'Peter Pan' and 6 Other Beloved Disney Movies Based On Dark, Horrifying Books

by Zach Seemayer 3:16 AM PST, December 02, 2014
Photo: Disney

With the live, musical stage production of Peter Pan airing on NBC on Thursday, and the recent release of the trailer for the upcoming adventure drama Pan – a re-imagined live-action version of J.M. Barrie's classic tale – it seems that America is once again experiencing full-blown Peter Pandemonium.

And why not? It's fun for the whole family, right? On the surface, Peter Pan is about a young boy leading his friends on the adventure of a lifetime. Like most children's stories, it's a cherished morality tale that teaches kids a lesson while keeping them entertained.

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And, like most beloved children's stories, the familiar tale of Peter Pan is based on a book full of horrible murder and deeply traumatizing acts of depravity. Seriously, children's stories are messed up. To show you what we mean, here are seven beloved (Disney-adapted) tales of fun and adventure that are based on some of the most shocking, horrifying stories imaginable.

Peter Pan- Peter Pan, the character, is always remembered as the lovable scamp who whisks children off from their homes and into a magical world of adventure. What people seem to forget about is all the hard-core murder.

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In the books written by J.M. Barrie, when Wendy first flies to Neverland, Tinkerbell convinces one of the Lost Boys, named Tootles, that she's actually a bird that Peter wants killed, so he shoots Wendy with a bow and arrow, and she almost dies. Ashamed of his actions once he finds out the truth, Tootles begs Peter to kill him. These are children, mind you.

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Also, at one point, the pirate Hook – a grown man in this universe – attempts to butcher Peter with his hook, and claws him badly. Peter lays on a rock as the tide comes in, waiting to either bleed to death, or drown. Again, Peter is a child. Just wanted to make that extra clear.

And, unlike in the Disney adaptation, Peter kicks Hook over the side of the boat and he is brutally eaten by the crocodile. All of these murder attempts overshadow all the many themes of racism and underage kidnapping that also seem to exist in every facet of the original story.

The Little Mermaid- Hans Christian Andersen's original 1837 fairy tale The Little Mermaid is almost the exact same as Disney's adaption, minus the "love conquering evil" stuff, or any of the happiness.

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In the original version, the potion that the Sea Witch gives the young princess makes her tail turn into legs, but walking on them causes horrifying agony, and feels like stepping on knife blades. Also, the Prince is a jerk who makes her dance for his amusement, despite the pain it causes her.

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And if that's not disturbing enough, the Sea Witch's agreement dictates that if the Prince doesn't fall in love with her, the Little Mermaid will die and disintegrate into sea foam. And what do you know? The prince falls in love with some other random woman. The Little Mermaid is given a chance by the Sea Witch to kill the Prince and escape the punishment of the deal, but she loves him too much!

So she dies, and turns into sea foam. Sweet dreams, kids! Remember that love is fleeting and any attempts at happiness lead to death.

Sleeping Beauty- Wow. The Sleeping Beauty we all know is based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale of the same name. That, in turn, is based on a story, published in 1634, by Giambattista Basile called Sun, Moon and Talia. To say it's dark is an understatement.

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In Sun, Moon And Talia, the princess – known as Talia in this version – is put in a deep, magical sleep when she pricks herself with a flax splinter. After she goes into her mystical coma, her father abandons the castle, leaving her there. Years later, a different king enters the castle and finds Talia unconscious. Unable to wake her, the king decided to have sex with her nearly lifeless body instead.

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Talia gives birth to twins, who suck on her finger and happen to pull out the splinter (Was that really the solution? No one thought of that?) When she awakens, the rapist king returns and they bond over their mutual interests, such as his bastard children.

When the king's wife, the evil queen, learns of Talia and the two kids, she invites them over under a false pretense, and she kidnaps the babies. She tells the royal chef to kill the kids and make them into a meal for the king, so he will unknowingly eat his own children.

The chef hides the babies with his wife and cooks lamb instead, saving the children. The evil queen then tries to burn Talia at the stake, but the king - now the hero of this fable - saves Talia, and kills his wife instead.

Cinderella- In the Brothers Grimm version of Cinderella, known as Aschenputtel, there are a few minor differences from the Disney film that became a hit. First off, there's no fairy god mother. Instead, there is a magical wishing tree and some talking doves. Also, the slipper isn't glass, it is gold.

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Oh, and to convince the Prince that the all-important footwear belonged to them, one evil step-sister saws off her heel until blood is pouring out of the slipper. The other step-sister slices off all of her toes. Neither attempt works.

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Finally, when Aschenputtel and the Prince get married, the evil step-sisters serve as her bridesmaids in an attempt to win the favor of the future princess. But the wedding is interrupted by doves that fly down from heaven and brutally peck out the step-sisters' eyes. Good times.

Snow White- This is yet another gruesome offering from the Brothers Grimm! When Disney adapted this iconic German fairy tale for their 1937 animated classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, they stayed close to the source material, only leaving out the more horrific depictions of torture and some of the darker details.

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One major difference in the original Brothers Grimm story is that the Evil Queen was not Snow White's step-mother, but her biological mother. Snow White's own mother wanted to brutally murder her for being pretty. The Grimm brothers decided that this was too cruel even for their stories, and later made the Evil Queen Snow White's step-mother instead.

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In the Disney version, the Evil Queen wants the Huntsman to cut out Snow White's beating heart - which is pretty gruesome for a Disney film. But the original still manages to top that. In the fairy tale, the Queen wants the Huntsman to cut out Snow White's lungs and liver so that the queen can cook and eat them.

Finally, in what is probably the creepiest difference, the Evil Queen doesn't fall to her death after being chased by the dwarfs. Instead, she's forced to put her feet in red-hot iron shoes and dance until she dies.

Rapunzel- Tangled is Disney's adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale Rapunzel, and aside from the core concept of a girl with long, flowing hair who is locked in a tower by an evil witch, nothing else really stays the same. Which is probably a good thing, what with all the sex and maiming in the original version. Of all the stories in this list, Rapunzel is probably the tamest, but that's not saying much.

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In the story, a prince is riding through the woods near Rapunzel's tower. The 12-year-old Rapunzel lets down her hair and he climbs into her room, where he proceeds to immediately ask for her hand in marriage. Weeks later, it's revealed that her dress is getting tight around her stomach – a subtle way of revealing that some random, roaming prince knocked up an obviously kidnapped pre-teen girl.

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Eventually, the prince helps Rapunzel plan her escape. However, the evil witch discovers the plan, cuts off Rapunzel's hair and casts her out into the woods to die. When the prince shows up, ignorant to the turn of events, the witch throws down one end of Rapunzel's lopped-off hair, letting him climb up to the window. When he gets there, the witch shoves him off the tower and he falls into a bush of sharp thorns which gouge out his eyes.

In the end, he and Rapunzel find each other, and her tears of joy restore his eyesight – so that's nice. However, the witch dropped Rapunzel's hair out the window when she shoved the prince. Since the tower has no door and no stairs (people only got in through the window by climbing up Rapunzel's hair like a damn jungle gym) the evil witch starves to death - which was really her fault for building such a stupid tower in the first place.

Pinocchio- As creepy as the Disney version of Pinocchio was – and it was, without a doubt, super creepy – it can't hold a candle to the deeply disturbing horror-fest that is the 1883 Carlo Collodi book The Adventures of Pinocchio.

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The element that stands out the most about this Italian novel, which Collodi claimed was for children, is its intensely depressing subject matter. For instance, the lovable Jiminy Cricket, from the Disney version, is actually the ghost a dead cricket that Pinocchio stepped on, in the book.

Also, in the original story, there is a town called Catchfools, which is full of sad, dying animals such as starving dogs, freezing sheep, half-dead butterflies and a whole depressing menagerie of other hopeless creatures. In this town, any foolishness is punished with jail time, and Pinocchio is arrested and imprisoned as punishment for getting conned out of his only possessions. It's a truly terrible legal system.

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In another dark scene, Pinocchio runs off with a young boy to Toyland, where an old man collects children by luring them with toys. Then, Pinocchio is turned into a donkey because this book hates children. As a donkey, he's eventually sold to a man who wants to skin him and turn him into a drum. The man tries to drown Pinocchio in the ocean, but carnivorous fish bite off all of his magical donkey flesh, turning Pinocchio back into a regular living marionette. Yay?

And all of this doesn't even begin to address the constant maiming, killing and torturing of animals. It happens so often that it seems to be the book's main motif. From a starving fox who cuts off his own tail to sell for food to a snake that laughs at Pinocchio's misfortune so hard it bursts an artery and dies, this is a wonderful book to read to your kids if you absolutely want them to have night terrors well into adulthood.

If you just can't get enough Disney fun, read this awesome Mary Poppins fan theory, or check out the video below for a look at eight Disney characters you forgot were voiced by famous stars.

For more Disney fan theories and fun movie news, you can follow Zach Seemayer on Twitter @ZachSeemayer.