Not So Happily Ever After: 7 Real Stories Behind Disney Princesses

If you opened TikTok recently, you probably know at least the chorus of “Mad At Disney”. The song went viral on the app and, since August, has appeared in more than 1.7 million videos posted there. Much of the track's success came due to its lyrics, composed by salem ilese, which takes a - metaphorical - playful jab at Mickey’s company. In the lyrics, the American singer and songwriter sings about being upset with Disney because of the false ideals of perfection and romance that its movies and characters have been purveying for decades.

Inspired by this criticism raised by salem, many TikTok users started recording videos showing what Disney princesses would be like if their fairy tales didn’t end with the “happily ever after”. Well, but what many people don’t know is that, before being adapted by the mouse’s enterprise, these stories weren’t that lovely: the vast majority of the animations that marked our childhood are, in fact, versions of very old tales - and with a very tense dramatic load!

Because they are derived from oral culture and transmitted since many centuries ago, these stories have been modified over time and have gained several recounts around the world. Some textual registers produced by acclaimed literati, as Hans Christian Andersen and Brothers Grimm, are available for reading nowadays - and some of the versions are simply terrifying! Her Campus Casper Líbero went after the most famous and obscure written tales that ended up being romanticized in favor of Disney’s magic. Check them out on the list below!

  1. 1. “The Little Mermaid”: Kiss The Girl Or Kill The Boy?

    The first stop on our journey through the original stories of Disney’s princesses is under the sea! In Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, Ariel and her five sisters are raised by their grandmother, under a tradition that allows them, when they turn 15, to spend a day on the surface to accompany the routine of the human world. The problematic plot begins when Ariel, during her rite of passage, falls in love with a human, something that was forbidden by her family - according to the mermaid’s tradition, humans had no soul. Tense, right?

    But things get worse: in this version of the tale, the witch whom Ariel asks to have a human body, in addition to stealing her voice, puts a spell on her feet, which makes each step taken by her hurts immensely, as if they were being “pierced by a thousand swords simultaneously”. Oh, and besides, if Ariel didn’t get a kiss of true love, she would end up dead!

    Upon meeting the prince, who is about to marry another woman, Ariel decides to accept her fate, but her sisters don’t give up and make another deal with the witch: in exchange for the hair of the five mermaids, Ariel receives a silver knife with which she must kill the prince. The young woman, however, lacks the courage to carry out the plan and ends up dying, reduced to sea foam. Tragically poetic...

  2. 2. “Cinderella”: Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Blood

    Currently, there are more than 300 adaptations of this tale circulating around the world - and, no doubt, Disney's one is the lightest! In the 1812’s version written by the Grimm Brothers, Cinderella’s sisters are even worse than in the animation. When the prince goes in search of the owner of the missed slipper (which, in this version, is made of gold and not crystal), Anastasia and Griselda not only force and scream for their feet to fit, but even dismember them: one cuts off her toes and, the other, sever a part of her heel! And that is not all. At the end of the story, the women are invited to Cinderella’s wedding, where two white birds peck their eyes in punishment. Macabre, right?

    Another curiosity is that in this adaptation - which is considered the original one -, Cinderella doesn’t have a fairy mother! When she is forbidden to go to the prince’s three days of ball (yes, here the royal party is almost a rave), she runs up to a hazelnut tree that she herself planted next to her mother’s grave. There, she cries and asks the arbour for help, and who appears to grant her wishes is a little and charitable bird that brings her a dress made of gold and silver. OK, this part is kinda cute…

  3. 3. “Beauty And The Beast”: Tale As Old As Envy

    The tale about a beautiful and kind girl who became the prisoner of a horrible beast is a classic of folklore from many European countries. There is also who believes that this story was inspired by a real couple, Pedro (who, due to a rare genetic disease, has a body entirely covered by thick hair) and Catherine Gonsalvus, his wife. But these are just speculation. What we really know is that Belle and Beast appeared for the first time in 1740, in a French fable written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont.

    This narrative is practically the same as the animation we know, except for one difference: here, Belle has two sisters who are envious and futile - and do everything to harm her! Their villainy blossoms in the moment Belle asks the Beast for visiting her father. He agrees, as long as she returns in 6 days: otherwise, he would die of longing and sadness. The two girls, jealous of their sister's luxurious life, try to convince her to stay at home for more than a week, hoping that Beast will eat her alive on the way back. Argh! But these evil acts don’t end with impunity: when Belle and Beast get married, the sisters are transformed into statues of the castle and forced to spend eternity witnessing their success and love. Naughty or fair?

  4. 4. “Snow White”: Seven Dwarfs And Four Lives

    If cats have seven lives, Snow White came close: in the original tale, which was compiled by the Grimm Brothers between 1817 and 1822, she was the target of four unsuccessful murder attempts! First, the Evil Queen orders a servant to kill Snow White and bring her liver and lungs to the kingdom as evidence. With pity for the child (bizarrely, in the original story, the princess was only 7 years old), he kills a wild boar instead of her. The queen eats the animal’s organs, believing she is devouring the kid. Yuck! When the stepmother discovers that Snow White is still alive, she dresses up as an elderly merchant and tries two more plans: first, selling the girl a necklace so tight it makes her breathless; and, after, giving her a poisoned comb. Both fail, as the dwarfs just needed to get these objects away from her and she came back to life. Either the princess is very lucky or the stepmother is a trickster villain…

    The only plan that - kinda - succeeds is the known poisoned apple. Not finding what was causing the girl harm, the dwarves decided to place her in a glass coffin above the earth (she seemed so vivid that they didn’t have the courage to bury her). And here comes the frightening scene: a man passes by the coffin, falls in love with the seven-years-old girl and asks the dwarves to let him take her with him. Worst of all: they accept it! The child is saved when they drop the bell jar and, with a thud, she spits out the apple. Alive again, Snow White decides to marry the stranger she had just known (What?!).

    And the clumsy stepmother? Oh, she is publicly punished at the wedding of the princess, being forced to dance in hot iron shoes. At least, spooky!

  5. 5. “The Sleeping Beauty”: Once Upon A Crime

    If the tale of a prince kissing an unconscious girl is enough to encourage heated discussions about harassment, get ready to know this version of Sleeping Beauty - which is one of the oldest and scariest ever found! It was registered in the 17th century by the Italian Giambattista Basile. The main character, whose name is Talia (not Aurora, as in the Disney movie), falls asleep after accidentally stabbing her finger on a linen splitter. Seeing the girl apparently dead, her family locks her up alone in their castle. It is when the figure of the prince appears: enchanted by of the beauty princess, he enters her room breaking into a window, rapes her asleep and, as if nothing has happened, returns home.

    Oh, and if it wasn’t disgusting enough, still unconscious, Talia gives birth to twins! In the Basile’s tale, she only wakes up when the babies, hungry, suck her finger and remove the linen from her skin. And there's more! Soon she regains sense, Talia goes after the twin’s father in the neighbouring kingdom and finds out that he’s already married. The prince’s wife, as a revenge for being betrayed, decides to kill the babies and serve them as food to their father. Fortunately, the cooker refuses to commit the infanticide. But the wife doesn’t give up and settles to build a big fire to burn Talia alive. Anyway, the ex-Sleeping Beauty doesn’t die: the prince interrupts the vendetta and pushes his wife to the fire.

    In the end, he and Talia get married - in a union which is far from being “happily ever after”...

  6. 6.  Rapunzel: “Tangled” Babies

    If you love Tangled’s high spirits, know that the 1857’s Brothers Grimm’s tale which inspired the movie is, on the contrary, quite tense! In this German version, Rapunzel has no magic hair: in fact, she was handed on to a witch as soon as she was born, as payment for her family’s debt.

    With that, the girl starts living locked in a tower, isolated from everything and everyone. One day, however, while the witch is travelling, the tower is invaded by a prince (and not a thief, as Flynn Ryder). They fall in love and start a secret relationship -   alias, Rapunzel finds herself pregnant shortly afterwards. But the confidence doesn’t escape the eyes of the witch, who, upon discovering the pregnancy, cuts Rapunzel’s hair and throws her out of the castle. The prince, right after finding his beloved’s hair lying on the floor, thinks she is dead and, surprised, falls from the tower in a hawthorn and goes blind.

    Years later, with the babies already born (yes, twins), the girl and the prince finally meet into the forest. The tears of emotion that Rapunzel sheds falls on the eyes of her beloved and heal him, who starts seeing again. Phew, after all this tension, Mamma Gothel even looks like a little girl, right?

  7. 7. “Frozen”: The Evil Never Bothered Her Anyway

    Did you know that, in the first storyboards produced by Disney, Elsa would have blue skin and be a scary villain? The story of this heroine would have been very different if she had followed the plot of the Scandinavian folklore story in which she was inspired. In “The Snow Queen”, a fable that Hans Christian Andersen adapted to the books in 1875, there is no Anna, neither Elsa, nor Olaf: the names of the characters, as well as their trajectories, are very different from the animation.

    Originally, the story is about Gerda and Kai, two sweet and pure children who were raised as siblings. One day, the boy is struck in the heart by a bewitched glass shard that takes away all his sweetness and purity. The responsible for this is the Snow Queen (Elsa?) who, on the same day, kidnaps Kai and takes him to her castle, where she lives isolated from the world. Then, Gerda sets out on a journey to rescue her friend, travelling with the help of a reindeer (as Anna and Sven in the cinematic adaptation). Furthermore, in this tale, trolls aren’t that sympathetic: they are the ones who welp the Snow Queen to freeze the goodness inside people!

    But, if there’s one thing that stills the same in the two versions of the story, it is the outcome. Gerda, when overcoming the ice storm that protects the queen’s castle, finds Kai transformed into an ice cube. Sad, the girl hugs him and cries, and her loving tears melt the ice and break the curse. Well it is clear that, in any version, the moral of the story is that “an act of true love is able to warm a frozen heart”...

Well, after all that, we can’t deny salem: it’s quite acceptable to be “Mad At Disney”, right? These animations have been molding behaviors and ideals for years, with so much worldwide influence that they even supplanted the original version, which, however scary, can be considered more realistic than Disney’s enchanted universe. So, if you’re a 20-something-year-old person and the shooting star didn’t realize your children’s wish yet, don’t panic! We were all tricked by the happily ever after...

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The article above was edited by Mel Trench

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