Unhappily Ever After


Arianna Heyman and Ashley Thoms

For any child, Disney stories are an integral part of growing up. Little girls especially, fall in love with the stories, and desire to be just like the princesses when they grow up. Disney creates these movies to be light hearted, touching, and sometimes even quite comical for their young viewers. What is not known by most people are the gruesome and tragic stories behind these family friendly tales. People would be shocked to find out the original fate of their favorite characters, and it is definitely not a happily ever after.

Rapunzel: In the Disney version, Tangled, Rapunzel is a princess who is kidnapped from her Castle and locked in a tower for 18 years by an evil woman who pretends to be her mother. One day, a thief named Flynn Rider discovers her, and they make a deal which involves him taking her out of her tower for the day. They sing, there’s dancing, they fall in love, she finds out she is the stolen Princess, she gets taken back to the tower, Flynn rescues her, he almost dies but doesn’t, they kiss, and it is one big happily ever after.

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In the Grimm version, a couple who desperately wants a baby lives next to a witch named Dame Gothel. The wife finally gets pregnant but experiences cravings and notices a rapunzel plant in the witch’s garden. The husband steals the plant, but on his second trip to steal it he gets caught by the witch. Out of ‘kindness’ the witch lets him take as much of the plant as he wants but with the condition that the baby will be given to her when born. Rapunzel grows up to be a beautiful girl and is locked away in a tower by Dame Gothel. A prince finds Rapunzel and is entranced by the beauty of her voice. He stops by the tower frequently and sits outside, listening to her sing. After a while he climbs up the tower and talks to her. They plan an escape from the tower which involves weaving silk into a ladder. Eventually, Rapunzel offends Dame Gothel who finds out about the prince. Dame Gothel then tricks the prince into coming up the tower, and when confronted by the witch, he jumps out of the tower in despair and blinds himself on thorns. The prince finds Rapunzel in the desert, and with her are two twin babies. When reunited, she cries on him and the tears restore his sight. They do live happily ever after, but their romance certainly had a different start.  

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Cinderella: In the Disney version,  Cinderella is forced to serve her evil Stepmother and sisters. There is a ball coming up that she wants to go to but her stepmother ruins her plans to go. She cries, a fairy Godmother appears, and after a couple of bibbity bobbity boo’s later, she’s on her way. At the ball she meets the prince, they dance, fall in love, but then the clock strikes midnight, and she rushes off while losing her shoe in the process. The prince vows to find her by having every girl in the kingdom try on this shoe. When they get to Cinderella’s house, she reveals she has the other shoe and leaves to go marry her Prince.

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In the Grimm version, Cinderella, named after the cinders she sleeps on, suffers the loss of her mother. Her father then remarries to a rude woman who has vile daughters who frequently abuse Cinderella. Despite the ill treatment, Cinderella remains a good girl who often visits her mother’s grave and cries (side note: she had enough tears to water a tree). A little while and some tree growth later, the king holds a festival for his son to find a wife. The festival lasts three days and the daughters are invited. Cinderella wants to come, and the stepmother agrees so long as she finishes her chores. However, the stepmother had thought ahead and threw Cinderella’s lentils in the fire and made her pick them out. Cinderella succeeded but the stepmother threw more lentils into the fire, preventing Cinderella from going. In distress, Cinderella goes to her mother’s grave to look for help. A white bird drops a dress for her to wear and so she goes to the ball where she meets the prince. They dance together but she returns home at sunset. This happens for the next two days, but on the last night the prince puts a sticky substance on the stairs so her slipper falls off and gets stuck. He then travels around, looking for the slipper. After the two stepsisters cut off a toe and a heel to fit into the shoe, it is revealed that the slipper belongs to Cinderella. The two end up getting married and the two stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by birds.

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Pocahontas: Pocahontas takes place in America in the seventeenth century. Pocahontas meets an explorer from England, John Smith, whom she falls in love with. Things get difficult when the English men want to go to battle with her tribe. In the end she does not end up with John Smith, but this movie teaches us all a valuable lesson about respecting different cultures.


The real story of Pocahontas is a lot more depressing than the original. One important note is that Pocahontas’ real name was Matoaka. Pocahontas is a derogatory term that means ‘spoiled child’ and ‘naughty one’. Also, in the Disney version, Pocahontas is a young woman, when in reality she was only about ten years old. Matoaka was captured by Samuel Argall while she was delivering food and was used as ransom to get back English prisoners. John Rolfe took a special interest in her while she was held captive and agreed to release her so long as she married him. Matoaka was later used as propaganda to promote the colony of Virginia. At one point she did run into John Smith but refused to speak to him.

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Sleeping Beauty: Sleeping Beauty, also known as Aurora, is a Princess who must live in the forest with three fairies because a spell has been cast on her by the evil Maleficent that she will prick her finger on her 16th birthday and die. She eventually does prick her finger, and the spell can only be broken by true love’s kiss. Again, this being a Disney movie, her Prince does come along, and they live happily ever after.

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In one of the original versions recorded by Basile, Sleeping Beauty’s real name is Talia and she gets a splinter from flax which causes her to fall into a long and deep slumber. The father, depressed by his unconscious daughter, closes the doors to the house and abandons it forever. A king then climbs into the house one day and rapes Talia after finding her asleep. Afterwards he leaves and goes back to his kingdom, leaving Talia alone and pregnant. Though asleep, she still manages to give births to twins, one of which keeps sucking on her finger. The child manages to suck the splinter out of her finger which causes Talia to wake up extremely confused. The king travels back to her house to find her awake and now a mother to his children. After a little more time together, the king announces he has to go back to his kingdom but promises he will come back for her. At the castle, the wife of the king hears him mumbling about Talia and finds out what happens. She then sends Talia a letter to her pretending to be the king and asks for her to send her twins to the castle. She plans to cook the babies into a dish and serve it to the king. The cook responds by hiding the children and preparing lamb instead. The queen invites Talia to the kingdom and plans to burn her alive but the king finds out about this plan and burns the queen instead. Talia and the king end up getting married and live happily ever after.

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Frozen: In Frozen, Queen Elsa accidentally uses her power to turn her kingdom into ice and runs away. Her sister, Princess Anna teams up with a mountain man named Kristoff, a reindeer, and a snowman to unfreeze the kingdom. This movie, unlike the other princess movies, focuses on family love rather than the traditional story lines from the past.

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The original story by Hans Christian Anderson was about an evil troll that made a mirror that distorted everything in front of it to get rid of all the good and beauty. People try to bring the mirror up to heaven but it falls back to earth and shatters which causes splinters to hit everyone and turn their hearts to ice. There are two children central to the story, Kai and Gerda, and Kai’s grandmother one day tells them about the snow queen, a woman who Kai one day sees beckoning for him, but he moves away in fear. One summer, splinters from the mirror get into Kai’s heart and he becomes a crueler, more aggressive person. During the winter, Kai goes out to go sledding and attaches it to the snow queen’s sleigh, mistaking her for a regular woman. She takes him outside the city and kisses him twice, once to numb the cold and once to forget his family, but a third kiss would kill him. Gerda, after hearing incorrectly that Kai was dead, went around and asked everyone where Kai was. After a while she finds herself at the queen’s castle and sees Kai, immobile, on a frozen lake where the queen’s throne sits. He has to form the word eternity out of ice in order to be released, but Gerda runs up to him and kisses him and cries on him which mobilizes him. They start to dance and the ice kicked up from their movement spells the word eternity and so he is free to leave.

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Peter Pan: 

In Peter Pan, a girl named Wendy is taken to an enchanted island called Neverland. On this island lives Peter Pan, Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys, Tiger Lily, Native Americans, and a scheming pirate named Captain Hook. Captain Hook is determined to defeat Peter, but to his surprise, Peter ends up beating the captain and manages to save the children who had previously been kidnapped by pirates.

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While the Disney Peter Pan is bright and happy, the original Peter Pan has a much more sinister side. Peter Pan was actually a very mischievous boy with evil tendencies and a darker personality. One of the most disturbing traits of Peter Pan is his murderous tendencies. When the lost boys got too old or there were too many he would ‘thin them out’ which is just another phrase for killing them off. He also killed randomly for his own pleasure. He went on pirate hunts and also occasionally switched sides in the middle of a battle and started to kill the lost boys just for fun and to cause chaos.

Disney makes movies for kids who believe in good people and happily ever afters. Unfortunately, back when fairytales were used commonly to teach lessons and instill morals into the minds of children, the stories had to be much darker in order to prove a point. While the stories that Disney tell make a much more fun and bright tale, the ethics and teachings previously found are now lost due to sugarcoating. Some parents may argue that it is not healthy for children to be exposed to extreme violence at such a young age, but it just goes to show how much the times have changed since the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson were walking around.