20 Disney Movie Stories With Depressing Original Endings
When you’re looking for the perfect kind of movie to fill a child with joy, where else can you turn but into the incredibly popular arms of Disney? However, just because the classic films all have glorious endings doesn’t mean the source material was all sunshine and roses – quite the contrary, in fact. The stories and fairy tales that Disney bases its beloved animated movies were never originally intended to bring smiles, but rather teach lessons — often in the most brutal ways.
The Fox Aand The Hound
This lesser known Disney flick is about Todd, a fox, and Copper, a hound – two childhood best friends who maintain their platonic love despite growing to learn they are natural enemies. In the Daniel P. Mannix novel the film was based on, Copper’s owner, called simply “the Hunter,” forces him to hunt Todd until Todd collapses and dies. When the Hunter gets so old he must live in a nursing home, he puts Copper down with a shotgun.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The adorable deformed bell ringer Quasimodo finds happiness when he helps the handsome Captain Phoebus rescue the gorgeous gypsy Esmerelda in the Disney version of the Victor Hugo novel. In the original story, however, when Quasimodo realizes Esmerelda does not love him back, he turns her in and she is hung. But he feels so guilty about her death that he clings to her corpse until he dies of starvation.
The Jungle Book
The short story by famous author Rudyard Kipling tells the tale of the boy Mowgli and his childhood being raised in the jungle animals. While everything ends happily in the movie, the novel is quite sad: for instance, when Mowgli tries to return to human society he is rejected by them outright. Eventually, he, Bagheera the panther, and Hathi the elephant return to the village and destroy it.
Probably the most anti-climactic film on this list, Disney’s Hercules is about the son of Zeus who finds his way back to Mount Olympus through the power of love. In the Greek myth, Hercules is Zeus’s bastard with a human woman. Zeus’s wife Hera hates him so much that she drives Hercules insane to the point that he kills his whole family, children and all.
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid has one of the most joyful endings in all of Disney. The original Hans Christian Andersen story was horribly sad. Ariel must marry the prince otherwise she will turn into sea foam (because she has no soul). When she finds out the prince is marrying someone else, the sea witch tells her she would stay human if she kills the prince and lets the blood run over her feet – but she can’t, so she dissolves into foam and dies.
Everyone knows the Disney story of the puppet who wanted to become a real boy. In the original story, Pinocchio runs away from Geppetto who is thrown in jail for negligence. Pinocchio ends up killing Jiminy Cricket, (still) gets turned into a donkey, almost drowns, and has his flesh devoured by a school of fish that leave behind nothing but his wooden bones.
While the Disney adaptation of Cinderella is gorgeous and wistful, the original story is full of horrors. When the stepsisters are presented with the chance to marry the prince, they cut off their toes so their feet will fit the glass slipper. To get revenge for trying to overstep her, Cinderella has her stepsisters’ eyes pecked out by her little birds at her wedding.
If you haven’t heard of the smash-hit Frozen, you’ve probably been living under a rock. The Hans Christian Andersen fairytale it was based on was called The Snow Queen. The original tale is about best friends Gerda and Kai. When the Snow Queen appears to Kai, he gets shards of mirror stuck in his eyes and heart that makes him see everything good as bad things. Later, Kai is found again and lead away by the Snow Queen where she gives him two kisses – one to numb him and the other to make him forget his beloved Gerda forever.
Snow White And The Seven Dwarves
In the classic Disney film, the eponymous heroine is a very naive and fragile girl. But that isn’t how the Brothers Grimm wrote her – at her wedding to Prince Charming, Snow White invites her evil stepmother and gives her a pair of red-hot iron shoes and makes her dance till she dies in front of the whole wedding party.
The Disney version of Peter Pan isn’t that far removed from the J.M. Barrie play with a few small exceptions. For instance, in the theater piece, when the Lost Boys start to grow up, Peter kills them.
The plucky Disney reimagining of the Rapunzel story was nothing like the fairy tale. In the original story, Rapunzel’s signal to her Prince is to let down her hair. But Rapunzel’s captor Mother Gothel discovers what the lovers are up to. While the prince is mid climb up Ranpunzel’s tresses, Gothel gives Rapunzel a haircut causing him to fall into a bed of thorns that blind him.
Beauty And The Beast
The beautiful tale of learning to not judge a book by its cover is not that far away from the French fairytale. In the original, though, Belle had two stepsisters who become jealous of Belle’s lavish new life with the Beast. When she comes home for a short visit, the stepsisters try to make Belle stay longer so that when she returns to the Beast he will be so angry that he’ll eat her.
While the Disney film is a magical and romantic (and pretty racist) movie, Pocahontas was a real-life person who never experienced such happiness. The real Pocahontas was about 11 when she met a thirty-something John Smith and they were never romantically linked. Some historians believe, based on Smith’s diaries, that he raped and impregnated her. She died in her early 20s.
The Princess And The Frog
The Disney version of this classic story had a major spin put on it when the heroine gets turned into a frog instead of the frog turning into a prince. In the fairytale when the frog asked to be kissed, the princess throws him against the wall in disgust – but it breaks the spell and he turns back into a badly injured prince. In alternate versions, he is decapitated and his skin is burned off.
Definitely one of the more feminist films in the Disney canon, Mulan is the story of a young girl who disguises herself as a male soldier so her father won’t have to go to war. While the original tale follows the same plot as the movie, plenty of bad things happen after that happy ending – she returns to a broken family, becomes a prostitute, and eventually commits suicide.
Tarzan is the story of a man who is raised by apes – everyone remembers the classic yell. While Disney gave the story a classic happy ending, in the original tale Jane is already engaged to Clayton when Tarzan declares his love. It is later revealed that Tarzan is related to Clayton and heir to the family estate, therefore making Jane his rite. Instead of revealing his family roots, Tarzan says nothing because he believes Jane will be happier.
The Lion King
The beloved movie about a lion named Simba is loosely based on the play Hamlet, and everyone knows that Shakespearian tragedies always end horribly. Nearly everyone in Hamlet meets a horrible death, including the eponymous hero.
Alice In Wonderland
Most people think that Alice in Wonderland, adapted from the Lewis Carroll novel, is about doing drugs. While the original story doesn’t have a tragic ending, it has an uncharacteristically boring one. The original book was actually about abstract mathematics and how ridiculous they supposedly were.
Sleeping Beauty is another one of Disney’s more delicate and dulcet stories, but the source material is anything but. Based on an Italian fairytale about a girl names Talia, when Talia falls into a deep sleep and her king fails to revive her, he rapes her and impregnates her with twins. After she wakes, she is taken to the palace where the King’s wife tries to kill Talia and her babies – but the plans are thwarted and Talia marries her rapist.
Aladdin And The King Of Thieves
Even though most probably don’t remember the Aladdin sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves was based on the Arabian nights tale of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Originally, Casim wasn’t the leader of the thieves but rather a greedy guy who gets caught trying to hoard the treasure. The thieves discover him, dismember him, and then display his body outside the treasure cave.