The Disney movies that most altered the original stories

The Disney movies that most altered the original stories

Gia Parker, Staff Writer

Disney has taken several liberties with their movies over the years, especially with the movies Hercules, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Pocahontas.  The company changes all of their sources to make them more child-friendly for the viewing audience.  These were the movies that they changed the most from the original stories.

  1. Hercules

The movie that Disney changed the most was Hercules. The only thing they kept the same were the characters.  The myth of Hercules, according to Disney, is about a teenager who left his home to find out where he belongs because he is the son of Zeus and Hera. In the Disney version, he drank a potion turning him mortal.  He then finds the trainer called Phil or Philoctetes who trains him on how to be a hero. On his first mission out as a hero, he meets a character called Megara or Meg. All three of them go on adventures doing hero work.  But unbeknownst to Hercules, Meg works for Hades, who wants to destroy Hercules. However, Meg destroys the plan and then Hercules saves her. They ascend to Mt. Olympus, and Hercules is given the choice of becoming a god or staying mortal, and he chooses mortal to stay with Meg.

Given the fact that they used character’s Greek names, Disney wanted it to be a Greek myth.  But to start, Hercules isn’t his Greek name; it is his Roman name. His Greek name is Heracles and instead of being the son of two gods, he is a demigod.  His parents are Zeus and Alcmena, who was a mortal. When Heracles was a toddler, Hera, Zeus’ wife, sent two serpents into his crib–not the servants of Hades as the movie shows.

When Heracles is older he is married to Megara and they have a child and a nephew living with them.  In a fit of rage Heracles kills his wife and child and comes out of his rage when he is about to kill his nephew.  In the movie Megara is alive the whole time of his adventures while in the myth she is killed before he even began. To pay for his crimes against his family, Heracles is sentenced to perform twelve labors.  In the movies the labors are not all present and are played off as adventures that he has a choice about rather than punishment from the gods.

After completing the labors, Heracles finds himself a second wife but when they are crossing a river his wife is captured by a centaur.  Heracles killed the centaur to save his wife but before the centaur died he tricked Heracles’ wife into taking some of his blood. The centaur said that his blood was a love potion, but it turns out to be a deadly poison.  She put some on Heracles’s shirt and it ended up killing him. The gods look down on him and make him a god.

  1. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

In the movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame the hunchback Quasimodo was taken in by Judge Claude Frollo after Frollo kills Quasimodo’s mother.  Quasimodo goes out one day to the festival of fools where he meets Esmeralda and where he becomes the King of Fools.  

Phoebus, the captain of the guard, first meets Esmeralda at the festival as well. Then Esmeralda gets trapped in the cathedral, and Quasimodo helps her escape and evade capture.  In return she gives him a necklace that holds a key to find the Court of Miracles. Esmeralda escaping puts everyone on the hunt for her. Phoebus disobeyed Frollo when he would not burn down a house that had harbored gypsies. While running away from Frollo, Phoebus is shot with an arrow.  Esmeralda later finds him in a river and saves him and brings him to the bell tower of Notre Dame, where he can be taken care of by Quasimodo.

Later that night Frollo comes to see Quasimodo and questions him about Esmeralda and threatens that he knows where the Court of Miracles is and is going to march on it at dawn with ten-thousand men. Quasimodo and Phoebus go to the Court of Miracles to warn Esmeralda and the other gypsies.  When they get there, they are captured, and as they are about to be hanged, Esmeralda comes forward and informs the people who they are. When they warn them, Frollo come out and says that he had been following them the whole time. Everyone is captured and waiting for sentencing. Esmeralda is to be burned at the stake and Frollo gives her a choice of whether she will go with him or be burned at the stake. Esmeralda chooses to burn, and Quasimodo has to watch as the straw is lit.  Quasimodo breaks out of his chains and swings down from the bell tower to rescue her. There is an all out battle at the front of Notre Dame. Frollo breaks into the church and tries to kill Esmeralda and Quasimodo, but Quasimodo throws him off the building.

In the original story, a gothic novel written by Victor Hugo in 1831, Quasimodo was never crowned the King of Fools but he was crowned the Pope of Fools instead. After the festival, Quasimodo and Frollo, who is a priest, attack La Esmeralda. A poet follows them trying to save La Esmeralda from them. The poet is knocked out and Frollo leaves, leaving Quasimodo to take the blame for what happened.  Quasimodo is subject to two hours of torture.

During those two hours, La Esmeralda gave him water to drink, and he became infatuated with her and fancied himself in love with her.

Phoebus, the person that caught Quasimodo, asked La Esmeralda to go out with him and she says yes.  Frollo keeps lusting after La Esmeralda and even sinks to using black magic to try to win her.

On Phoebus and La Esmeralda’s night out, they are followed by Frollo, who stabs Phoebus several times.  When they are found, La Esmeralda was arrested, and after torture, at her trail she falsely admits to stabbing Phoebus and to witchcraft. Frollo visits her in jail and professes his love for her and she calls him names.  As part of her punishment, she is publicly humiliated in the square. She sees Phoebus and calls out to him but he turns away and goes into his bride-to-be’s house. Quasimodo rescues her and yells sanctuary like in the movie.  

La Esmeralda lives with Quasimodo for a little while.  A group of vagabonds hear about a decision that parliament made to take La Esmeralda out of Notre Dame.  When Quasimodo sees them he thinks they are going to attack and starts to attack back, killing a lot of the vagabonds.  During the attack, Frollo sneaks up to sees Esmeralda and gives her the same choice as in the movie–only this time she is to be hanged.  She chooses the latter. Quasimodo sees her body hanging and goes after Frollo and kills him. It is said that a grave digger dug up La Esmeralda’s grave and there was a skeleton of a hunchback wrapped around hers, meaning he chose to die there next to her.

  1. Sleeping Beauty

In the movie Sleeping Beauty, the main character is cursed by Maleficent to prick her finger and die on her sixteenth birthday but one of the fairies at her christening made it so that she would only fall asleep.  She is named Aurora and goes off to live with her fairy godmothers. One day when she is fifteen she meets Prince Philip and they instantly fall in love. The fairy godmothers take her back to the palace, where she pricks her finger and falls asleep.  The fairy godmothers go to find the prince only to find that he has been captured by Maleficent. They break him out and race to the palace. Maleficent tries to block them, but they slay her and go wake the princess.

In the 1634 story, there was no curse; rather many astrologers got together and said flax would hurt the main character, Talia.  When she was asleep ,  was raped by a king that came to the palace. When she awoke, there were two children, and one had sucked the flax from her finger.

The King came back and brought her to his castle with his wife.  His wife did not like the kids and tried to have them cooked into a meal for her husband, but the cook took the kids to a safe place and used another meat.  The queen then tried to have Talia killed, but she called out for the king and he heard her. The king sentenced the queen to death and then married Talia and raised their children.

  1. The Little Mermaid

In the Disney film, Ariel is a mermaid with six older sisters who sing. But Ariel wanted to explore the world above the ocean.  Ariel wants to see the world on land so she goes up to the surface and one night she sees Prince Eric falling from the boat. She brings him to the beach, where she leaves him with his butler.  

The tipping point to go to the sea witch was when Ariel’s treasures were destroyed by her father. Then she asked the sea witch to give her legs, and the sea witch asked for her voice and gave her three days to make Eric kiss her.  Ursula disguised herself as a woman with Ariel’s voice and tricks Eric into marrying her. Ariel then interrupts the wedding but turns back into a mermaid and is taken by Ursula back to the sea. There is a battle between Ursula and Prince Eric and Prince Eric wins with the help of King Triton, who allows Ariel to stay on land with Eric. 

In the classic story, by Hans Christian Andersen, Ariel has fifteen sisters, and she is allowed to go to the surface after her fifteenth birthday. Also in the tale she was not in search of a prince like the movie but an immortal soul like the humans had.  

When she is given legs, each step she takes makes her feel like she is walking on knives.  When she meets the prince she dances for him, and he “employs” her or basically made her a slave.  

Several months after, the prince has to marry a neighboring princess.  This act will make Ariel turn to sea foam.  Her sisters come and tell her to kill the prince to live, but she couldn’t do it. During the wedding she went up into the air to the Daughters of Air where she must work for  three-hundred years to get an immortal soul.

  1. Pocahontas

Pocahontas the movie shows a Native American girl who is said to be eighteen start a romantic relationship with one of the colonists that came with John Radcliffe.  They both go against what their cultures believe to follow their love for each other. This eventually ends with the two sides fighting and John Smith, the love interest, being saved by Pocahontas after being captured.

The true history of Pocahontas is quite different.  She was only ten or eleven when she encountered the colonists, and there was no romantic interest between her and John Smith, because at the time he was about thirty.  Pocahontas wasn’t even her real name; it was was Matoaka, and Pocahontas was only a nickname that means “spoiled child.”

Pocahontas never married John Smith.  After John Smith left, she was captured and forced to marry John Rolfe. In the second movie Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World it shows her going to England.  While she did go to England, she was treated much worse than she was in the movie.  She was paraded around as “the Good Indian,” who they made more to look like them. She died of unknown causes.


Whether it be to enhance entertainment value or maintain a family-friendly plot, Disney has changed these stories so much–taking away some of their historical accuracy and at times even changing the author’s original message.