I always enjoy Jessica’s monthly “Adaptations” posts, about screen versions of books, so when she offered me a guest post, I thought it would be fun to do something along the same lines. When I set out to write fairy tale retellings, I mostly drew from the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. But I wanted to draw from the sources people would know…so my third major inspiration was Walt Disney! Fairy tale purists (I’m not one) don’t always like Disney’s cleaned-up and cheerful versions, but I grew up with Disney movies and while I do groan in a few places, I still enjoy them.
Snow White and Cinderella are two of the early ones that unfortunately make me groan. The girls don’t do anything for themselves, and they know their “true love” for basically the duration of one song before they’re getting engaged. But sometimes you have to know what you don’t like in a story to know what you do want—so my stories tend to feature long romances and heroines with agency.
Sleeping Beauty somehow sits better with me, even though it really has the same problems. Maybe I enjoy a prince who talks to his horse, or maybe Aurora and Philip just had a really good song to fall in love during. All the same, for me the main event here is the fairies. They were part of the inspiration for the Good Fairies in my fairy tale world. Flora, Fauna and Merriwether have sparkles flying out of their wands all the time, when they aren’t even casting spells! My Good Fairy floats about in a haze of sparkles and hearts, and everyone has to do extra sweeping up after she visits.
I was fortunate to grow up while Disney was putting out some really good retold fairy tales. My favorite as a kid was Aladdin, possibly because Jasmine is such a step forward from sweet-faced Snow White. She has a pet tiger and she runs away from home and she refuses to simply be married off as a political chess piece. From the same era, The Little Mermaid is a lot of fun too—although it may be the most grievous example of Disney making the fairy tales so much more cheerful than the originals. But…I like happy endings, and the Hans Christian Andersen story is so sad. If nothing else, I love Sebastian in this one, and especially the crazy cook chasing him through the kitchen.
Beauty and the Beast is my favorite Disney fairy tale retelling now. It takes a lot from the original fairy tale, and where it deviates, I think it does so in smart ways. It simplifies things down by taking out Beauty’s siblings, and improves the plot enormously by adding a villain in Gaston. Most importantly, it kept the key detail about Beauty’s character—her love of books, of course! Every book lover I know wants the Beast’s library.
Disney’s fairy tale movies seem to be on a continuing path of getting better. Tangled is absolutely delightful, even if it doesn’t have much to do with the original “Rapunzel.” And Eugene is awesome and so is the horse (!) and Rapunzel is so much more complex than the early days heroines. Most recently we have the awesome Frozen. It only took 75 years from Snow White, but we finally had a Disney princess say the words, “You can’t marry a man you just met.” It’s also a movie where the two female leads are really the ones driving the plot—and even if the plot has virtually no resemblance to the original “Snow Queen,” it’s amazing anyway.
This trend in Disney movies actually makes me glad that they haven’t yet done a movie of “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” Although that may be why most people haven’t heard of the fairy tale when I tell them my new novel is based on it! But with Disney retellings getting better, I hope it means some day we’ll get a really great movie about twelve princesses dancing their shoes to pieces.
If this was on my blog, this is when I would ask what your favourite Disney retelling is. But I suppose I can ask Jessica’s readers the same thing?
Cheryl Mahoney is a book blogger at Tales of the Marvelous, and the author of two books based on fairy tales. The Wanderers, published in 2013, follows the journeys of a wandering adventurer, a talking cat and a witch’s daughter. Her new novel, The Storyteller and Her Sisters, retells “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces.” Both novels feature heroines who take control of their own lives, a love story that lasts considerably more than a day, and a Good Fairy who sheds sparkles everywhere she goes.
Thank you Cheryl. I love all Disney fairy tale adaptations I have watched. My favourite would have to be The Little Mermaid. As Cheryl asked what is your favourite Disney retelling?