Happily ever after is a given in the Disney universe. After decades of telling stories about magic and true love, Disney is now known as a gateway to lands of beautiful fantasy where we can escape from the mundane realities of daily life.
Nothing is too good to be true for characters like Snow White and Princess Jasmine, and as we watch them fall in love and waltz in pretty gowns, we sometimes get tricked into believing that those kinds of fairytales can come true.
The most interesting thing about Disney is that it’s been able to create this narrative of happily ever after—which has branched out into everything from movies to songs to theme parks—based off stories that were anything but happy in the beginning.
Most of the classic animations are inspired by old fairytales, folk stories, and legends from mythology whose dark elements are completely different from what we see in Disney today.
Many fairy tales were originally written and gathered with the intention of teaching a moral lesson, usually with traditional values. Some were meant to be cautionary tales, which explains why some of their real plots and characters are anything but charming.
Check out these not-so-sweet origins of the most famous Disney characters.
21 Cinderella’s Stepsisters Went Through Much More Trouble To Fit Into The Slippers
There have been several versions of Cinderella across different eras and cultures. The Disney animation was based on the 1697 tale by Charles Perrault, but if we look at the Grimm version from the 19th century, it’s clear that the story of Cinderella has traveled to some dark places.
After Cinderella loses her slipper and the prince comes to find the maiden who can fit into it, her stepsisters don’t just squeeze their feet into the shoes—they actually undergo bodily modifications to fit! Also in this version, there is no fairy godmother. Just a tree that was watered by her tears.
20 Belle Actually Had Sisters, And They Weren't Nice
We get to know Belle’s father in Beauty and the Beast, but there’s no mention of any sisters. But in the original story by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, Belle does have sisters. And as it turns out, they’re not really your ideal kind of siblings.
In the original, Belle convinces the Beast to let her visit her sisters, and when she does, they become extremely jealous when they see all the jewelry she’s wearing and hear about the lavish castle. They convince her to stay with them longer because they know that it will annoy the Beast and he will soon lose his temper.
19 Rapunzel’s Prince Was Really Blind
The Brothers Grimm story of Rapunzel is, of course, the inspiration behind Disney’s Tangled. But in the Disney version, things are always much more perfect. In the original tale, the witch locked Rapunzel in the tower from the age of twelve, and a prince climbs up and falls in love with her after hearing her sing.
But the next time he goes up for her, he encounters the witch, who throws him back down, where he lands on spines that somehow get into his eyes, and he’s blinded. But unlike most Grimm stories, this one does have a happy ending! Later on, the prince hears Rapunzel’s voice and finds his way back to her. Her magic tears give him back his sight, and the two are happily married.
18 Ariel Didn’t Really Get The Prince In The End
The Little Mermaid is based on the 1837 Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, and there are some key differences between Andersen’s story and Disney’s story. Firstly, the Little Mermaid can’t turn back into a mermaid once she’s turned into a human. Her ultimate goal is to gain an immortal soul, which, as a mermaid, she can only acquire when a human falls in love with her.
Once she gains her legs (which she exchanges her voice for), they’re actually super painful to grow and walk on. After all that, the Prince marries someone else, and the mermaid is doomed to turn into sea foam for 300 years before finally getting a soul and ascending to Heaven. Harsh!
17 The Lion King Was Influenced By Hamlet
Critics of The Lion King believe that it was heavily inspired by a cartoon in Japan called Kimba the White Lion, which is believed by some to be inspired by Bambi. But there are also those who draw parallels between Simba’s story and that of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who must avenge his father after receiving a visit from his ghost.
And if TLK truly is inspired by Hamlet, then its origins are very dark indeed. In the tragic play, pretty much everyone loses their life by the end, including the titular character (who could be seen to be the inspiration behind the character of Simba).
16 Megara Didn’t Exactly Win The Romance Lottery With Hercules
The character of Hercules in the Disney version has been adapted to fit a modern sense of what’s admirable and attractive and is a far cry from the Hercules (or Herakles) of Greek mythology. In some versions of his story, he is driven to madness by the goddess Hera and is responsible for the deaths of his three sons with Megara (and in other versions, he is responsible for Megara’s death as well).
He did all kinds of things that were okay for men to do in ancient Greece but are pretty frowned upon today. While he is portrayed as being good at heart, Disney left out the part about his many other love interests.
15 Tiana Didn’t Kiss The Frog To Break The Curse
Disney’s The Princess and the Frog was loosely based on E.D. Baker’s novel, The Frog Princess, which was inspired by The Frog Prince fairytale. The concept of a girl meeting a frog who claims to be a cursed prince is common throughout all the versions, but in the original fairytale, the girl actually is a princess herself.
So there goes the concept of Tiana being a hardworking entrepreneur from humble beginnings. Also, in the earliest version of the original, she doesn’t just kiss the frog to break the curse. Instead, she gets so annoyed with him that she throws him against the wall.
14 Anna Wasn’t Actually A Wealthy Princess
The Snow Queen, a fairytale by Hans Christian Andersen, is widely considered to be the basis for Disney’s Frozen, but there are quite a few differences between the two stories. In the original fairytale, the protagonist is called Gerda, not Anna, described as a little girl, not a teenager.
And while Anna was brought up among wealth and privilege, Gerda is described as being poor. She also doesn’t have a sister who loses her way, but instead a friend called Kai, who turns mean after he gets a splinter in his eye. But both stories are about using love to get through to someone.
13 Elsa May Have Been A Symbol Of Revenge For Hans Christian Andersen
Even though the character of Elsa doesn’t appear in Andersen’s Snow Queen fairytale, many compare her to the titular character of the Snow Queen (even though she also has much in common with Kai). It is said that Andersen modeled his Snow Queen character after real-life lady Jenny Lind, an opera singer who rejected him.
He was so sore that she didn’t return his love that he decided to turn her into a Snow Queen in his work as revenge. Rude! The Snow Queen in the story takes Kai away from Gerda and essentially holds him captive in her wintery palace.
12 Jasmine Was Originally Less Sweet And More Vain
Disney’s Aladdin was inspired by the French translation of the original Arabic text The One Thousand and One Nights. Much of what we see on screen is similar to translator Antoine Galland’s additions to the original story, except for the fact that Princess Jasmine was a different kind of character.
In the original, she’s not called Jasmine but Badroulbadour. Vanity is also a huge part of her character, whereas the current Jasmine that we know isn’t about the material life at all. According to Bustle, the name Jasmine was chosen because it was deemed more relatable than Bardoulbadour, and it was inspired by actress Jasmine Guy.
11 Just When We Thought Bambi Couldn’t Get Any Sadder
Bambi is often thought to be the saddest Disney tale, and unsurprisingly, the novel on which it’s based isn’t much happier. Bambi, a Life in the Woods, follows the story of a deer growing up in the woods. The setting in the novel is much harsher than Disney’s version and features animals threatening each other and also a mouse losing its life on Bambi’s very first walk into the woods.
The character of The Great/Old Prince teaches Bambi about how humans really aren’t all-powerful, and even shows him the body of the hunter at the end to prove his point.
10 Poor Little Anastasia Didn't Escape The Palace
Anastasia is an imagining of the events following the Revolution in Russia and the deaths of the Imperial family. In the film, whose rights have recently been bought by Disney, Princess Anastasia escapes the fate of the rest of her family and grows up as an orphan, completely unaware of her royal heritage. Then she meets the handsome Dimitri who reunites her with her long lost grandmother.
The story was fueled by rumors that Anastasia actually escaped and the fact that throughout the 20th century, several women came forward claiming to be the princess. But in 2007, it was concluded once and for all that Anastasia did not survive when evidence turned up that proved none of the Romanov children made it out.
9 Pinocchio Was Not A Good Boy
Disney’s Pinocchio is a much simpler and highly edited version of the original tale by Carlo Collodi. The Disney adaptation shows Pinocchio as a good boy at heart who is sometimes tricked into making bad decisions. But the original Pinocchio is much naughtier. He not only skips school, but he steals things and generally behaves badly.
Even his father calls him a “wretched lad.” In the end, he still earns the right to become a real boy, but the journey to get there is a lot longer and more frustrating. And Disney’s sweet Pinocchio is a much more likable character.
8 Tod And Copper Did Not Have Happy Endings In The Original Novel
The Fox and the Hound has some tear-jerking moments as it is, so it’s hard to imagine just how sad the original novel is, set beyond the safe universe of Disney. In the original story, BFFs Tod and Copper don’t get their happy endings. Tod doesn’t fall in love and raise his own family of little foxes, and Copper doesn’t live out his days happily with his companion Chief and his master, Amos Slade.
In the novel, Tod doesn’t make it past the hunt and collapses from exhaustion after being chased. And Copper’s owner becomes completely unhinged and moves into a retirement home—alone.
7 Esmerelda Was Never Saved By Quasimodo
The Victor Hugo novel on which The Hunchback of Notre Dame is based is much more tragic than the Disney adaptation, but in many ways, it also more powerful and beautiful. In both stories, Quasimodo falls in love with Esmerelda. In the cartoon, he saves her from the church.
In the novel, he unintentionally gives her up to the authorities, which leads to her death. Then he goes to her grave and stays with her until he, too, dies. Years later, both the skeletons of Esmerelda and Quasimodo are found, but when they are separated, Quasimodo’s bones turn to dust.
6 Pocahontas And John Smith Weren’t #CoupleGoals
It’s no surprise that Pocahontas was full of historical inaccuracies. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that Pocahontas and John Smith were couple goals. She would have been ten or twelve when she first met Smith, rather than a woman in her late teens or twenties.
Many historians believe that Pocahontas didn’t save Smith’s life by throwing herself across his body—Smith is said to have either misinterpreted her actions or made the whole thing up, considering Pocahontas probably wasn’t even present at that moment. Pocahontas and Smith did not marry—instead, she was forced to marry a man called John Rolfe—before passing away from an illness at about the age of twenty-one.
5 Mulan Never Had A Love Interest
Whether or not there really was a girl called Hua Mulan is debated. The Disney movie is based on a folk story that came from a song dating back to 557 AD called ‘The Ballad of Mulan.’ The song and the movie are similar in that Mulan goes to the army in the place of her elderly father.
In the original tale, she spends around a decade fighting, and when it is time for her to be rewarded for her service by the emperor, she asks for an animal to take home to her family. When she gets home, she meets with her fellow soldiers, who are surprised that she’s actually a woman. The romance with Li Shang was added by Disney.
4 The Queen’s Punishment For The Apple Was Different
Disney’s first feature-length animation was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and the story we see was a much more simplified version of the fairytale by the Brothers Grimm. At the end of the Disney adaptation, the dwarfs return home just as the Queen is leaving the cottage, having given Snow White the fateful apple.
She runs away from them, and they chase her up the mountain in the rain. Then as she’s preparing to roll a huge boulder down at them, a strike of lighting breaks the cliff edge she’s standing on and she falls to her doom. In the original tale, she is punished for her apple trick and is made to dance in heated iron shoes.
3 And She Originally Tried To Take Down Snow White More Than Once
In the Disney version of Snow White, the Queen gets Snow White on her first try with the apple. But in the original tale, she has to put in much more effort to get results. The apple is actually her third attempt at taking down her step-daughter.
First, she uses tight lace around Snow White’s body, which the dwarfs cut off to revive her. Then she puts a venomous comb in Snow White’s hair, but again, the dwarfs come home and find her and remove the comb before it can do any lasting damage. There wasn’t time for all of this in the Disney animation, so all we see is the third apple trick.
2 In The Original Story, Snow White Had Already Passed When The Prince Found Her
When the Queen is devising her plan, she notes that the victim of the apple will have their “eyes close forever in sleeping death” unless they are kissed by their true love. So if a kiss can wake you up from the apple’s curse, we’re assuming it doesn’t really have the power to take a life (the way we understand it, anyway).
But in the original story, it does, and Snow White is already gone when the prince finds her. He falls in love with her anyway (which is somewhat worrying). Snow White only wakes up because the piece of apple dislodges from her throat.
1 It’s Not A Kiss That Woke Aurora Up, But A Birth
A very early version of Sleeping Beauty—dating back to the 1300s—has a very major difference from the Disney version we know today. The story is the same in that three goddesses (or fairies) visit the newborn princess and she is then cursed to fall into a magical sleep after pricking her finger.
However, in the original story, while Aurora (called Zellandine) is sleeping, a knight called Troylus finds her. Long story short, nine months later, the princess gives birth to his baby in her sleep. The baby, trying to feed, then takes out the flax she pricked herself with and breaks the curse.
Sources: Buzzfeed, ABC, All That Is Interesting, Bustle