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Fairytale Retellings are More Powerful than “Originals”

Love them or hate them, Disney has made a powerful change in our world with their fairytale retellings. Walt Disney redefined what a fairytale is to our western mind, if not the rest of the world. But why is that? What makes these fairytales so different, and why do we love these retellings more than we love the Brothers Grimm or Perrault fairytales? Because retellings make these fairytales ours.

Let’s start with an example. If you like fairytales and retellings, you’ve likely at least heard of Disney’s new push for remaking their old animated classic fairytales into live actions. I see a lot of hate for them. I see a lot of love for them. I’ll be open and say I love them. It’s alright if you don’t but let me explain why I like them by explaining why the power of fairytales is in their retelling, and not in their standard form.




First, a brief history lesson on fairytales. They were only verbal stories for many, many, many years. Which means each family had their own version. It wasn’t till people like the Brother Grimm and Perrault collected them and/or rewrote them that we got standard version. There is no ‘orginal’ that we can truly find anymore because whoever really made up Cinderella only told it through word of mouth. They’ll never get credit (AKA always write down your work).

With that in mind, let’s realize that we can fight about which is even the orginal. Is the Sleeping Beauty where the prince rapes her and she has twins while still asleep first, or is it the one that he just kissed her? Both seem about the same age, but in reality we can never know. Both are likely retellings.

Which shows us one point. Retellings must be more powerful than originals because we don’t relaly have orginals.

For our modern day, many average people would look at Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as the ‘original’. But few even know the older version. Some people even believe you can’t write fairytale retellings or even write a story with the same plot because of Disney. This isn’t true. In fact, it’s done often. It’s true that you can’t use 100% same names, same lines, and same character designs they used, but because it’s based on a fairytale retelling, based on a retelling, you can make your own sleeping beauty as many times are you want. There’s hundreds of them. Look at Goodreads for just… a lot.

With this in mind, what makes a retelling more powerful other than it being the only real ones we have today? It’s because each retelling makes it more modern. For more detail see my case study of Cinderella {put link on Cinderella}.

Each retelling, closer to the current time, updates the story with the current values of that society. And that’s a fairytale’s greatest power. It helps us learn more about what is really important in our culture. Hollywood only makes movies that sell. Sure, they make flops, but they don’t remake flops. Apart from the example in my Cinderella case study, we also have Disney Sleeping Beauty vs Disney’s Maleficent.

They are very different movies! We love them both for very different reasons. Maleficent wouldn’t have gone over well in the 1950s. Oh good heavens no. But it was a hit today because it addresses topics in a way we resonate with because of our values. The story and characters reflect topics we cope with and connect to. A strong female lead, the backstory of a villain, the power of family love being just powerful, if not more so, than romantic love, they’re all themes today’s modern world values. It makes it a fairytale with more power to it than the older ones we enjoy growing up.

In a short survey of all the children I know, I find a unique pattern. Boys and girls all have a favorite Disney fairytale an in about 9/10 cases it was the fairytale that was released within three years of their birth with 4/10 being the movie that came out the year they were born. It supports this concept even more. That’s the fairytale that reflects the world they’re growing to live in most, so it’s the one they connect to most (with a host of other reasons I’m sure).

It’s the retelling that shows the true power of fairytales. They’re the ones that move us most, they’re the ones we go back to again and again, and they’re the ones that teach us most about the world around us, society today, and the society of days passed. It’s the same with any other art meida you observe, but these fairytales show it in some of the best lights because they have been retold so many times.

I enjoy retellings. I’ll enjoy the remakes of Lion King, Aladdin, Dumbo, and more as they come out just like I enjoy the dozens upon dozens of retellings of Cinderella and Snow White that litter literature and films. Because that’s where their powers lies. That’s where we learn the most and enjoy the most about our beloved fairytales.


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