I recently heard a story about a librarian who did a fairy tale program for young kids and their parents. She was shocked and horrified to discover that none of the kids or their parents had had any exposure to fairy tales outside of the Disney version, and indeed, most of them thought that Disney was the original source of these tales.
I consider this to be an alarming trend. Parents, please expose your children to more than the Disney version of a fairy tale. Disney "cutesifies" these tales with wide-eyed talking animals, and a lot of times they also change the ending completely to make the tales more kid-friendly (eg. in the original Little Mermaid, she doesn't get the prince). If children only ever see the Disney version, they are missing out on a huge chunk of our rich, cultural heritage.
There are also problems with the way femininity and race are represented in the Disney movies. For a good critique of Disney, check out this documentary. Suffice to say, the women in Disney are either invariably evil (the witches) or beautiful princesses in need of rescuing. And little girls today are obsessed with the Disney Princesses. They are everywhere you look, on tv, in movies, in books, in toys. Disney has gone into merchandising overload. And these princesses are frankly not good role models for girls. There is a series of books that we have in our library called Disney Princesses Secrets (or something like that) and they go out all the time. In each of these little books, one of the Disney Princesses imparts a "secret" to the reader. Guess what Snow White's secret is? When she gets tired of doing "princess" things she sneaks off to the seven dwarfs' house and cleans it for them. Barf.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not completely anti-Disney. I owned and loved many of these movies myself as a kid. I still love Beauty and the Beast. But please, any parents, or anyone who is thinking of becoming a parent, please make sure your kids get more than the Disney version of any fairy tale. And to combat the weak female characters (cuz let's face it, even in the originals, many of the women are passive) try a couple of fractured fairy tales where the women take control of their own destiny.
A couple of my favourite feminist picture book fairy tales are The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (which also has the word "bum" in it as a bonus) and Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole (which has the most hilarious illustrations). And when they get a little older, try some Tamora Pierce, Shannon Hale, and Gail Carson Levine for some kick ass fantasy novels with strong female protagonists.