Posted by: chloecivin | December 8, 2011

Alice in Wonderland/Cinderella/The Little Mermaid

Stories like Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and The Little Mermaid were all written for children and adults.  For American culture to find the stories acceptable, the plot essentially had to be tailored, or made “pretty”.  Messages had to be simple, uncomplicated, and served with a side of cute.  More importantly though was that everyone was to be rewarded in the end.  Take Grimms’ Cinderella as a prime example.

Disney's Step Sisters

In the text the evil step-sisters are fair- faced, beautiful, yet attain evil black hearts. Perhaps the concept of being beautiful outwardly but evil inwardly, is too difficult for our culture to understand conceptually.  In the film, Disney instead presents the step-sisters as buffoons and very homely.

More Accurate Image of Step Sisters

To adhere to American cultural expectations, Disney, and other mega film industries followed this recipe in making children’s films.  As Nathalie mentioned earlier in her post, my initial perception of Alice in Wonderland was very similar, if not the same as Disney’s famous adaptation.

Another example that came to mind was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

Disney's Little Mermaid

This story is in fact a bit anti-feminist in the sense that a young girl is willing to alter herself entirely to attract a mate.  This alteration includes her ability to speak, which in the film is not nearly as noticeable.  The prince rejects the mermaid,

Grimm, Anderson, and Carroll are very much misrepresented in popular culture.  In their original forms they present the complexity of childhood subjectivity.  The dark side, the intellectual side, and the function of anxiety are represented.  The moral in most of these stories has fairness and justice winning in the end, but not without terrible struggles.  In the American versions, the complexity of childhood subjectivity is reduced and simplified.  The dark side of our experience has either been erased or prettied up.  In the end of Cinderella for example, the evil step sisters had their eyes poked out by the birds that represent Cinderella’s dead mother.  This is considered fair punishment for their evil deeds.  Disney does not go near this sort of resolution, he has Cinderella forgive her buffoonish step sisters, as if they were never taken seriously.  This whitewashing does a disservice to the depth of our experience.


  1. Stellar analysis, Chloe! I think you are right in saying that Grimm, Anderson and Carroll have been misrepresented by many interpretations over the years. However, I also think Disney has purposefully tried to take the spirit of these books, and translate it into something younger children might understand (and relate to?) easily. Like Wendy said on my earlier post: Alice is pretty silly and innocent, but Disney has tried to capture and preserve her creative and curious personality. Perhaps they did not see their version as “prettied-up,” but instead just an opportunity for young people, like Professor Martin’s son who wanted to read it (but wasn’t allowed to because of content), to access these classic tales. Additionally, Disney characters retain a certain moral compass, which relates heavily to the “domestic stories” Victorian girls were used to reading.

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