The Disney Corporation has created many of their classic movies

Amy Bastien
15 May 2007
English 131 A1
Disney’s Grimm Tales
The Disney Corporation has created many of their classic movies through the use of
previous ideas and plotlines told by other storytellers. Some of Disney’s most popular animated
films including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Cinderella were taken from the Grimm
Brothers creative oral narrations. Critics of Walt Disney have taken two stances; some believe
that the newer versions have become too kid friendly, completely destroying the original Grimm
tales, while others find the Disney versions to be precisely what a fairytale is supposed to be
about. There is however a common ground between these stances. Walt Disney’s versions of
the Grimm stories still maintain the lessons and morals that were presented in the original
fairytales; however, they do not contain the violence, mutilation and graphic scenes so common
in the old fairytales. Disney’s versions of the Grimm Brothers’ fairytales are more suitable for
today’s audience of children than the original German stories. Disney has sought to instill
American values of family, friendship and ethics into today’s youth through the morals and
lessons learned by some of Disney’s famous characters such as Snow White and Cinderella;
prime examples of kind and good young women. By taking the basic lessons from the Grimm
tales, Disney modified these stories to fit his intended audience using animation, fun music and
likable characters.
When Walt Disney decided to make a full-length animated film, he had to be conscious
of his audience. With a large fan base of young children, Disney needed to create a storyline that
would both appeal to children as well as be permitted by parents for their children to view. As
Kay Stone wrote in her essay Three Transformations of Snow White, “Children’s literature critics
need to acknowledge that Disney, just like any other artist, had the right to adjust written and
oral stories to the demands of his medium and audience” (55). When switching from a written or
oral format to a film format, changes must be made. In Disney’s case, the changes were made in
an effort to create a ninety minute film that would attract a younger audience and still contain
good morals and lessons. Children can be easily swayed by the images, stimuli and people
around them. This makes it very important for parents to be aware of the movies their children
are viewing. A fitting plot line with a conflict that “pits good and innocence against jealousy and
evil,” is important when deciding what movie to set before a child (Inge). What parent would
not want their child to learn the difference between right and wrong, good and evil? Lessons
about being kind, courteous, hard-working, obedient and persistent run throughout Disney
movies. Moral characters triumph in the end, overcoming the evil workings of their wicked
counterparts; displaying that good does prevail in the end.
While the original Brothers Grimm tales did include lessons, they were not aimed at
children until after they became successful with the older audience (Thomas). Their stories were
told in an effort to keep German oral traditions alive in a time when Germany, “a messy
patchwork of fiefdoms and principalities, had been overrun by the French under Napoleon”
(Thomas). With the new rulers, German customs and beliefs were trampled upon and the Grimm
Brothers saw it as their duty to keep the country’s traditional stories alive. Through vast
interviewing of locals, the brothers compiled hundreds of stories and fairy tales. They took the
collected stories and made them into tales that were more fitting for their present day time, as
well as their local issues. Much like the Grimm Brothers, Disney formatted his tales to fit his
American audience and the family and social issues going on in the late 1930s through 1950s.
In order for Disney to market his movies to children, various aspects of the Grimm tales
were edited in order to cut back on violence. In the original German stories, violence was widely
used to teach lessons and punish wrong doers. In the Grimm version of Snow White and the
Seven Dwarfs, the evil stepmother charges the Huntsman with the duty of taking Snow White
into the forest and killing her, bringing back her lungs and liver as proof of her death. The
Huntsman not wanting to kill the young girl releases her in the forest, believing she will be killed
by the wildlife anyway. In the Disney version, the Huntsmen is ordered to bring back the heart
of Snow White, a much more symbolic and easily understood concept for a younger audience, as
well as less graphic. The Hunter also appears to be less cold in the movie because he believes
Snow White to be good and his conscious forces him to let her go (Inge). Another example of
toned down violence would be the death of the step mom. In the original tale, the stepmother is
forced to dance in red-hot iron shoes until she collapses and dies as punishment for her evil
plotting. In the animated film, the stepmother is killed when she is struck by a bolt of lightening.
This approach takes away the vengeful revenge, placing the elements at fault for the death of this
wrongdoer. While Snow White does not take out her revenge on her step mom, the kind and
good Snow White is still seen to triumph at the end of the tale.
In the original Cinderella, when the Prince brings the glass slipper to the stepsisters to try
on, the stepmother encourages them to use mutilation to make the slipper fit. One of the sisters
resorts to sawing off her big toe while the other cuts of her heel in an effort to make the shoe
slide on. Obviously Disney could not animate this gruesome scene and instead decided to show
the struggle of the sisters attempting to jam the shoe onto their large feet to no avail. In addition,
at the end of the original story, crows gouge out the step sisters’ eyes as repayment for the
cruelties they caused Cinderella. In the Disney movie, the sisters are seen weeping at the end of
the film as Cinderella and Prince Charming ride off in a beautiful wedding carriage. One movie
critic, Jennifer Makowsky, finds this approach to be detrimental to the original tales. “By the
time Walt Disney got hold of the stories and interpreted them into his onscreen classics,
everything was scrubbed with sugar and rolled in fairy dust” (Makowsky). While the stories
were of course watered down in the violence department to make them suitable for children, this
does not take away from the seriousness of the lessons. By cutting out the excessive violence so
prominent in the Grimm tales, Disney was able to create a plotline that focused less on violence
and more on the characters themselves; their personalities, strengths and weaknesses creating
characters that young children can relate to as well as look up to. Violence does not become a
main theme in the stories; instead, traits such as good behavior and obedience are focused on.
While the Grimm Brothers had lessons and manners incorporated into their tales, there
were oftentimes scary themes and ideas used to convey these lessons. A Stepmother attempting
to murder her stepdaughter, a hunter on a death mission, dark and foreboding forests among
other terrifying images that could bring nightmares to young children are ever present in the
original fairy tales. Disney sought to take the essence of these stories and put his own Disney
spin on them. Fun stories filled with musical scores, bright animation and humorous scenes with
likeable characters are a trademark of the Disney genre of movies.
Catchy songs about dreams, love, hard work and relationships accompany the animated
scenes drawing children into the stories. These songs make the viewing of each film fun and at
the same time encourage children to follow their dreams, work hard at what ever they are setting
out to accomplish and cherish and enjoy their friends and loved ones. The seven dwarfs sang of
going off to work, Snow White sang of happily cleaning up the dwarfs’ cottage while whistling,
Cinderella sings “A dream is wish your heart makes” and both of these heroines sing of their
wonderful visions of love. This is a different approach to telling a fairytale. The Grimms
Brothers did not include songs into their stories, the tales were simply written down on paper. In
fact, the brothers did not even want illustrations in their original volumes of tales (Thomas).
They were concerned mainly with spreading the oral traditions and not with the visual aspects.
Disney of course needed to capture and maintain the attention of his audience for approximately
ninety minutes. Bright animation and cheery songs were the first step.
Disney also sought to give the characters more personality so that the characters could be
more relatable to small children. The Grimm tales focused mostly on the lessons to be learned
and generally did not spend too much time introducing the main characters (Thomas). A child
will look up to a character that they can relate to; one who is entertaining to watch as well as
possesses characteristics that are admirable. Disney instilled personality into each of his
characters whether they were a main character or a small part. In Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs, he created an individual entity for each of the dwarfs. As each of their names suggests,
Sleepy, Sneezy, Happy, Grumpy, Doc, Bashful and Dopey all represent different temperaments
or qualities. This exposes the children to all different sorts of personalities that maybe the
children themselves have in common or possibly somebody they know does. The forest animals
are all friendly and helpful; guiding Snow White to the dwarfs’ cottage as well as assisting her in
cleaning the place up. In Cinderella, Disney gave personalities to the birds, the mice, and the
household pets as well as Cinderella and her step family. In the making of Cinderella’s dress,
the birds and mice come together to piece together and stitch her dress in a joint effort. The mice
Jaq and Gus are not only given distinct personalities but they are given crucial roles in
outsmarting the mean step sisters as well. They are in charge of finding the certain materials to
be used for Cinderella’s dress. Perhaps their efforts, as well as the other animal’s efforts, can be
thought of as a way to show children that everyone can contribute and help out.
It is safe to say that Disney has created characters that have made impressions on
children. Halloween is the perfect excuse for little girls to dress up like Snow White and
Cinderella and what little boy hasn’t pretended to be a dashing prince, coming to the rescue of a
fair maiden. Children can look up to characters such as these and identify with them. The
lessons and morals that Disney has woven into each of his stories is an encouragement to
children to follow the examples placed before them. Although the stories do not follow the
Grimm Brothers’ versions exactly, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella are fine
examples of taking an original piece and altering it to fit the time and situation at hand. Less
violence, more in-depth characters, lively animation and catchy songs run through the Disneyfied
fairytales. With a limited amount of time, an audience of children and animation as his vessel,
Disney took the important lessons from the original tales and made them more fitting for his
Works Cited
Inge, M. Thomas. “Art, adaptation, and ideology: Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs.” Journal of Popular Film and Television Fall, 2004: 132-42.
O’Neil, Thomas. “Guardians of the Fairy Tale: The Brothers Grimm.” National Geographic.
1999. National Geographic Society. 14 May 2007
Stone, Kay. “Three Transformations of SnowWhite.” The Brothers Grimm and Folktale. Ed.
James M. McGlathery. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988. 52-65.
Makowsky, Jennifer. "THE BOX OFFICE BELLETRIST: Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who's the
Dullest of Them All?" Pop Matters. 14 Sept. 2005. 10 May 2007
This essay offers a focused argument about the changes made by Disney to the original Grimm
stories, basing the analysis in a shift of audience. The reasons and evidence provided to support
the claim are quite convincing. Given the importance of audience to this paper, it would help
immensely to set up for the reader an account of who the Disney audience was at the time of the
first releases, perhaps from the point of view of Disney or just a broader historical account.
An example of audience and/or family issues that the essay could foreground could be some kind
of WWII and post-WWII context – a world in flux, moving out of the violence of a world war
and into the Cold War. Going into too much detail with this might ask you to complicate the
entire argument and to expand the scope of the paper beyond its means, so try to keep it accurate,
well supported, and short.
An interesting question to explore that would conjoin the issues of shifts in the amount of
violence in the stories versus the films and the use of the stories for the potential of a moral
lesson is, What is the relationship between violence – the lack vs. the use of it – and the morals
to be gleaned from the incarnations of the stories? This turns out to be the question or problem
being explored in the essay, and could be foregrounded as such in the introduction. Indeed,
addressing this could provide the argumentative thrust that the essay needs in its claim.