Deviating on the Princess' Behalf

Curator's Note

Human maturity involves the attachment to role models, both familial and virtual. Part of our identity is being written based on the combination of people we depend on, a process through which we adopt similar goals and feelings from a character we identify with (Oatley ’94, Wollheim '74). For a large portion of the Disney princess fandom, these female characters provided this virtual role through trials of conflict, dreams, and love throughout the 90’s. Coincidentally, the individuals who grew up during this time - born between the late 80’s and the early 2000’s - coincide with the base majority of social media users producing content in the “golden age of fandom” . 

This content ranges from gender-swaps, to cosplays, and cross-branded work. I find that rendition works are the most expressive of the characters and human identification with them. Many renditions are recreations of a character in an individual’s artistic style, but, within this group, there are pieces that represent characters in ways that are not expressed within their official branded works. Some pieces I refer to reinterpret characters as contemporary citizens of reality, while others visualize how a character is depicted as a warrior, sword in hand. 

Jessica Madorran’s pieces are emblematic of these processes. In an interview with Bustle, she said, “Being able to portray these characters as the ‘not so helpless’ ladies they really are is the real motivating factor behind these drawings.” Madorran believes that, in depicting these characters as warriors and granting them weapons, they are freed from their prior images and roles. Yet the princesses from these films are not always depicted as “not so helpless;” characters like Ariel and Mulan both fought for their beliefs in their respective films. This is also seen in the “modern citizen” works that show Belle as a fan girl and Ariel as an anthropologist. Part of these designs stem from the original animations’ expressions, but a larger part emerges from the individual fan-artists’ own beliefs and identifications. With this knowledge, one can see more than a rendition of a princess and discover a lens into one’s own identity.

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