Artistic License or Censorship?

Referring to some of the ideas in my recent post “Disney Fairy Tales: Entertainment or Controlling Conspiracy?” it’s no surprise to anyone that the Disney company has changed many aspects of the fairy tales that they have filmed from some of the more classically known versions of the tales. The Grimms’ versions of tales were often much more violent than Disney would ever allow. Hans Christian Andersen had Christian themes embedded in his stories. And Gaston never appears within de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast.”

It’s easy to excuse all of this with “artistic license” and “creating variations of fairy tales,” while also spreading fairy tales and enchanting audiences. And these are valid explanations.

But when does this become too much? When does artistic license cross over the threshold into censorship?

As I mentioned above, the Grimms’ tales were often very violent, especially by contemporary standards. When Snow White and the Seven Dwarves premiered in 1937, the queen did not meet her demise by dancing in red-hot iron boots. And the stepsisters in the 1950 Cinderella do not have their eyes pecked out by birds.

I understand that these types of scenes would be too frightening for young children, but are these changes “artistic license” or censorship?

1989’s The Little Mermaid is quite different from the Andersen tale. There is no mention of mermaids becoming foam in the film, nor is Ariel yearning to earn a soul. These integral messages of the original fairy tale (which was actually written by Andersen, rather than collected and edited, like the Grimms) were completely lost in the film, presumably because of the Christian themes. Ariel was meant to be a “modern teenager” rebelling against her father rather than a young girl searching for eternal life. The meaning of the story is completely altered by these changes.

How do these changes affect these stories? Are they still related to the story that shares the same name of the film?

I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these films. They are amazing and beautiful renditions of classic stories. And maybe the reasons why Disney left out what they did from their variations of the tales were valid. But I wonder if political correctness is overshadowing the ability to tell (or even retell) a good story. This doesn’t just affect Disney, but all storytellers. It’s a question we writers all need to ask ourselves as storytellers.

Again, I ask: Artistic license or censorship? And, more importantly, regardless of the answer to the last question, is this a problem?

They are interesting questions worth an argument, and ones that don’t have a definitive answer.


What do you think?


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