecked out by birds. The end!
9. The Fox and the Hound
Daniel P. Mannix’s story takes the cake for its sheer tragic twists. The eponymous fox is raised by a seemingly nice hunting family and everything is going great—until it’s returned to the wild. This is when things get real.
He decides to start taunting the hunting dogs in retaliation, and one of them breaks loose and is hit by a train during the subsequent chase. The fox then DIES from chase-fueled exhaustion, and another dog become so old that he needs to be shot. This one gets a full five, because WTF.
The Disney-fied version is hugely responsible for nearly every little girl’s dream of being rescued by a prince and finding love at first sight (kiss?).
Giambattista Basile’s original version is hugely responsible for our wanting to call the poor girl a lawyer.
You see, the king’s (nope, not a prince here; also, he’s got a wife) first course of action isn’t to kiss the girl awake, though we sorely wish it was. Instead, he has sex with her…while she sleeps!
And it gets even worse: she pops out a couple of kids while she’s knocked out, wakes up as a single mother and only learns who the father is when the still-married king decides to pay her another visit. This is gross on every level.
Disney’s version, Tangled, is so cute and innocent that it makes us laugh. The Grimm Brothers’ tale is much less so.
For starters, Dame Gothel takes Rapunzel as payment for her father’s thieving ways. Way to set a great example for your kid. The prince who finds Rapunzel knocks her up upon meeting her, because if the king in Sleeping Beauty can do it, then why can’t he?
Obviously Dame Gothel isn’t an idiot, and cuts off Rapunzel’s hair before banishing her. When the prince comes back for Rapunzel and finds her gone, he takes the most logical course of action and flings himself from the tower. The fall doesn’t kill him (darn!) but the thorns at the bottom of the tower blind him. Ouch.
You’ve heard this one time and time again: the poor miller’s daughter is so desperate to keep her life that she ends up promising her first born to Rumpelstiltskin if he helps her.
Come collection day, she dupes him into letting her guess his name in exchange for the child’s freedom. She guesses his name and all is well, right? Well, yeah, for the princess and her kid.
Rumpelstiltskin, however, quite literally rips his own body in half. Wait, what? That part wasn’t in Once Upon a Time, was it?! Last time we checked he was still alive.
13. Little Red Riding Hood
There are several old and delightfully macabre versions of this one, but our favorite is an Italian version titled El Cappelin Rosso. Why? Because ogres, that’s why.
Instead of a wolf, the antagonist is something straight outta Shrek. Although we don’t remember Shrek feeding an innocent child the blood, teeth and jaws of her recently deceased grandmother.
Oh yeah, and the ogre uses granny’s intestines as a pull rope for the door latch. Can’t forget that gem.
14. Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Robert Southey’s 1800’s version takes home intrusion much more seriously than the family-friendly version we know today.
His Goldilocks is actually an old woman, who gets up to the same amount of mischief as the heroine we all know in the modern version.
However, her escape is much less fruitful: while modern Goldilocks trots away into the forest unharmed, Southey’s version speculates that the old woman either broke her neck in a fall from the bears’ window, or was sent to a correctional facility where she presumably still rots in fairytale hell. Neither sounds particularly appealing.
15. The Princess and the Frog
The Brothers Grimm have done it again. Next up on “fairytales we’re going to ruin for you forever” is the beloved story of the frog prince, so recently turned into a cutesy film by Disney.
The idea is that once the princess kisses the frog, he’ll turn into a prince, but the Grimm version’s princess is a lot less thrilled about that idea than Tiana is (and that’s saying something).
To the princess’ credit, the frog-ified prince pulled a couple of creepy stunts by trying to crawl up her pillow and eat off her plate with her, but we’re not entirely sure that slamming his amphibian body against a wall was an entirely appropriate reaction. At least it got him to change back, right?