“And the Moral of the Story is. . . LOVE’: Disney and Traditional Fairy Tales

One of the most influential re-tellers of fairy tales is Walt Disney. Disney and his cartoon movies of classic tales like "Snow White" have become world famous and what many think of when they think about fairy tales. It is true that without Disney interpretations of these fairy tales that many around the world would not know about these classic stories, but one must analyze what Disney does to the traditional stories that makes them so appealing. Walt Disney is a re-teller of these tales so there are elements of his re-tellings that are different from the way these tales were told before his movies

pushed fairy tales into the limelight. One of the biggest differences is that Disney tended to focus on and emphasize the importance of love and romantic relationships in many of his interpretations of traditional fairy tales. While in many traditional versions of stories like "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty" the love aspect is not the central focus, Disney plays up the romance and makes it the central theme of his version of the tales. Looking at the traditional versions of these tales and them comparing them to the Disney versions shows that while Walt Disney became an extremely famous re-teller of fairy tales, his emphasis on love and romance fundamentally changes the interpretation of these classic fairy tales.  This fundamental difference between the classic fairy tales and Walt Disney's re-tellings changes the purpose of the tales on the audience that reads and watches these tales. Through the examination of Disney's re-tellings of traditional fairy tales such as "Snow White," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Beauty and the Beast" it is clear to see that his emphasis on the love aspect of these tales truly changes much of the story.


With a story like a "Snow White," one of the key differences between the classic telling of the tale and Disney's is how Snow White comes to meet the prince in each story. In the classic story collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. In the traditional tale, Snow White "dies" after biting and choking on a bewitched apple given to Snow White by the queen. After being put in a glass coffin, a prince happens upon Snow White and the dwarfs that were "guarding" her corpse. The prince becomes so mesmerized by Snow White's beauty that he wanted to take the coffin with him back to his castle.

While moving the corpse was when the apple becomes dislodged from Snow White's throat and she revives where the prince says he wants to marry her and take her to his castle (Grimm "Snow White" 147-153). This version of the fairy tale has very little-if any-focus on any type of romance story between Snow White and the prince.

The Walt Disney re-telling of "Snow White" shifts the focus to this aspect of love and romance by having Snow White meet and know the prince long before the queen gave Snow White that fateful apple (Disney's Snow White). This changes the love dynamic of this tale because, instead of a random stranger seeing a corpse and "falling in love with her," the prince and Snow White had known each other before this event and there were previous signs of a romantic relationship in Disney's version of the fairy tale. This is one of the main and stark differences between the Grimm's traditional version and Disney's re-telling.

This fully changes parts of the classic German fairy tale by shifting the focus away from the traditional morals of the story to put the emphasis on love and romance. Disney focuses heavily on the relationship between the prince and Snow White-something not even mentioned in the traditional folk tale collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm much less emphasized to the point that the Disney movie takes love to in the film. The Disney film has an underlying romance between the prince and Snow White becomes a dominant theme throughout the movie that is certainly not present in the classic fairy tale. The moral of the classic fairy tale is centered on a girl who is abused by step-mother---the

queen---because Snow white is more beautiful than the queen. Snow White has to go into hiding from her step-mother and it was because of her step-mother that she is in the glass coffin at the end of the tale. There is no romance between Snow White and a prince in the traditional fairy tale and the only real purpose the prince serves in the classic tale is to help Snow White escape her step-mother. This story is fundamentally changed by the emphasis on the love aspect that Disney brings to his re-telling of the tale.

This emphasis on love and romance is also in Disney's re-telling of "Sleeping Beauty." While Disney took the name from the Perrault's version of the classic fairy tale, but the film's content is  largely based off of the Grimm's version called "Brier Rose." In both classic versions of the fairy tale the character is cursed by a witch that Sleeping Beauty will die when she touches a spinning wheel. Another witch makes it to where she would only fall asleep, but Sleeping Beauty still touched the spinning wheel and fell asleep. She is awoken by a prince who comes and kisses her. When she wakes up she has found her "true love" who takes her away to be married and live happily ever after. While in the traditional versions of the story the focus tends to be on the becoming cursed by the witch and touching the spinning wheel, Disney's re-telling of "Sleeping Beauty" once again focuses on the love aspect of the story. In the traditional fairy tale-much like the last tale-has a prince who goes to see the protagonist without actually anything about the person he claims to "love." He goes to the tower where Sleeping Beauty is being held captive and goes in and kisses her, waking her from her curse (Grimm. "Brier Rose". 77-79). Again, the classic story focuses on a theme that is not romantic or  having anything to do with love. The focus of both the classics by Perrault and the Grimm's is the need to not shelter a child from the outside world, especially a growing girl who is coming of age. This theme is shifted because of the emphasis of love in Disney's re-telling of the "Sleeping Beauty." Disney's version has Sleeping Beauty and the prince dancing and singing in the movie as they are              "falling in love" (Disney's Sleeping Beauty). This presents the same sort of contrast between the classic version and Disney's re-telling as with "Snow White." The film versions of these traditional tales, as made by Disney, emphasize a relationship that is not existent in the classic tellings. Once again, this shows that Disney's interpretations of this classic fairy tale fundamentally changes part of the meaning of the fairy tale. Whereas the traditional versions of the fairy center on an adolescent girl who is being shielded from the outside world from her parents. This is not as present in the Disney re-tellings as the emphasis is less on the traditional morals and themes and more on the love aspect and romance in the story.

Another example of how Disney emphasizes love in his re-tellings of classic fairy tales is in "Beauty and the Beast." In this traditional tale, the focus of the story is on a girl who does not want to marry a man because she believes the man is "ugly." She repeatedly is telling Beast that he is a kind a good man, but that she will not marry him because he is a "beast" (de Beaumont 171-181).  The classic version of this fairy tale comes from Madame Leprince de Beaumont, a woman who was telling her tales to people of the upper and middle classes of her time. This was also a time culturally when arranged marriages were common and the moral of this traditional tale is that a girl can do much worse than a man like Beast who may be ugly, but is kind and honors his partner. This can be seen in how Beast treats Beauty in the classic fairy tale and how he gives her all this wealth and freedom and does not force her to marry him, only asks (de Beaumont).  This is a story for girls in royal courts and of families looking to ascend power and wealth through their daughter's message who would soon be put into arranged marriage to say that beauty is not the most important part of a marriage. This traditional theme of the story is lost in the Disney film version of this classic fairy tale.

In the Disney version of this tale once again emphasizes the love aspect of the traditional story and changes how this fairy tale is interpreted. The Disney re-telling changes how both Beauty and Beast act and fundamentally change their character. Beast acts much more like a beast, going into rampaging temper tantrums and being the antithesis of the traditional Beast character from de Beaumont this is also the same for Beauty who is not as judgmental of Beast as the classic Beauty of whom did not want to marry him based on his looks (Disney's Beauty and the Beast). This is once again a fundamental change from the classic version, and is only one of the many differences between Beaumont's and Disney's version of "Beauty and Beast." Once again, the Disney re-telling of this classic fairy tale is changed to put extra emphasis on the romance element of the story. The traditional fairy tale focuses less on the actual romance element of the story because Beauty does not say that she will marry Beast until he almost dies from starvation (de Beaumont 180-181). This shows that the romance element of the "Beauty and the Beast" is not near as important in the classic fairy tale as Walt Disney's re-telling. In Disney's film version of "Beauty and the Beast," there is a definite romance element that changes how many watchers of the re-telling of this classic fairy tale see main elements of the folk tale.