Growing up, we are exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of fairy tales. Whether you used them to learn how to read, or had the stories read to you by a loved one or teacher, we’ve all had the same classic stories ingrained in our heads since we were old enough to understand the premise of “good vs evil.” If you were like me, you may have assumed for years that Walt Disney, the most famous peddler of fairy tales, had come up with all or most of these stories on his own. Well, Disney was certainly a creative genius in his own right, but most of these beloved stories were actually tales that had been collected and published by the Grimm Brothers, who were intent on transcribing into written word the orally passed down fairy tales of their culture.
Hot on the heels of the upcoming release of Maleficent, which is based on classic Grimm fairy tale Little Briar-Rose (better known as Sleeping Beauty), let’s take a look at some of the other Grimm classics that you’ve surely seen reinterpreted a million different ways.
As stated above, this story is better known as Sleeping Beauty thanks to Disney’s 1959 animated film. The exact origin of the story is questionable, but it was first published in 1697 by French author Charles Perrault as La Belle au Bois Dormant (or, The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood). The Grimm Brothers adapted the fairy tale in 1812, following a similar plot to Perrault’s story.
It’s worth noting that in the Grimm’s version Maleficent is a very minor character; in fact, she doesn’t even have a name and only appears once to curse little Briar-Rose as a retaliation for not being invited to the feast celebrating her birth. Disney’s adaptation followed more closely with Perrault’s tale, which included a wicked stepmother who tries to eat Sleeping Beauty and her children. It can be inferred that this was the stepmother character who was adapted into Maleficent for the film.
In the YA book world, Spindle’s Endby Robin McKinley is the most well known. This version is fairly similar to Disney’s original plot, but with some great additions. For instance, Rosie does not turn into the pretty, bland and docile princess of the Disney film; instead, she hates her golden hair, prefers leather breeches to dresses, and saves her entire village with zero help from the prince.
This classic fairy tale was changed little in Disney’s version. The original has all the parts we’re familiar with: the magic mirror, the wicked stepmother, the seven dwarfs, the huntsman, the poisoned apple, and the glass coffin. The only notable differences between the Grimm version and the Disney version are that in the Grimm’s tale, the Queen wants Snow White’s liver and lungs instead of her heart, the dwarfs aren’t named, the Queen attempts to kill Snow White multiple times, and in the end the Queen is forced to wear a pair of red hot iron shoes and dance until she drops dead as punishment.
Obviously the 1937 film by Disney didn’t include the more gruesome parts, but it does follow the original plot very closely (likely because it was Disney’s first attempt at a feature length animated fairy tale). Since then, there have been numerous films made from this fairy tale. The most accurate to the story is 1997’s Snow White: A Tale of Terror. The most recent interpretation is Snow White and the Huntsman. While the film is interestingly enough and worth taking the time to watch online or on demand, it’s not at all close to the original story. A more lighthearted take on the story is 2012’s Mirror Mirroror 2007’s teen comedy Sydney White where Amanda Bynes plays a freshman in college who’s struggling to fit into sorority, and makes friends with seven other outcasts who help her fight against the reigning Queen of the campus.
A novel version of Snow White and the Huntsman was created after the film, but for something different readers might be interested in Snow by Tracy Lynn. The setting is changed from fantasy to a corner of Wales, and the Victorian era change, as well as a shift from “magic” to scientifically explained occurrences and experiments makes for an interesting and modern rendition of Snow White’s tale.
The earliest known version of Cinderella is the story of Rhodopis from ancient Greece. In that story, Rhodopis is a Greek slave who marries the King of Egypt. As with Sleeping Beauty,this story was also adapted by Charles Perrault in 1697. He added a fairy godmother, a magical pumpkin, and glass slippers. The Grimm’s version was published in the 19th century and features some familiar elements as well, including the wicked step sisters and stepmother, and helpful animals (in the form of doves sent to her by her deceased mother). The most significant differences are that Cinderella receives help from a magical tree at the grave of her mother (where the doves live), and her slippers were gold, not glass. In a typically dark twist, the step sisters have their eyes gouged out by the doves at Cinderella’s wedding as their punishment.
The first film adaptation of this story came by the hand of Georges Méliès Cinderella, which was released in 1899. Of course, the most notable retelling arrived in 1950 with Disney’s version of Cinderella. Following closely behind in popularity is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which was both a stage production and produced for television three times. The various TV versions have included the likes of actresses Julie Andrews, Ginger Rogers, Celeste Holm, and, most recently, Whitney Houston, Brandy, Whoopi Goldberg, and Bernadette Peters. Disney is set to release yet another live-version in March, 2015.
Ella Enchanted(which was also made into an excellent film starring Anne Hathaway) is an exemplary novel version of Cinderella, except in this story, Ella is only obedient because she’s enchanted to do so. Internally, she’s rebellious, independent, and smart —something all of the original princesses should have a chance to become. Ella takes matters into her own hands to un-curse herself, and ends up saving her prince along the way!
As you can see, Hollywood (and Disney) have had a long time infatuation with the wonderfully crafted stories of the Grimm Brothers and their sources. Despite the infamously dark tone of the original stories, the adaptations of their basic themes have proved to be timeless stories that have been told, and retold to children and young adults for ages and will, no doubt, continue to be fairy tale classics for years to come.
What are some of your favorite fairy tale movies?