Classic fairy tales seem to be a universally well loved thing. Disney continuously remakes old versions, countless books are written as retellings of the familiar stories, and even the fall TV season has two series coming out based on fairy tales, Grimm and Once Upon a Time.
Watching Tangled this weekend, I got to thinking about the classic tales, the ones that every girl is supposed to love. You know, stories of the girl who finds her prince. I have to admit, growing up in an era of the Disney versions being the more well known ones, I don’t really love all those stories.
So, what follows is my breakdown of the major tales, in their original states as well as their Disney versions, the good and the bad.
[If you have not watched/read these, SPOILERS follow]
The Disney version is a bit dull for me. Fairy godmother, talking mice (ok, the mice I like), and a glass slipper. Eventually, Cinderella’s diminutive feet win her a prince, and all is well. Nice story, but not terribly exciting. She sings about waiting for her prince to come and eventually he does. Meh.
The Grimm version is a more interesting tale. Cinderella was a good hardworking girl in difficult circumstances. She didn’t use those circumstances to excuse treating her stepfamily with anything but respect, and at a certain point, she manages to catch the eye of the prince.
She’s no hussy, though. She attends the ball three different times, never breaking her curfew once. The only reason he manages to get her shoe the last time she runs off? He spreads pitch on the stairs and she sticks to it.
The stepsisters try everything to fit into the shoe, including cutting off a heel and toe. They almost succeed until the prince, alerted by doves that live in the tree planted at her mother’s grave, notices the blood dripping from the shoe. The prince finally finds the right girl and marries her.
Oh, and the stepsisters get their eyes pecked out at the wedding and are blinded for life.
Good hardworking girl gets to live in the palace with a handsome prince, and her mean stepsisters get their comeuppance.
What did I learn?
Work hard, keep your curfew, and don’t exact revenge on the people who mistreat you. In the end, it will work out for the best. And maybe the mean folks will get poked in the eye. Also, trying to surgically enhance yourself to suit someone else’s idea of perfect is not a good idea.
The Little Mermaid
I hate the Disney version of this tale. Don’t get me wrong, I sang along with that little crazy crustacean, and watching sea creatures play steel drums was good times. But the actual story?
Young girl wants more than the enchanted life she lives under the sea. Despite her father’s warnings, she disobeys so she can go after the hot prince and see all that the outside world has to offer. When her plans don’t work out, Daddy has to bail her out, causing him great sadness and pain. In the end, it all works out. She gets her prince, Daddy goes back to being ruler of the seas, and the singing crustacean isn’t anyone’s dinner.
What don’t I like about that story? The little mermaid was selfish. Sure, Dad might have been a little protective, but what good parent isn’t? She completely ignores him and every other advice giver that tells her what she doesn’t want to hear. In the end, there is no real consequence for her selfish disobedience. As a matter of fact, she gets everything she wanted.
So, do whatever you want, with no regard for everyone around you and in the end you’ll be rewarded.
Ehrm, no thanks.
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale is similar except the prince marries someone else. And she turns into sea foam. Not the happy ending you were hoping for, but a much better message.
Selfish girls don’t get the guy and turn into sea foam.
Snow White/Sleeping Beauty
I have no real love for either of these stories. Neither the old stories nor the retelling interest me much. Snow White, honestly, seems a bit daft. I mean, how many times do you have to almost die from accepting free gifts from strangers before you learn? If it weren’t for her stunning good looks, she’d still be sitting somewhere in a glass coffin. And sleeping beauty just had to go find the one spindle in the kingdom. Sheesh.
Helpless dumb girls will still get the hot rich guy.
What a lousy thing to learn as a little girl.
Beauty and the Beast
The first Disney princess I could ever get behind was Belle. She loved to read. She wasn’t impressed by the muscle bound Gaston who attempted to marry her. She adored her quirky old Dad and would do anything to protect him, whether that meant being unpopular with the townspeople or agreeing to live with a scary beast. And she had brown hair.
She doesn’t hate the beast because he’s scary (and quite possibly smelly). Instead, she gets to know him and sees he is a kind and caring being, she cares for him and even fights to save him.
The only part about this tale I didn’t like was the prince he turned into. Looked like a young Michael Bolton. What was that about?
The one layer the Beaumont version had that I thought was a nice touch was Belle’s family of sisters. Belle was the youngest of three girls. All three girls were beautiful, but Belle got her name for her being pure of heart. Her sisters convince Belle to break her promise to return to the Beast when he allows her to visit her family. They pretend to miss her, complete with fake crying brought on by cutting onions, hoping that the Beast will kill her for breaking her promise so they can take over her life of living in his castle and enjoying fine things.
In the end, Belle sees that the Beast is dying of a broken heart through the magic mirror he gave her and rushes back to save him. Her tears turn him into a prince and she lives happily ever after.
Both versions are winners. Belle was different because she was smart and good. Being smart and good didn’t win her popularity, but she never felt the need to change those things. In the end, she finds someone she loves for who he is and she is loved for all the things that made her unpopular.
Girls, it is a good thing to be intelligent and kind-hearted. Being popular isn’t the most important thing, and true love doesn’t ask you to change who you are.
This is the first time Disney may have improved on the original story.
The original tale involves an enchantress that requests a couple’s firstborn in exchange for sparing the father’s life when she finds him stealing vegetables from her garden. She raises the child as her own. Fiercely overprotective of the daughter she loves, she locks her in a tower, using her long hair as the only way in or out. Eventually, a prince is drawn to the sounds of Rapunzel singing, figures out the hair trick, and she starts letting her hair down for him.
In several of the early versions, her plans to run off with the prince are discovered when her dress begins to fit too snug (ahem). The enchantress chops off her hair and banishes her to the wilderness. The prince, upon finding his love gone, falls out of the tower into thorns, blinding him. Eventually his wandering about blindly leads him to that same voice that once sent him climbing a golden braid. Rapunzel cries into his eyes and “poof” no more blindness.
I always felt a little sorry for the enchantress. I mean, yeah, it’s not cool to lock your kid in a tower. But she did mean well. She really did love her daughter and wanted to protect her.
In Tangled, the old woman is not an enchantress, but a vain old woman who discovers a magical flower that keeps her young when she sings to it. The flower is found and used to save the pregnant queen, who gives birth to Rapunzel. The healing and youth bestowing power of the flower is now in the princess’ hair, so cranky old lady steals her and keeps her in a tower as her own. She pretends to love Rapunzel, but in reality, she just loves her hair.
Knowing the old lady doesn’t truly love her daughter makes me glad she leaves the tower.
Rapunzel’s reasons for sneaking out of the tower are simple. She’s not sneaking off to be with some prince she just met, in fact, there is no prince in this story. She just wants to see the floating lights.
In the end, she sacrifices her freedom to save the boy she’s fallen in love with. (Don’t worry, it works out.)
Rapunzel didn’t follow her dreams at the detriment of others. As a matter of fact, she was ready to give up everything for someone else.
Put those you love ahead of your own desires, and they will do the same for you.
What are your favorite fairy tales? Do you prefer the old versions over the Disney ones? Should there always be consequences for a character’s actions, or do you prefer the happy ending regardless?