To what extent have adaptations of fairy tales influenced people’s knowledge of their origins, specifically looking at Disney

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To what extent have adaptations of fairy tales influenced people’s knowledge of their origins, specifically looking at Disney.

Bethany Borg


To what extent have adaptations of fairy tales influenced people’s knowledge of their origins, specifically looking at Disney.


The focus of the discussion in this essay will be on how fairy tale adaptations have affected people’s knowledge and awareness of their origins, specifically looking into the company Disney.

Disney is a prominent name in both industry and popular culture, and a result of this; it is possible to state that fairy tales are associated with Disney.

Attempting to examine how Disney have re-imagined the works of Hans Christian Anderson, The Grimm Brothers and Charles Perrault will allow me comparison between older and more contemporary examples of work in order to evaluate the extent of how people’s knowledge of their origins have been affected.

According to Robert Stam, an adaptation “is the artistic and technical mode employed by the filmmakers to change and re-create a known or popular text” (Stam, 2000). This can also be described as changing one filmic material from one genre to another (Yang, 2011).

Disney was not the first to work with fairy tales, and with the focus on this and the above statements in mind, the term ‘Disneyfication’ will be discussed in relation to how adaptations have been implemented and whether or not the original works have been obscured.

Another question to be addressed will be whether or not re-imagined fairy tales are more familiar to the general public than earlier versions.

To successfully answer these topics, a survey aimed at different age groups was constructed in order to approach the topic of the adapted sources and their origins, as well as ask the public about knowledge on authors themselves. This, in conjunction with literary research, will allow the above questions posed to be taken and investigated appropriately.

Chapter 1: Adaptation and Disneyfication

The term Disneyfication is prominent, and appears in many publications. One such publication by Alan Byrman discusses the stronghold that Disney holds over the entertainment industry and its possible impact. (Bryman, 2004)

Although the above publication discusses the effect Disneyfication has on society in general, the term can also be applicable to Disney’s influence on fairy tales.

According to Karen Klugman, Disneyfication is “the application of simplified aesthetic, intellectual or moral standards to a thing that has the potential for more complex or thought-provoking expression” (Klugman, 1995)

Jack Zipes, an author against Disney and their adaptations of the classic fairy tales, expresses that they have ‘obfuscated’ the names of formerly renowned authors, such as Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson and The Grimm Brothers. (Zipes, 1994, p.10)

With Disney’s popularity and leading position over the industry it could be argued that Disney have instilled a certain image of what a fairy tale is, one that arguably still holds today.

The art of adaptation and appropriation has a potent influence and shaping effect in its own right…No appropriation can be achieved without impacting upon and altering in some way the text which inspired the adaption. So influential, indeed, have some appropriations become that in many instances they now define our first experiences or encounters with their precursor work of art.” (Sanders, 2007)

Thus, it is fair to say that Disney were not the first to adapt stories. Disney have simply done what many others before them have and adapted stories to their vision. An example of this being done is with The Grimm Brothers, who collected and retold folklore in their works.

When comparing Disney’s adaptations to the originals, it is obvious that a lot of changes are made throughout. However, it can be argued that the obscurity of the original tales can be down to people’s ignorance on the subject, and not solely as a result of Disney’s renditions.

However, some still feel that such drastic changes affect the perception of the stories and feel as though Disney versions are doing the original tales injustices. (Sayers, 1965)

Another possible factor that could influence the findings of this essay is the fact that variations in sources play a big part in people’s awareness of fairy tales. It could be argued that only being exposed to the Disney version of the adapted source would make knowledge limited to what was seen, and it would depend on how true the adaptations kept to the original works which would determine the extent of the person’s knowledge.

On the contrary, it could be argued that the Disney adaptations can ignite a new interest in original sources used. The adaptations could serve to put lesser known stories back into the public’s scope. Stith Thompson claimed that “Many adults who had long ago dropped their interest in the fairy tale unexpectedly found great pleasure in this old product of the folk imagination” (Thompson, 1977)

Chapter 2: Survey Group

In order to find out if the above arguments hold any merit, a survey was undertaken (Fairy tales and animation, 2016), using a variety of questions asking the public whether they knew who the authors were and included a list of films made by Disney with an option to choose what the public thought these adaptations were based off of. The questions were made in such a way to find out whether or not the adaptations have truly obscured the original sources to determine whether or not the public were aware of the authors and what the re-makes were based off of, or if the public thought that the adaptations were in face an original story.

Using the age groups of 25 and above, under 25 and overall age groups, the following results are segments taken from the overall research and not the full content of the survey in order to maintain relevance to the essay. Unless specified in the visual guides or essay, the pie charts used are of the overall age groups.

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