“And the Moral of the Story is. . . LOVE’:

disney-characters

Ive come across some amazing writers over the course of my life. From my parents, to teachers, friends and even acquaintances. Recently I met Sarah D. a great closet writer who is letting me share something she wrote a couple years backs. Strangely enough I met Sarah when I experienced a leak in my house and needed to call a restoration company to come help stop the water damage and check for mold. While she was at my house we had a great conversation and quickly began talking about writing after she saw my papers scattered throughout the house.

Like I mentioned, it turned out Sarah is a writer as well, and when she is not slaying water, fire and mold, she is writing great literary interpretations, and reading. I asked her if I could share a one of her pieces on my site and she graciously accepted. Below is her piece, and you can get in contact with her by visiting her business page at phoenixwaterdamage.org.

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.

Now that there is a stronger understanding of how Walt Disney re-told traditional fairy tales  with the major emphasis on love in his interpretation of these tales. This emphasis on romance-which is not a part of any of these classic fairy tales-fundamentally changes the fairy tales by altering the major theme and morals of these classic tales and shifting the focus to a love story that was not originally part of these older and more classic versions of these stories. The one thing that is a fact though is that even though the Disney versions of the traditional fairy tales such as “Snow White” have been altered to have a different meaning and moral from the classic versions of these folk stories, the Disney line of fairy tale re-tellings are incredibly popular. This is an undeniable fact. Cultural critic and a well-known name in fairy tale criticism studies, Jack Zipes said about Disney that, “If children or adults think of great fairy tales today, be it Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or Cinderella, they will think of Disney” (73). The fact that Disney has become a name synonymous with the classic fairy tales shows that the popularity of his re-tellings has impacted the fairy tale community and changed how people look at and perceive these stories. From this incredible popularity in the Disney versions of these fairy tales-which are as popular, if not more so, as the classic fairy tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Perrault, and Madame de Beaumont-comes many question regarding why these re-tellings that focus on the romance aspect over other traditional themes and morals in the stories are so popular and why Walt Disney decided to employ this tactic from the first re-telling he produced.

One of the reasons for employing this tactic may be to appeal more to a younger audience than the traditional fairy tales. Many of the themes and morals from the classic fairy tales are centered around are of a more adolescent nature and has more themes that are more suited for an older audience that is possibly struggling with the same issues of neglect and abuse, struggling to find one’s place in the world, etc. Most of the content of Disney’s re-tellings of these classic fairy tales is aimed at children  and younger audiences. One of the reasons this tactic works is to create a Utopian setting of a world in which romance is perfect and beautiful, a concept that runs counter to the traditional versions of these tales in which the protagonists are escaping worse situations through marriage or being married to someone they do not particularly want to marry in the first place. Another reason for employing this tactic is to appeal to a modem audience. This may be especially true for “Beauty and the Beast,” because the concept of arranged marriage is not something that is in the popular culture of most people who read or watch these fairy tales so it makes sense to alter the story to fit the audience. While these are only speculations since we as scholars cannot ask Disney why he emphasized the love aspect of these classic tales, what may even be more important is how fairy tale scholars see how Disney and this emphasis on romance impact the world of fairy tales.

One thing that is clear when looking at how scholars in the field look at Disney films is that there is definitely negativity and criticism the Disney re-tellings of traditional fairy tales. This stems from everything from social and cultural criticisms to feminist critics commenting on Disney’s  portrayal of women. On the subject of how Disney changes the themes and morals of the fairy tales he re-told, many critics saw this and either a loss of folklore to popular culture or-what is most interesting-that his films simplify or soften the morals of a particular fairy tale. One citric talks about how Disney “distorts” a classic fairy tale and its meaning which takes something away from the tale itself (May). What this critic is commenting on is that Disney took the fairy tales he re-told and changed them to the point that the symbolism and moral of the story is lost in the romance and modem themes of the films. This is a critic saying that something is lost to the generations of people who read or watch fairy tales when things such as the strong symbolism in a fairy tale are replaced or trivialized by a love story. This critic was making this statement in response to “Snow White” a fairy tale that has previously been discussed as being altered by Disney’s heavy emphasis on love. This is carried on in criticisms of other traditional tales such as “Beauty and the Beast.”

In the case of “Beauty and the Beast,” there is one again a feeling among scholars that there is something lost in the Disney version that is focused of romance. One Critic argues that, “Although it is clear that “Beauty and the Beast” has always been in part a love story, earlier printed versions of the tale offer valuable lessons in addition to emphasizing the love relationship. Disney, on the other hand, strips the traditional fairy tale of anything other but the romantic trajectory. . .” (Cummins). This argument that is made is straight forward and concise. This argument states that the romanticizing of these fairy tales like “Beauty and the Beast” take something away from what the traditional tales attempted to convey. This would make sense since the traditional version of this story was much more centered on the concept of love being something more than skin deep, but also carried many cultural elements of the time that Madame de Beaumont was writing. The Disney version seems to suggest a more magical element to children that the goal of life is to search until one finds there prince/princess and then life will be fine. The Disney re-telling of this tale could also be dangerous as it inadvertently implies that a woman can change the nature of a man no matter how beast-like he may be. This is supported by another critic who suggests, “Disney films . . . encourage us to believe that a macho man is not responsible for what he is. . .” (Rollin). This argument suggests that in a situation like Disney’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” that this could send a message the Beast was not responsible for the things he does throughout the movie because he is cursed and that a beautiful woman can come and save him. This is certainly a dangerous moral to apply to the real world. These criticisms are the same for “Sleeping Beauty” and other fairy tales that have be made into film by Disney and this paper could drag on into a book just on how critics view Disney re-tellings of traditional fairy tales and how Disney’s focus on love and romance effect the interpretation of the tales. What can be made clear with brevity is that critics are in agreement that Disney and the film re-tellings of classic folk tales are fundamentally different from the classics and that Disney’s emphasis on love does change the stories of these tales.

When examining the fairy tale re-teller Walt Disney and his company, it is clear to see that the Disney interpretations of many of these classic fairy tales are known worldwide and have been incredibly successful at reaching a large audience. What is clear is that there is a theme that runs throughout the Disney versions of traditional fairy tales like “Snow White.” This theme is that Disney and company have put love and romance as the major emphasis of the re-tellings. This is shown through the examples mentioned previously and how Disney’s emphasis on a love story—that was often times non-existent  in classic fairy tales-was significantly different than, and changed the themes and morals of the traditional tales. This is supported by the scholarly community on fairy tales, who seem to argue whether Disney’s re-tellings help or hurt the fairy tale genre, but whether this argument is right or wrong, it only supports the undeniable fact that the Disney versions of traditional fairy tales, and their emphasis on love are not only popular, but have fundamentally changed how many see these fairy tales, and these versions have a fundamental difference in themes and morals from the classic fairy tales.

 

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