Disney may be the single most prolific purveyor of fairy tales to modern audiences, at least since the 1950s and probably all the way back to their release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Thanks to Disney, the magic of fairy tales continues to live through generation after generation of young people and families into a new millennium.
Credit where credit is due for keeping the love and art of fairy tales alive, but Disney's come under fire -- and probably rightfully so -- for neglecting to represent folk tales and legends from a wider array of cultures, focusing mainly on European tales and Caucasian casts. In recent years, with the releases of films like Moana and Coco, Disney appears to be trying its hand at breaking this trend, and bringing a wider variety of tales to the big screen. So with that in mind, here's our list of seven fairy tales from across an array of cultures, Disney should take on next.
The Boy Who Drew Cats
This Japanese fairy tale features a young artist with a love for—you guessed it—cats. When the youngest son of a farmer turns out to be more interested in drawing cats than in the manual labor his brothers all take to, the farmer sends his youngest to a temple to learn from the priests. Turns out the boy spends all his time in the temple drawing cats instead of studying, so the head priests dismisses him, telling him he ought to study to be an artist instead.
On his journey home, the boy seeks shelter in a different temple, not realizing it has been abandoned. The priests have been chased out by a goblin rat. The boy decides to spend his night drawing cats upon the walls, until he becomes tired and crawls into a small cabinet to sleep. In the night, the boy hears terrible noises outside his cabinet, the sounds of violent fighting and animals screeching. When he wakes in the morning, he finds the goblin rat dead, and his drawings of cats looking fierce and triumphant, with blood dripping from their claws.
This Bohemian story starts out with a poor orphan trying to find work. He meets an old man who has no eyes. The man gives him a job herding goats but warns him against going into the hills. There, the three wicked witches, the Jezinkas, will put him to sleep and tear out his eyes. For two days, the boy obeys his master, but on the third day, he decides the pasture is better in the hills. He takes three shoots of bramble and drives the goats into the hill. Of course, he meets the beautiful Jezinkas, and manages to pass up the temptations of the first two. He manages to trick the third and captures her. The other two sisters can't free her, and the boy binds them as well. Taking the eldest the sisters, he demands his master's eyes. The Jezinkas try to deceive him, giving his master the wrong eyes over and over, and the boy throws the first two into a river for their tricks. The third sister pleads with him and gives his master his actual eyes, so they let her be.
The Wounded Lion A Spanish fairy tale about a poor girl who gets a job herding cows. While tending them, she sees a wounded lion, and aids him. While she tends to the lion's wounds, though, the cows mysteriously disappear. Her master gets angry with her for losing the cows, and beats her. The girl sets out to find out what happened to the cows. On the way she sees a man who appears to turn into a lion. Approaching him, she asks for his story and discovers he's really a prince enchanted to become a lion during the day. The giant who has cursed him is the one who stole her cows, as revenge for her helping the lion. She asks how she can set the lion free, and is told she must attain a lock of hair from a princess, and weave it into a coat for the giant. She manages to get hired by the princess as a handmaiden, and begs for a lock of hair to free the lion from his curse. The princess agrees, but only if the poor girl can find a handsome prince for the princess to marry. The girl agrees, since she already happens to know a prince who might be looking for a bride. With the princess's lock of hair, she weaves a coat for the giant, and begs for the prince's freedom. The giant says that in order to free the prince, she must kill him in his lion form. Though she doubts it will work, and believes she'll only end up killing the prince, the prince convinces her to do it anyway. When he rises again as promised, they return to the princess, who realizes this prince is actually her brother. So he is free to marry the girl who saved him after all.
The Wild Swans
Though this tale comes from a well-known European storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen, this story has always been a personal favorite and has been woefully neglected by Disney in favor of less "difficult" tales. It's about a widowed king with twelve children. He remarries, but naturally his new wife is a witch. Disliking her stepchildren, she turns the eleven sons into swans and forces them to fly away, then turns her attention to their sister Eliza, trying to curse her and destroy her beauty. The eleven swans rescue Eliza and fly her away to a far-off land, where the Queen of Fairies tells her she can save her brothers by sewing shirts for them out of stinging nettles. She must also take a vow of silence, however; one word from her lips will kill her brothers. Eliza spends several years working to sew the shirts for her brothers, gathering stinging nettles in graveyards after dark and enduring painful stings on her hands. The king meets her and falls in love with her; he offers her a room in his castle to continue her knitting, and eventually proposes to her, and she accepts. However, having seen her in the graveyards by night, the country's Archbishop accuses Eliza of being a witch, and petitions to have her burned at the stake. Unable to defend herself without speaking aloud, Eliza is sentenced to death. Even as she is brought to the stake, Eliza never stops knitting. Just before she is burned, she throws the shirts over the swans and they return to their human form (the youngest, however, still has a swan's wing, as she was unable to finish the last sleeve). Freed from her vow of silence, Eliza is finally able to explain the curse her brothers have been under, and she's cleared of being a witch. She's married to the king and they live happily ever after.