It’s no secret that modern Disney fans are a creative bunch. When they’re not rooting for the villains, they’re reinventing, modernizing, and issuing critical commentary on popular Disney princesses. But why?
What is it about Disney that invites this kind of reworking?
With the rise of Tumblr and its subversive fan culture, Disney fanartists have taken on every aspect of the princess (and prince) pantheon, from gender…
While these redesigns have become so massively popular that they’ve been turned into parodies, the fan culture that created them remains seriously dedicated to the practice.
Part of the appeal is that the nature of these subversions invites us to think about the inherently heteronormative worlds in which Disney characters live and ultimately thrive. The worlds they inhabit often look very different from our own. And if you want more representation for other kinds of people and relationships, where better to find it than fanart?
Disney fanartist thenamelessdoll is a longtime member of Deviantart‘s community; but when she joined Tumblr just over a year ago, she began churning out insurrectionary takes on Disney heroines and heroes that have since gone viral many times over.
She’s done everything from giving them more realistic features to turning them into mermaids:
As a Swedish/Finnish film school graduate trained in animation, thenamelessdoll hopes to enter the industry, so she spends a lot of time polishing her skills by reworking various CGI-animated films. Though she has done similar projects with characters from other studios like Dreamworks, she tells us, “It is usually only Disney-related work that is recognized due to its position in our mainstream media culture. Everybody knows who Ariel is and what she looks like, so people will notice when a change is made.”
Most of thenamelessdoll’s more subversive pieces are done in fun, but they have also been endlessly reblogged by fans who use them to support their cries for diversity. She tells the Daily Dot that most of her fanworks “are not born out of a need to make a point; I do it to challenge myself and create something new. But sometimes a point is made automatically due to the already existing lack of diversity.”
Case in point: a more recent project in which she simply lopped off the hair of Disney heroines. “If half of the Disney ladies already had short hair, then my little project would never had been given as much attention as it got. “
According to thenamelessdoll, the dedication of fans to subverting these characters isn’t a sign of a negative attitude, but rather an even deeper level of investment in the characters and the Disney universe:
In the Disney fandom on Tumblr it is obviously the love for Disney that pulls us all together and creates this big family. Most of us simply want to create and appresiate beautiful art as tributes to our favorite movies and characters. But simply because we love Disney, does not mean that we are unable to critizes the company and/or its movies.
One of the biggest things that is usually portrayed in fanwork that re-creates the beloved Disney characters can be summed up in one word; diversity. Yes, there already exists great diversity in some regards, but when it comes to ethnicities, race, body types, sexualities, and even smaller things like hair length, there is not so much to choose from.
To see your favorite heroine/hero in a new light, and still know that they are appreciated and loved can spread so much joy to both children and adults. A plus-sized Belle, Indian Rapunzel, bald Snow White – these are things we never got from the originals, but still love seeing afterwards in the hands of fans.
While the “Disney princesses as X” trend may seem out of hand, it originates directly from fans who demand and expect more from the stories Disney has given us. And since Disney’s next princess of color, Moana, won’t be arriving in theaters until 2018, the entertainment giant isn’t exactly diversifying its character collection at an urgent pace. As a reaction, fans routinely take matters into their own hands.
The next time you have the urge to mock the latest “Disney princess” meme to hit your social network, remember that we only have the Mouse to blame.
Aja Romano is a geek culture reporter and fandom expert. Their reporting at the Daily Dot covered everything from Harry Potter and anime to Tumblr and Gamergate. Romano joined Vox as a staff reporter in 2016.