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The Grimm Origins of Your Favorite Movies

black and white drawing of sleeping beauty
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There are few storytellers as notable as the Brothers Grimm. Known for their dark versions of popular fairy tales, Jacob Grimm and his younger brother Wilhelm Grimm get in motion many a motion picture inspired by their dark tales. The two brothers always had a love of folklore and legend and often gathered stories from people in various communities in order to write their collections.  

Some of the most widely recognized Grimm Brothers tales became popularized by Disney, though Disney did put a bit of a jollier spin on things.  

Cinderella (1950)  focuses more on the Charles Perrault version of the story, but the abusive treatment that Cinderella faces at the hands of her two stepsisters better lines up with the Grimm Brother’s version, titled “Aschenputtel” (ash fool). The Grimm Brothers version ends much differently than the Disney version, with sharp beaked birds doing Aschenputtel’s bidding. In the Grimm version, when the prince comes to Aschenputtel’s house to try the slipper on her stepsisters, they cut off parts of their feet in order to get the slipper to fit. The prince only realizes their dishonestly when he notices the blood dripping from their feet. Later, when the prince and Aschenputtel are getting married, doves fly into the procession and peck out the eyes of her stepsisters, blinding them for the rest of their lives. Definitely not the heartwarming tale that we heard from Walt Disney! You can read the original Aschenputtel in this Grimm Brothers collection, available on Overdrive, or in “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm” (with illustrations!) available on Hoopla. 

Tangled (2010) is loosely based on “Rapunzel” by the Brothers Grimm, but the general storyline is the same – a girl with long golden hair, trapped in a tower until she gets rescued by a handsome… man. Okay, it’s not that similar, as Disney’s version involves magic hair, royal lineage and doesn’t include any eye removal (that seems to be a theme with the Grimm Brothers). Rapunzel doesn’t come from royalty in the Grimm Brothers story, though her rescuer does. He also gets blinded when he jumps from the tower and into brambles to get away from Mother Gothel, who DOES have the same name in both stories. Rapunzel restores her vision with her magical tears, which she drips right into his eyeballs, which is kind of strange but hey – whatever works. Now that the prince can see, he also can see that Rapunzel has since had twins, a boy and a girl, and they all went to the castle to live together. Surprisingly, nothing happens to Mother Gothel. You can read this version on Hoopla in “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm,” which also holds the Cinderella story above! 

Sleeping Beauty (1959) is a film that really didn’t need to be lightened up, but instead added to because, admittedly, the original is a little bit boring. Sleeping Beauty (named Rosamond in the Grimm Brothers tale) is bestowed gifts of beauty, grace, modesty, virtue, riches, and all the good stuff by a group of 11 “wise women” when all of a sudden the 13th wise woman, not invited to the celebration, bursts into the hall and bestows a curse upon the baby – the child will prick her finger on a spindle and die in her 15th year. The 12th wise woman, who had not yet bestowed her gift, softened the curse by saying that instead of death upon the pricking of her finger, Rosamond would fall into a deep sleep for 100 years. Basically, we’re pretty on par with the Disney flick at the moment. But this is where it all changes. Instead of sending their daughter to live with the wise women (aka three pink, blue, and green fairies), as happens in the Disney film, the king orders every spindle in the kingdom to be destroyed. How they are now making clothing, I don’t know, but maybe they’re super technologically advanced for a medieval kingdom. Anyway, after Rosamond’s 15th birthday, her parents think they are in the clear, so they decide to go on a vacation and leave Rosamond at the castle by herself. She explores every nook and cranny of the castle until she comes upon a tower where an old woman is spinning flax on a spindle. Rosamond touches it and falls into her 100-year slumber… and so does the rest of the castle. Basically, the whole castle is paused for 100 years, collecting dust. The brambles outside of their castle grow burlier and burlier until they completely engulf the castle. Many a prince tries to reach Rosamond because she’s very beautiful and they want to be creepy, but they all die on the way. On the last day of the 100th year of the castle’s slumber, a prince approaches the castle. Right as he gets ready to charge the brambles, they instead turn into beautiful flowered hedges and he is let through. He passes the still sleeping residents of the castle and makes his way to Rosamond. When he gets to her tower, he kisses her and she awakens. They then decide to get married. The Grimm story is admittedly pretty dull and short. I mean, I basically just told you the whole thing right here. Disney added in the whole Maleficent becoming a dragon thing and the three klutzy fairies and Aurora definitely didn’t fall asleep for like 100 years. It was a week at most. But sometimes you have to add things to make it more interesting and that’s okay. You can read the Grimm version on Hoopla in “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm,” which also holds the Cinderella and Rapunzel stories above! 

Into the Woods (2014) is an amalgamation of a few different Grimm stories – Cinderella, Little Red Cap, and Rapunzel – and they are all incredibly true to the Grimm Brothers classics. You’ve got the chopping off of foot parts in Cinderella, the blinding of the prince in Rapunzel, and the gutting of the wolf in Little Red Cap. They threw in the wholesome Jack and the Beanstalk tale, which the Grimm Brothers didn’t write about. The movie differs a little bit from the stage version, which contained more… adult undertones when it came to the wolf and Little Red Riding Hood, but that’s probably for the best. You can read Little Red Cap, one of the stories included in Into the Woods, in “Household Stories by the Brothers Grimm”, which I may have mentioned previously somewhere. If you’re interested in watching the stage production, a filmed version is also available on Hoopla! 


Though they’re absolutely creepy to read, the Grimm fairy tales often do come with some type of moral, making them an interesting and enlightening read. Good characters usually get rewarded while bad characters get punished. If you’re interested in a movie very loosely based on the Grimm Brothers themselves, I suggest checking out The Brothers Grimm, available on Hoopla, which is a very fantastical version of them going from village to village to gather their stories and running into a real enchanted forest, and all that which comes with it. 


Taylor S.

By day, Taylor is your run of the mill, cardigan-wearing librarian, but by night, she is a cross-stitching, history-loving, classic-movie-watching baker who is carrying on a continuous attempt to sew her own capsule wardrobe. She is probably reading two or three books at any given time.