Disney is a household name for wholesome, family friendly movies. They are best known for taking well known fairy tales such as The Little Mermaid and Cinderella and turning them into classic animated films that are still beloved even to this day. There’s only one problem, most of the stories that these movies are based on have much, much darker themes and endings than the happier cartoons would ever suggest.
Of course, it’s difficult to market kids movies that include all sorts of gruesome elements, so they’re omitted for the sake of keeping things as family friend as possible. How can a movie where the moral is to be kind to everyone hold weight if the Princess has a vengeful side, like in the case of Cinderella? The true ending of Mulan would never get past the censors, considering the very adult offer the Emperor makes our hero and the less than happy ending when she finally returns home.
Fairy tales may be a staple of our childhoods, but that doesn’t mean that most of them qualify as horror stories. Maybe one day Disney might decide to cash in on making scary movies from the true origins of their most popular cartoons. Until then, we’ll just have to settle on 20 dark facts that not even diehard fans know about their favorite Princesses. Did you know any of these before now? Were there any that we missed? Comment and let us know!
20 Even Cinderella has a Dark Side
Everyone remembers the beautiful fairy tale about a downtrodden merchant’s daughter finding true love through the help of her fairy godmother and a glass slipper. The evil stepmother and her cruel daughters receive their comeuppance for treating Cinderella badly by watching her enjoy a life of luxury at the side of the handsome Prince, or so the Disney film would have us believe.
In the original tale, Cinderella decides that taking the high road of forgiveness isn’t really her style, at least not without some serious payback first. Instead of watching Cinderella lead a happy life, both step sisters have their eyes blinded by Cinderella’s bird friends. This occurs during the wedding ceremony, when the step sisters attempt to get a taste of Cinderella’s new life by following her up and down the aisle. Each time they follow their step sister, an eye is attacked. Talk about persistent!
19 Extreme Foot Surgery
While we’re on the topic of Cinderella’s step sisters and their apparent gluttony for punishment, we should mention that they’d already endured horrific things in the name of obtaining luxury. In the original story, when the Prince comes to have them try on the slipper, the step mother apparently feels that desperate times call for desperate measures.
She instructs her daughters to remove part of their foot in order to get the slipper to fit properly.
One of the sisters takes off part of her heel, with the other removes her big toe. Somehow this initially works for both of them, until Cinderella’s bird friends sing a catchy song for the Prince about how the slipper is filling up with blood. It’s only then that he notices that something is wrong, which really begs the question of whether or not Cinderella’s Prince is actually legally blind. Aside from, you know, not being able to tell if the woman in front of him looks like his one true love.
18 Don’t Mess With Snow White
Snow White has always been a character in Disney lore filled with kindness and gentleness. Songs about cleaning up and doing it properly with the help of animal friends are images that stick out when thinking about the classic Disney film. We also remember the wicked sorceress, who becomes an ugly hag and sells Snow White a poisoned apple. When Snow White falls into a coma, she only wakes up again after being given a kiss from a passing Prince, who then proceeds to defeat the sorceress.
As it happens, the older versions of the story paint Snow White a touch more vengeful than we remember. During her wedding, Snow is kind enough to invite her step mother, only to have her seized and put into red hot iron shoes. She is then commanded to dance in them, which the step mother does until she collapses to the floor, dead. If this isn’t encouragement to be nice to people, I’m not sure what is.
17 And We Thought Pins and Needles Felt Bad
The Little Mermaid has absolutely the worst time in her tale. As a mermaid who wants to be human, or at least be able to walk on land to go seek out her true love, she makes a deal with a sea witch in order to gain legs. The witch agrees to allow her to walk, as long as Ariel gives up her voice.When the bargain is made, the mermaid finds her way to shore with her new set of legs and begins her journey to find the man who’s life she saved.
Unfortunately, the witch forgot to mention that brand new legs aren’t the most comfortable to use.
In fact, the original story describes it as excruciating pain, like each step is akin to having her legs struck with swords. If I were Ariel, I’d definitely want my money (and voice) back.
16 Flynn Got Off Really Easy
The adorable movie that is Tangled features a devilish rogue by the name of Flynn Rider as Rapunzel’s Prince Charming. Throughout the movie and Rapunzel’s journey to find out who she really is, they get up to all sorts of crazy adventures. In Disney’s version of this story, Rapunzel’s hair has the magical property of healing and restoring youth as long as it’s not cut. This is put to the test near the end of the movie when Flynn is taken out and Rapunzel brings him back through the power of her hair.
Flynn got off easy, however. The story of Rapunzel involves an actual Prince, and when the step mother discovers him visiting Rapunzel by climbing up her hair, she tricks him with horrible consequences. As he is climbing up Rapunzel’s hair for another visit, the step mother is revealed to have cut off the hair and waited for the Prince to get high enough to drop him. While the fall doesn’t end him, he does land in some brambles which blind him, causing him to wander the forest for many years. Ouch!
15 No Happy Endings For The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid, as told through Disney's eyes, is a story filled with wonder, romance, and adventures in trying to be part of the human world. In all Disney fairy tales, the Princess always wins and the villain always gets their comeuppance through humiliation or even death. There's always a "happily ever after" element that makes boys and girls everywhere wish that they too could find that perfect ending.
Unfortunately for Ariel, that perfect ending never comes in her original tale.
In fact, she fails to woo the Prince entirely as he goes on to marry another Princess and, as per her bargain with the witch, she passes at dawn the day after Prince is married. Mermaids don't die like humans do, however. It's explained in the story that because she is a mermaid, she has no soul and turns into sea foam instead.
14 Another Lady For His Collection
Mulan is based off of a legendary warrior and general from one of ancient China's poems, though there is no proof that she ever existed. Nonetheless, her inspiring story was powerful enough to inspire Disney to create one of its most beloved films that fans still love to reference to this day. At the end of the movie, Mulan saves China from the ruthless Shan Yu and his hoard of Mongols, the Emperor presents her with his personal medallion, the sword of the Mongol leader, and a position in his court.
The poem tells it a bit differently. After Mulan saves China, the Emperor offers her a position as one of his many, many mistresses. This, surprisingly, is supposed to be a great honor. Mulan refuses in the end and it’s little wonder as to why.
13 Prince Philip Was Into Some Weird Stuff
The tale of Sleeping Beauty goes that a Princess is cursed by an evil witch to sleep until true love’s kiss, which is provided by the dashing Prince Philip. At least, that’s how the Disney movie explains it. The oldest version of the story involves more or less the same set up, except in this case, the Prince is actually a king passing by the manor house where Sleeping Beauty was being kept.
Deciding to go on an impromptu tour of the mansion, the king finds Beauty and is immediately enamored by her.
He gathers her still-sleeping form up in his arms and takes her to another bedroom, where he then sleeps with her. On top of that horrible act, the king is already married and, as soon as he is finished, he rides away and forgets all about the incident (as you do). Meanwhile, Sleeping Beauty becomes pregnant and gives birth to twins.
12 Shallower Than A Pond In a Desert
Most people believe that the Princess and the Frog is a charming tale about romance found after a Princess kisses a frog and this carried over in the Disney film of the same name. It goes so much differently in the actual story though that it’s almost unrecognizable. The original Princess is a girl playing with her favorite golden ball who drops it in a pond. Not wanting to get her treasured golden dress wet, she calls out for anyone to help her.
The frog answers her and in return for letting him sit with her at dinner, a bedtime story, and a kiss, he would retrieve the toy. The Princess agrees, but later, when the frog comes to collect his rewards, the Princess pretends that she never made such a promise. It’s only because her father encourages her to do as she said she would that she delivers and even then with great reluctance.
11 Pocahontas Has A Terrible Time With The English
Unlike many of the Princesses in the Disney lineup, Pocahontas is actually based on a real person and real history concerning Jamestown, Virginia. The movie involves much contention and violence between the settlers and the natives that did happen, but what it fails to mention is that during the height of the hostilities, Pocahontas was taken captive. At 16, she was taken as a hostage in order to make the local native population cooperate with the settler’s demands.
Sadly, this time as a prisoner was far from pleasant, as it usually is.
Unfortunately though, in this case it was even worse than usual. When Pocahontas was finally allowed to see her family after developing tremendous amounts of anxiety and depression, she eventually confessed that she was attacked repeatedly by her captors.
10 Not-So-Upstanding Guy
In the movie, John Smith is a good, if misguided, English settler. As he builds a bond with Pocahontas after she saves his life, he learns about her culture and grows as a person because of it, doing his best to nurture trust between the two factions. Once again, this is unfortunately not the case when we look at the true story. John Smith did exist, but not only was his life probably never saved by Pocahontas as most stories and Disney says she did, but John was actually a despicable person.
There are many accounts that actually tell of John Smith going from chief to chief demanding supplies at gunpoint. Not cool, man.
9 The Price Of Envy
Many old tales like to involve less kind, beautiful, or intelligent siblings to the mix, whether the protagonist is related by blood, or they are step brothers or sisters.It turns out Disney did away with the fact that Belle had many brothers and sisters in her family, and that her family was actually once quite wealthy. After the family falls on hard times, they are forced to move into provincial France, but other than Belle, her brothers and sisters are unable to let go of the fact that they are no longer rich, putting on ridiculous airs and only hanging out with “people of quality.”
When the Beast allows Belle a break from her captivity and allows her to visit her old family, her sisters attempt to keep her from going back out of jealousy.
They hoped that the riches of the castle might be theirs instead. Once the enchantment is broken and the wedding underway, some residual magic transforms her sisters into statues to watch her good fortune for all time.
8 Getting Chopped
There are always multiple versions of old stories, but most often they keep to the same template. As mentioned before, The Little Mermaid is a sad fairy tale filled with horrible imagery and descriptions. The Disney movie depicts the bargain being fulfilled between Ariel and Ursula to be magical and family friendly, with golden light transforming the mermaid’s tail into legs with little fanfare.
The older version shows this to be a much more terrible process. While it usually goes that the mermaid is given a potion to drink and, does so close to shore, one version describes what occurs to be something out of a horror movie. Her tail splits in half instead of just morphing into limbs and is implied to be a very painful procedure, which should be a surprise to no one.
7 So Not Invited
One of the most iconic Disney movie scenes involves the dark fairy Maleficent arriving to the party celebrating Sleeping Beauty’s birth. The three good fairies there have already blessed the baby with all sorts of wonderful gifts and when Maleficent arrives, feeling miffed about being left out, one of the fairies exclaim that she was not invited. Sleeping Beauty’s parents are also less than amused by her appearance.
This seems to be a pretty standard reaction to having a dark magical being show up to your child’s party, but in Medieval times, a huge celebration like that was an open invitation.
For her to show up, only to be openly rejected in front of the kingdom, was a grave insult. There was a good chance that Maleficent was there to actually bless the baby herself if the King and Queen were more welcoming. Who knows, Sleeping Beauty might have ended up with some amazing superpowers. Guess we’ll never know now.
6 Time Takes Away All Its Students
The driving force behind Mulan going off to war is to save her aging father from being eliminated in battle. After going through all sorts of trouble to disguise herself as a man, saving all of China from the Mongol Army, and rejecting a position of honor from the Emperor himself, Mulan returns to a much less happy home than the movie would have you believe.
In the poem her story is based on, Mulan was away for years. During that time, her father, being already an old man, passed. Mulan only finds this out when she finally returns home, but on top of losing her father, she finds out that her mother has remarried. In the process of trying to save her father, Mulan misses the opportunity to spend her beloved father’s last days at his side.
5 Prince Eric Might Be a Sociopath
We’ve already covered the terrible pain that the Little Mermaid suffers in her original fairy tale, but we’ve yet to talk about the worst part of her whole ordeal. One of the gifts that the witch gives her, aside from legs, is the ability to dance really, really well. When the Prince meets her on the beach, he is amazed by the mermaid’s beauty, but most of all loves to watch her dance. Not only does he have the beautiful maiden dance for him on the beach, he also has her dance for him and his guests at a ball.
All the while every step is horrible pain for our poor Princess, but she is said to endure it without much outward complaint.
This might sound noble, except for the fact that it is heavily implied that the Prince is well aware of the mermaid’s agony. He just decides that he likes watching her move more than he cares about her well being. Maybe Ariel should have been using those legs to leg back into the ocean as fast as she can.
4 Paraded Around For All The Wrong Reasons
Pocahontas had a very rough life to say the least. The Disney cartoon portrays her story as an attempt to bridge the gaps between cultures and bring peace, even if it's just between two lovers. If only that was the case in real life. The real Pocahontas was eventually taken against her will back to England after she converted to Christianity and took on the name Rebecca.
Once she arrived in Britain, she was dressed up in an English dress and presented to the court as “the civilized savage”. This was in no way an attempt to endear the English people to the natives across the ocean, but instead an attempt to bring in more investors to the fledgling Jamestown. Poor Pocahontas never returned home, and after years of being paraded around at salons and parties, died and was buried in England.
3 It Pays To Pay Attention To What You Eat
It’s time to circle back to the story of Sleeping Beauty one last time. If sleeping with an unconscious woman and then forgetting about it while returning to his lawful wife wasn’t already horrifying, the story only gets much, much worse from here. Sleeping Beauty is woken up when her children begin nursing for the first time. At around the same time, the wife of the King who fathered those children finds out about his unfaithfulness.
Clearly, this isn’t about to end well, but it’s difficult to imagine more than perhaps the wife leaving her husband and at worst cursing him, right?
It doesn’t end anywhere near so nicely. The oldest version of this fairy tale has the wife steal the children, then sneak them into the meal that her husband eats that night. Unfortunately, the King gets through a good deal of his dinner before realizing the horrible truth. Perhaps it’s best to avoid reading this story while eating.
2 Flawless Bargain
There’s more than enough evidence that Ariel’s original story is one of the most horrifying ones in the fairy tale line up. There is one last awful thing to add to her story that only puts an awful bow on top of all her misery: In order to change her lower half, the mermaid must sacrifice something from her top half.
In the movie, we watch Ariel's voice be magically taken from her in the form of a ball of glowing light. The imagination of the original storyteller is not so gentle. While the mermaid's voice is taken in the bargain, it is done in the form of giving the witch her actual tongue instead of a mere representation of her voice. All in all, the Little Mermaid should really have taken a class in how to come out on the better end of a deal before signing that contract.
1 No Wedding Bells in Sight
The Princess in The Princess and the Frog is shallow indeed, but this is taken to a whole new level by end of the story. As we explained before, the Princess never had any actual romantic connection in the original story. She only kissed the frog in order to keep her promise and when he reappears as a Prince, there is never any indication that she immediately falls in love with him.
Instead, the story ends very with Princess only happy that she has someone to play with, and someone to fetch her ball should she lose it again.
There is no mention of them growing up to marry, no indication of a love story. The Princess and the Prince are just playmates, and it is implied that the Princess never really changed her shallow ways.