So, basically, she dies at the end and goes to a 300-year purgatory. The prince marries someone else and the sea witch lives happily ever after. Oh, and did we mention that the entire time she’s a human, every time she walks or dances, it feels like she is walking on knives? Yeah, that happens too.

Idina Menzel as Elsa Singing Show Yourself in Frozen II


The story of Frozen is so very different from its loose inspiration, Andersen’s The Snow Queen, that we do not have room for a full comparison here. It is almost more interesting to list some of the small things Frozen did take from Andersen’s story, like a girl being flung from summer into winter with no warm clothes, or a princess looking for a husband.

Andersen’s The Snow Queen actually does have a proper happy ending, in which young Gerda is able to save her childhood friend Kai from the Snow Queen and melt the evil mirror fragments in his heart and eye with her love. All is well that ends well. So it is Disney’s decision to make the Snow Queen one of the heroes instead of a purely evil villain that means it would have had a “darker” ending if it had followed the rest of the story a bit more closely.

Basically, Elsa should have kidnapped a young boy to keep her company in her ice palace, only for him to disappear on her while she’s away bringing snow to Italian volcanoes (yes, really), leaving her alone with nothing but her snow-bees for company.

Quasimodo in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is already one of the most shockingly dark Disney animated classics. It even features a bittersweet conclusion by Disney standards, with Quasimodo accepting that Esmerelda loves Phoebus. Still, he leaves the cathedral for a life of his own. That sense of disappointment for Quasimodo is only the tip of the iceberg, however. Disney’s 1996 film opens with the murder of a young mother and the near-murder of a baby; and the movie has an entire song dedicated to one man’s lust for a woman who does not want him, and his desire to see her dead if he cannot be with her. Family stuff!

It is worth remembering though that author Victor Hugo’s other best-known work is literally titled The Miserable Ones. And the ending of Les Misérables is positively cheerful compared to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In a brief summary: Frollo, who is a priest on the page instead of a judge, stabs Phoebus and blames the teenaged Esmerelda for his crimes because she will not give herself to him. Esmeralda is sentenced to death for attempted murder. Esmerelda unexpectedly finds her birth mother, who is immediately killed trying to save her daughter.


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