Disney films are meant to appeal to our inner child (or actual child). They use talking animals, catchy songs, and bright colors to transport us to a place of fantasy, fun, and magic. We all have at least one Disney film that we keep coming back to for comfort, and we probably still watch the new ones as they come into theatres. (Because let’s be honest, they’re still pretty great.) However, the lighthearted nature of Disney movies actually belies the much darker truth behind the fairy tales, stories, plays, and myths that inspired the films. We know that fairy tales can have darker, bloodier endings, but what about the Disney characters that began from these myths? Surely those aren’t as disturbing? Surely those aren’t so different from the films we know and love?
Disney disregarded the creepy that came with their source material in the pursuit of family-friendly fun and entertainment. But the 15 films mentioned below harbor much darker secrets. Be warned: you might never look at your favorite Disney films the same way ever again!
Frozen is very loosely adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen story, The Snow Queen. However, in the original story, there is no spunky kid sister named Princess Anna who tries to retrieve her sister, Queen Elsa. Instead, there is little Gerda. Gerda is on a mission to find her best friend Kai, who was kidnapped by the Snow Queen after he had a piece of a troll’s ice mirror embedded into his heart and his eye. Because of this, it transformed him into someone who was cold, cruel, and could no longer see or appreciate beauty.
Disney got some of the elements right, in that Gerda is helped by a reindeer and some magical witch-like creatures, but there’s no funny snowman, no singing, and no Kristoff. However, even though this story began a bit creepy, it ends happily with Gerda kissing Kai and using the “true love’s kiss” to melt the ice inside him.
14 Beauty And The Beast
Beauty and the Beast is such a beloved Disney film that it recently got the live-action treatment, but that doesn’t mean that its origins are any less weird. In the original book, written by Gabriella-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, the biggest plot difference here is that Belle is not an only child; she has two sisters who were jealous of her.
Since her family is of peasant stock, her sisters are resentful of Belle’s luxurious new life with the Beast and plot to sabotage her return to him in hopes that she’ll get in trouble with her furry beau and he’ll punish her–by eating her! And we thought the Kardashian sisters were catty!
Then, instead of angry villagers attempting to attack him, Belle returns to the castle to find him dying of a broken heart. She cries over him, he transforms, and they live happily ever after. No singing furniture, though.
13 The Princess And The Frog
The first one on our list from the Brothers Grimm, the original fairy tale of The Princess and the Frog is called “The Frog Prince” and features a princess who is a lot more spoiled and rude than Tiana ever was. To be fair, the frog-ified prince is a pretty big creep, and spends much of his time trying to get close to the princess in order for her to kiss him to change him back (like crawling onto her pillow while she sleeps and attempting to eat off her plate). In some versions of the story, which is said to have originated in Germany, the frog has his head cut off and is slammed against the wall by the princess, who is disgusted by him! For whatever reason, these efforts work just as well as true love’s kiss in releasing the prince from his froggy shell, and they live happily ever after...
Pinocchio is already kind of a dark and twisted story, because puppets coming to life and misbehaving children being transformed into donkeys for a laugh don’t exactly spell “family fun.” But the actual Italian story is much worse. In Carlo Collodi’s original novel written in 1881, the moral compass of Jiminy Cricket gets smashed with a mallet the first time he tries to advise Pinocchio to behave! Geppetto also gets imprisoned because Pinocchio runs away and his creator is suspected of mistreatment. These guys can’t catch a break! Later on, Pinocchio gets hung from a tree, but doesn’t die. If you thought the puppet in the animated classic was annoying, you need to check out The Adventures of Pinocchio, because that puppet is even more of a headache!
Mulan is a kicka*s fighter who knows her way around an army in the Disney retelling of the famous story, Mulan. But the Mulan of Chinese myth was not a princess, nor was she of royal blood (and she doesn't even marry into royalty). In the myth, Hua Mulan (or Fa Mulan, depending on your sources) has a couple of different fates. In one version, no one ever finds out that she is a girl. In another–more sinister–version, they do discover her true identity, and instead of being sent away, she is made to be a concubine; meaning her feet were bound in the traditional Chinese fashion, making her unable to walk, and she essentially becomes a sex slave to the men of the army. More of an R-rated story for sure, so you can see why Disney avoided telling us this one!
Another Disney film with its roots in history, Disney essentially upended the truth about Pocahontas and replaced it with a statuesque maiden and Mel Gibson as John Smith. In reality, though, Pocahontas was closer to 11 years old at the time she met Smith, who was a five-foot-tall redheaded dude and the two barely knew each other. Her father was still a jerk like in the film and sold her as a slave wife at 17 years old to John Rolfe (from the second movie) for a copper pot...
After being taken to London and presented at court as propaganda for the support of colonization, Pocahontas soon died at 21 years old. No hummingbird, no raccoon, no Mother Willow, and no brave rescue of Smith. Although he was apparently an egotistical man who liked to lie, which is how the story started!
9 The Hunchback Of Notre Dame
The original Hunchback of Notre Dame was written by Victor Hugo, who was also the author of Les Miserables, so you can imagine what a picnic this story is going to be. First, Frollo and Phoebus have their way with the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda, and then Frollo has her hanged. Since he’s too busy laughing during the hanging, he doesn’t notice Quasimodo coming up behind him, who then pushes him to his death from the rooftop. Later, Quasimodo visits his lady love at her resting place in a pauper’s graveyard, crawls in with her corpse, and stays there, starving to death. A year and a half later, someone opens the tomb to see their skeletons intertwined. When they tried to move them, they crumbled into dust.
Oh, and stupid Phoebus manages to marry his wealthy wife (whom he’d been cheating on) and gets away with everything!
8 Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
Here we have another entry from the Brothers Grimm. In the original fairy tale, the Evil Queen doesn’t put all her apples in one basket. Instead, she orders a huntsman to kill Snow White, and wants her lungs and liver returned as proof of having done the deed. When the Evil Queen learns that he didn’t kill her, she disguises herself as an old woman and tries to sell Snow White laces for her corset. Once the laces were around Snow, she laced her up so tightly that she lost consciousness. It wasn't until that plan failed that she resorted to the poison apple.
After Snow White bites the apple and falls into a deep sleep and is placed in a coffin, the prince rescues her and decides to marry her (without even speaking to her first). Then, at the wedding, the Evil Queen is forced to wear hot iron shoes and dance until she is dead, because death at a wedding is a symbol of good luck, didn’t you know?
Hercules is based on Greek myth, and anyone who knows Greek myths will tell you that most are pretty messed up and creepy. In this myth, Hercules is not the son of a lovingly married couple, but is the bastard of Zeus and a mortal, Alcmene (who was tricked into getting into bed with him). As a child, Hercules kills his music teacher, and while he does marry Megara later, he goes insane and kills all their children after she leaves him! Following that, he was tricked by his second wife into putting on a poison cape that kills him, but is later revived by the Gods who give him a kidnapped little girl to be his third wife...(WTF?).
Oh, and he had countless male lovers, too. Sure, it’s a bloody myth that ends in a lot of death, but Greece loves it—so much so, they refused the Disney film to be shown in their country!
6 Peter Pan
The idea of a man-boy trying to live forever is creepy on its own, but the J.M. Barrie story of Peter Pan is a lot more messed up than Disney would have you believe. In the play, Peter kills the Lost Boys as they grow up, because he can’t have them getting too old! The play says, “The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out.” Holy crap!
There’s also the belief that Peter Pan was a sociopath who used lies and manipulation to trap people in Neverland, since he didn’t want to leave it himself. The narrator of the original play stated that Peter simply couldn’t hack it in the real world!
Again, this film comes from the Brothers Grimm's fairy tale Rapunzel, which is much darker. In the original story, the witch snatches Rapunzel as punishment for her father’s thievery in her garden. She keeps Rapunzel locked high in a tower with only a single window, from which Rapunzel lets down her hair to allow the witch to climb up.
Like a similar fairy tale turned into a Disney film, a prince arrives, knocks up Rapunzel with twins, and vanishes. When the witch realizes what Rapunzel has been doing, she cuts off her hair and banishes her from the tower. When the prince comes to check on his baby mama and kiddos, he is greeted by the witch, who pushes him from the tower, where his eyes are gouged out by thorns. Rapunzel and the prince eventually meet at the end and her tears restore his blindness. Which, of course, results in a happily ever after. Sort of.
4 Sleeping Beauty
There was already an ick factor involved with a dude coming to rescue a princess, kissing her awake, and marrying her after knowing her for less than two seconds. But the story upon which this Disney film is based, takes on a much more disturbing tone. Written in 1634 by Giambattista Basile, the story actually features a princess named Talia who is stumbled upon by a married king (not a prince). The king doesn’t try to wake her, but rapes her instead! He leaves, forgetting all about her, and she doesn’t wake up until nine months later, when she gives birth to twins! She has no idea what has happened to her until the king decides to waltz back into her life and tells her what he did. His jealous wife realizes what he’s done and tries to get him to eat his new babies... But she’s thrown into a fire and the king marries Talia (aka Sleeping Beauty) instead.
In the Brothers Grimm version of the story, Cinderella (know as Aschenputtel) does manage to get her happily ever after (although why she’d want to be with a dude who doesn’t remember her face the next morning is beyond us). But it doesn't come without some other characters paying a bloody price.
When the prince comes calling at Cinderella’s house, her stepsisters try to be the ones who fit into the glass slipper–by cutting off parts of their foot! One stepsister hacks off her big toe while the other chops off her heel, but neither fool the prince, as the shoe fills with blood. As punishment for their treatment of her, Cinderella’s faithful birds peck out the stepsisters’ eyes and Cinderella herself slams the lid of a trunk on her stepmother’s neck, killing her. Yeah, we’re gonna guess that that ending didn’t fit in with Disney’s way of doing things.
2 The Little Mermaid
Rather than simply wish to be human in order to snag a prince, the Little Mermaid in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale wants to be human because when mermaids die, they turn to sea foam and cease to exist since they don’t have souls. While she does get legs, every step she takes feels like knives stabbing her, and even though she saves the prince, he fails to recognize her in her human form. He eventually falls in love with another woman and marries her, instead! The Little Mermaid is then faced with a choice: kill him and become a mermaid again or die. Her mer-sisters hand her a knife to do the deed, but she sees her beloved (who she’s only known for a day) and can’t bear to do so, so she throws herself into the water, where she dies, turning into sea foam. No Jamaican crab or dinglehoppers, sorry!
1 The Fox And The Hound
Are you sure you’re ready for this one? It’s a doozy! In the original novel by Daniel P. Mannix, Tod (the fox) is raised by a nice hunting family, and things go great until the family decides to return him to the wild. Well, with all of his hunting experience, Tod has gotten pretty cocky, and so he taunts the other hunting dogs. One of them (Copper) breaks loose and chases Tod for so long that Tod dies of exhaustion! Are you freaking kidding us?!
Oh, and if that part didn’t scar you, it gets even worse: Copper’s owner is supposed to go into a retirement home and can’t take his beloved pup with him, so he decided to shoot him! It's pretty much the worst ending of any story ever, right? BRB, crying forever.