The Bold Truth of Fairy Tale Families

Magic KingdomEveryone wants to have a fairy tale family. The smiles, the glitter, the happy, happy ending. But when you stop for a moment and examine fairy tales, even the oh-so-happy Disney brand, fairy tale families look an awful lot like yours and mine, quite possibly worse.

In other words, they’re messy, they’re mish-mashed, they’re full of problems.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Snow WhiteTake Snow White, for instance. Her Mom dies. Her Dad remarries a witch. Not too far out of the ordinary for some of us, right?

Then Dad dies.

Then the witch tries to kill Snow White.

Screeeeeech! Put on the brakes right there. That is one big, ugly problem.

To make matters worse, Snow White finds shelter with 7 dwarves, who she pretty much ends up taking care of until dear old stepmom finds a way to poison her. Snow White manages to survive (courtesy of Prince Charming) then marries a man she barely even knows.

Happily ever after is implied, though clearly not guaranteed.

The Little MermaidThe Little Mermaid

We have no idea what happened to Ariel’s mother. Absent mother syndrome seems to be quite prevalent in fairy tales. Cinderella, Tangled, Mulan, Frozen (in this case, both parents), just to name a few.

Ariel falls in love with a stranger (another creepy pattern) then sells her soul to the sea witch, causing her Dad’s imprisonment, though he’s eventually freed.

By the end, she wins her heart’s desire—to be human and live with her prince. But that comes at a steep cost—her identity as a mermaid and her ability to see her family and friends undersea.


They ride off under a rainbow…happy, happy, happy.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the BeastBelle’s mother is dead. Her Dad has gone a bit crazy. No one in town understands her.

Then a beast kidnaps her Dad. She offers herself in exchange. Then she falls in love with the beast. At least in this story, there’s some relationship development. Although the fact that she’s the beast’s prisoner is a bit disturbing.

He finally sets her free, sacrificing himself (and his servants).

Belle saves her Dad (again). Then she returns and saves the beast.

A much more empowering movie for women.

But again, lots and lots of problems all wrapped in a happily ever after.


This movie is unique in that Fiona actually has both parents. Unfortunately they have little contact
since she’s imprisoned and guarded by a dragon.

Her parents are self-obsessed, manipulative, willing to risk her life, and unconcerned with her happiness. Not to mention embarrassed by her nightly transformations into an ogre.

Yikes. And I’m not referring to the ogre part.

Shrek ultimately rescues her in oh so many ways. They build a relationship (very quickly) and fall in love. She forsakes her human form and embarks on a life with Shrek as an ogre.

Happily ever after, though implied, is clearly a lot of work as seen in follow-up films.

Fairy Tale Patterns

Do you notice some commonalities here? I do. These families are an absolute mess. But the other thread winding through all these stories is that the main character never gives up. She won’t sacrifice what she believes in, despite the extraordinary pressures she’s under.

Therein lies the secret to long-term happiness, which is far better than the fairy tale sort.

What are your favorite fairy tales? Any special lessons learned?

R. H. Roberts enjoys plays with fairy tale themes in her stories and meddling with grand forces of good and evil.