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The (Terrifying) Truth About Fairy Tales

Written by Katie Marzullo. Published: November 29 2023


How many times have we seen this announcement in the trades? “Such-and-such production company is planning on giving so-and-so fairy tale a gritty reboot!”


My eyebrows knit in confusion whenever I see this. A “gritty reboot” of a classic fairy tale? If I am not mistaken, most every classic fairy tale already is pretty “gritty” as is!


Perhaps it is a byproduct of Disney’s great success with animating and sanitizing old fairy tales that most of us seem to have grown up under the impression that stories about Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood (the former of which has a live-action film version on the way) and even The Little Mermaid and Peter Pan seem not only quaint but, for the most part, tame.


But, as anyone who has ever read a volume of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales or Hans Christian Andersen can tell you, fairy tales are not all glittering maidens, handsome princes, and happily ever after. No, most traditional fairy tales are the stuff nightmares are made of.


Everyone dreams of going to Neverland, to always be a kid, hang out with Peter Pan, and have family-friendly swordfights with inept pirates. But did you know that our young “hero” Peter is a borderline sociopath? Read the original novel by J.M. Barrie! PP is very proud of the fact that he couldn’t give two how-do-ya-dos about anyone – he thinks it’s funny when, on the way to Neverland, Wendy dozes off mid-flight out of fatigue and begins to fall to her death; he only saves her when she’s inches from becoming Wendy Soup on the ground below. When Peter gets mad, he runs into the forest and breaths heavily and rapidly, under the impression that, with every breath, an adult in the real world dies. Nice kid. Don’t even get me started on Tinker Bell. All you ladies with the adorable little Disney pixie stuck on your car windshields might be interested to know that your heroine is a homicidal maniac who convinced the Lost Boys to shoot Wendy in the chest with arrows because she thought she was moving in on her man(boy). Barrie also referred to her as “a common girl,” which is basically the Edwardian equivalent of "ratchet". Oh, and those goofball pirates? Actually pretty hardcore and bloodthirsty. And they are obsessed with killing children. Yay, Neverland!


How about The Little Mermaid? I bet just reading that has conjured up images in your mind of a beautiful redheaded fish lady and singing lobsters. Ahh. But Hans Christian Andersen had some strikingly different ideas. Disney forgot to mention the part where the mermaid’s new legs are pretty much bloody stumps that cause her constant pain – but she dances like a monkey for her man anyway! But it’s all worth it in the end just so she can marry the studly prince. Oh, but wait, there’s a problem – he’s in love with someone else and marries her instead. And the mermaid dies heartbroken and alone and turns into sea foam. “Sha la la la la la!


The original tale of Little Red Riding Hood was pretty much one big thinly-veiled allegory about puberty and sexual assault. In the story, a girl with a red cape tied to her back skips the safe bounds of her village and is stalked by a predatory wolf. He eventually ends up in her grandmother’s bed, where he lures the innocent girl to join him and then eats her. Then she is saved by a gallant woodsman, and the wolf is forced to eat rocks and falls down a well (nice Freudian imagery there!). In some versions of the story, when Red arrives at the cottage, the Wolf offers her a little snack – pieces of her own grandmother’s flesh, which Red unwittingly chows down. She eats her own grandmother!!! Good times. 


Now Disney is set to release their live-action adaptation of Snow White, starring Rachel Zegler and Gal Gadot, and there is little hope that they will include the original ending where the Queen is “killed” by being forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance until she croaks. I should also mention that the original Grimm version of the story depicts Snow White as a girl of only SEVEN YEARS OLD. Yes, evil stepmom is soooo jealous of a pre-pre-prepubescent girl that she orders the huntsman to cut out her heart. Can we say issues?? It only gets worse when the huntsman arrives back at the castle and presents the Queen with a deer’s heart instead, and she, thinking it’s Snow White’s heart, COOKS and EATS it.


So, as you can see, fairy tales are already fairly heavy on the edgy side. So, dear Hollywood, instead of referring to a new movie is a "gritty reboot", let's agree to call it a "more faithful adaptation". 


Pleasant dreams, kids!