There are numerous differences and very few similarities between the MGM movie and the original Grimm tale of “Hansel and Gretel”. While the basic plot and basic characters remain the same, the MGM version took quite a few liberties with the characters by changing their overall personalities, as well as extending the story well past the fairly short plot of the previous version. The MGM version also took the less ‘socially acceptable’ parts of the plot and mostly erased them.
For the close similarities, we look to the characters and basic plot. Hansel and Gretel are both the main characters in each version, and both of their parents are present. We also see the witch playing much the same role she played in the original tale. However, in the original Grimm story the mother was angry at the lack of food and resolved to abandon the children in the woods because, if they didn’t, they “shall all have to starve to death”(Zipes, 44). In the MGM version, the mother was angry over a mistake the children made (allowing the donkey in the house, which led to the loss of food and milk) and ordered them to go to the woods to pick berries. This difference seems small, but when compared to the mother in the original story, it is easy to see the edits the directors made; the children are the ones who wander into the wrong part of the woods, instead of the less desirable truth that the mother wanted to abandon her own children due to their lack of food.
The differences in these versions are endless. Hansel in the MGM version pressures his sister to go into the woods, whereas in the tale, Hansel and Gretel are led there by their unwilling father (who plays a far less important role in the MGM movie). Another difference, partially mentioned above, is that the mother in the tale does not appear to love her children, while the mother in the movie fully regrets having told them to go pick berries (although they went fully of their own accord down the wrong path). The mother in the movie regrets her choice and shows that she loves her children very much; the other mother does not appear to love her children, wants to abandon them, and is dead at the end of the tale.
That difference leads to the final point: the reasons for these changes. The directors of the film probably made these differences so that people would watch the movies and enjoy them, and would hopefully remain unoffended. In a directors eyes, no one would ever want to watch a movie about child abuse (the mother abandoning her children), cannibalism (the witch eating the children), or any other matter of unsavory business. As such, the director would choose to change seemingly minor things about the tale in movie form; the mother loves her children; the witch eats gingerbread instead of the flesh itself of children. These differences are simply because the Grimm brothers wanted to preserve the tales as they had been told with little editing. Unsavory topics didn’t offend people as much in the past. Now, however, we would shy away from topics such as these. This is also why the movie had songs in it, whereas the tale had none. The music was meant to distract from the main plot and to keep the audience interested. Now, whether it did its intended purpose? Well, I suppose that’s another topic for another day.