Disney Princesses and the Art of Originality

So, today, while derping around over at Kotaku, I stumbled upon a really cool post titled “If Disney Princesses were Final Fantasy Characters.” It’s pretty straightforward, and shouts out the artwork of one Geryes over on deviantArt. He has a project called the Final Fantasy Damsel Dossier, which consists of stylized versions of Disney princesses and official given jobs (RPG professions) as though they were characters from the Final Fantasy franchise. Here they are all together:

damsel_dossier_by_geryes-d6dinls

kida_dark_knight2_by_geryes-d6dnj2xGentle readers, your author adores both of the components of this fabulous artistic mash-up and has been poring over them all day. As an aside, the list includes official and un-official Disney Princesses. For example, on the right you will find Kida, the princess-then-Queen Regnant of Atlantis, who is not one of the eleven official Princesses, stylized as a Dark Knight. Most of them are thematic, e.g., Belle is Beastmaster, Merida is an Archer, etc. They’re incredibly cool; go check them out. It’s okay, I’ll wait here.

tumblr_mub3q9PA0x1qzimgeo1_1280Seeing this cast me back to other Disney Princess remixes I’ve seen, like this one by Mike V where Capcom fighter characters collide with our favorite Disney ladies. In case you were wondering which of them was the best, it is hands down this one of Lilo as Tron Bonne. There’s also a hilarious one of Disney Princesses twerking which is worthwhile, if nothing else, because it generated the phrase “a twerk is a wish your booty makes.

Besides the fact that these are all cool and hilarious, the frequency with which Disney Princesses are being remixed is an object lesson in how cool art has the potential to make the things we love even better if we are willing to let it be re-used, combined, and re-imagined. Most geeks already know this and can explain it in one word: fanfiction. But people are protective of their art, usually for two reasons I can think of: one, because they’re worried about it being taken from them and used, without credit or compensation; and two, because they don’t want it used for a purpose or interpreted in a way that they did not intend.

The first of these is exceedingly reasonable. Many artists receive very little compensation for the work they do, despite bringing skills and ideas that have taken their whole lives to develop. This is well-illustrated in the story of Picasso and the napkin sketch, wherein a fan asks the great painter for a little sketch on a napkin. He complies, and hands over the sketch asking for, oh I don’t know, 5000 EUR (they would have used pesetas, probably; no one knows what those are any more.) The woman recoils in terror, saying “But it only took you 3 minutes.” He replies, “No, ma’am. It took me my whole life.” More on that here.

tumblr_kuomv8qTsb1qz50oeo1_500The second is probably just as common a concern, but it is philosophically stillborn. To quote Joss Whedon: “All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn’t your pet—it’s your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.” To me, if your art is incapable of supporting any interpretation other than the one you intended, then your art is weak. All art, all ideas, inventions, what have you, come from combining or altering elements of things that have already been. And that’s okay.

JBanksy_Napalm_HR_400kust think of all the incredible art which blatantly rips off, references, or remixes other work. The Magnificent Seven is an obvious and long acknowledged interpretation of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and everyone knows that Kurosawa’s Ran is King LearThe Lion King takes from the Bible, Hamlet, and Kimba the White Lion, and is no less awesome for that fact. Banksy, anyone? It doesn’t do anyone any good to act like art, or writing, is slave to its creator. Everything is a remix of, or reference to, some thing or things that have come before. After all, there are only so many stories in the world.

But, I think that the “Disney Princess as X or Y” phenomenon (a couple of years old, in earnest) is special because of how important they are to us, culturally. Remember when it seemed that the appearance of Merida from Brave had changed to make her seem leaner, more “feminine” and less stocky? To quote Boondock Saints, “there was a firefight!” The Disney Princess are a multi-billion dollar institution, an important cultural touchstone, and they influence the self-image of young women and how our U.S. culture understands gender roles. Artistic remixes of Disney icons are an exemplar of the idea that nothing is too sacred or too important to be redesigned or reinterpreted. To say nothing of the fact that it produces beautiful things like this:

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