Freaky Fairytales: The 12 Dancing Princesses

What’s better than one princess to idolize? 12 beautiful princesses, each with their own hobbies! Take a closer look at the dark origins of Barbie’s 12 Dancing Princesses!

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Welcome to another Freaky Fairy-tale, where we dismantle your childhood fairy tales to show you the Grimm truth (pun intended). This week’s story, The 12 Dancing Princesses, is a story adapted from the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, also known as The Shoes that Were Danced to Pieces or The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes. While not as dark as the other Grimm tales, The 12 Dancing Princesses, has a darkness that isn’t as present in modern day adaptations.

The Grimm’s tell a tale of twelve sisters that share a single bedchamber and each night the King (their father) locks them in, but every morning their shoes are danced to pieces. When the king is tired of the lies from his daughters, he announces a competition. Any young man that can tell him how his daughters shoes were danced to pieces within three nights, will wed a daughter of the man’s choice and inherit the kingdom upon his death. But should they fail he would lose his head.

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So far only Barbie (Mattel Entertainment) has made a movie production of the Grimm’s tale, while Disney has not. Barbie’s production of The 12 Dancing Princesses, actually kept some violence in their movie, but this violence is shown in a different light than in the original tale. In the original story told by the brothers Grimm, when the princes failed the king’s challenge they died, and quite a few lost their heads….a few hundred, or a few thousand? The Grimm’s tale doesn’t specify how many young princes and men lost their heads, just that everyone failed, until the soldier.

But the soldier who succeeded, had help from an elderly lady on the road. She told him not to drink the wine, and to use this cloak she gave him to remain unseen. Which to be honest, brings up a few questions. Like how did she know the eldest princess was drugging the princes? And how did she just happen to have an invisibility cloak hanging around? Or why did she choose to help him out of all the men and princes that attempted the king’s challenge?

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But Barbie took an entirely different approach to the darkness of this tale. When the king overhears other royals commenting on how his daughters are “lacking in etiquette” or are “unladylike”, he feels as if he’s failed them and asks his cousin Duchess Rowena to come and teach his daughters. However, Rowena has her own plans to become queen and starts by stripping the princesses of their identity.

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Rowena manages to strip the princesses of their identity by forcing them to wear these gray, and dull dresses. She then proceeds to take away their hobbies, which includes everything, from sports to music, from reading to collecting bugs. Rowena took everything from these girls in order to break their spirits, under the guise of teaching them proper etiquette. She even banned music and dancing, the one hobby they all loved. But this was only the start of her plans.

The entire time, Rowena is in charge of the girls, she is also secretly poisoning their father. And when she finds out the girl’s secret about the magical underground kingdom where they have been dancing their nights away, she traps them in the kingdom. By trapping the girls, Rowena takes out any question of whom will be queen, especially when her convinces her cousin to sign the kingdom over to her while he’s sick.

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While the Grimm’s tale of The 12 Dancing Princesses, had it’s darkness in the form of executions, I think Barbie’s adaptation did a wonderful job of keeping the darker elements while making the movie light enough that it wouldn’t scare the children. As a child, when I watched this movie, I didn’t realize that Rowena was stripping the princesses of their identity, nor did I understand how the “medicine” she gave the king was actually poison. I saw her dump the medicine from the doctor into a plant, and replace it with a vial of her own, but at such a young age, I didn’t realize that it was poison and that she was making the king ill.

Reflecting back on the movie now as an adult, I understand the darker elements I hadn’t understood before and I think they were brilliantly executed. When I reflect on this movie adaptation, after reading the original story, I see how Barbie’s production kept the darkness there but made it more subtle so that the movie was light enough for a child to enjoy.

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