As a Disney-lover, dissertater, and thinker, I find myself constantly defending the Disneyfication/Disneyization of fairy tales. Fairy tale theorists have a difficult time accepting Disney’s films as one version among many, but rather see them as being the harbingers of the death of fairy tale culture. I hold the position that Walt Disney and Disney Corp translated written fairy tales into film to a) translate the fairy tale genre to the new medium that has now become predominant throughout our society and b) translate the fairy tales from an Old World/European sensibility to the American sensibility, making them rich and potent for us today. In this sense, Disney’s fairy tales are just one version adding to a millennia-old tradition of storytelling. What I tend to fail to do, and what theorists fail to see is the Grimmfication of fairy tales. I can’t decide if it should be spelled Grimmfication or Grimmification. So you heard it here first, folks! Let’s see if we can coin a term.
When the Brothers Grimm went around Germany collecting fairy tales, they were setting out to collect German culture and capture it into a handy anthology of story. Unfortunately, what they did was write down a literalized version of the fairy tales. They weren’t alone. It became vogue to do this very thing during the 1800s, in an early process of ethnography.
Fairy tale tradition stems from the oral folk tales that are transmitted from generation to generation, from elder to child. These stories often take a particular flavor specific to the region or era of the storytelling, but this is what makes them so rich and potent. So the Grimm Brothers wrote down a version which has now become to dominant version.
[Marie-Louise von Franz talks about the abstractness of fairy tales, citing this as the cause of their archetypal nature, in The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Perhaps this abstractness is really more due to the fact that that is how the Grimms wrote down the story….)
So why are the Disney Critics so concerned with the Disneyfication of fairy tales, but fail to acknowledge the Grimmification? That’s the answer I haven’t unpacked yet.