As violins soar, arching high across the rest of the orchestra, you know nothing but to expect that wide-eyes closed, story-stopping kiss; the one that graces the lips of every Disney Princess and her beloved prince, undoubtedly embodying all that we associate with a Disney Princess movie. The tableaux image epitomizes values of true love, success, and ultimately that ‘Happily Ever After’ both perpetuated by Disney and shattered by the reality of life. With a single animated character laden with the burden of so many values, it is easy to see why artists, and even Disney itself, has begun to reassess and challenge the role of the fairytale princess.
Writing under the pseudonym ‘Saint Hoax’, the Middle-Eastern artist’s recent ‘Princest Diaries’ (June 2014) blog-post uses the comfortable picture of success and happiness associated with the Disney Princess, warped into warnings with statistics and shocking juxtaposition (http://www.sainthoax.com/princestdiaries.html). The artworks reveal Jasmine, Ariel and Sleeping Beauty each locked in a tight embrace with their fathers, open-eyed with eyebrows uncomfortably raised, and their princess lips pressed firm against those of older men. Visibly less attractive, it creates an incredibly unsettling image. The caption across all three reads ‘46% of minors who are raped are victims of family members. It’s never too late to report your attack’. Pushing art to the verge of propaganda and the concept of the Disney Princess, with her floaty dress and clouds of bliss, towards the state of extinction, the message stands loud and clear. Similarly his ‘Happily Never After’, underlined by the caption ‘When did he stop treating you like a princess? It’s never too late to put an end to it’, explores domestic violence with reference to the same group of princesses. The effect is unnerving and extreme, particularly for viewers familiar with the characters.
This isn’t the first time that artists have adapted the stereotype to make a point. Artist Sashii-Kami (July 2012) depicts the princesses as catwalk models of high-fashion, elongating their already caricatured figures and adapting their signature garments for the runway. Similarly, Dante Tyler relocates their familiar faces to the front of Vogue (February 2012), further flexing the lines, pushing out breasts and enhancing waists, caking on make-up; this time lowering the necklines and pulling up the hems. These perceptions of modern beauty, as imposed on the representations of happiness and fulfillment, illustrate the futility of these characters and what they represent. This extension of the idyllic Disney feature, to match expectation of society and reality today, draws a parallel with Hoax’s work, encouraging the viewer to recreate the familiar in a challenging, unexpected and thought-provoking way. The flexibility of these characters prove that they are more than just a parts in a play, but also a concept to be played around with themselves.
Awareness concerning the impact of these characters has, in recent years, clearly extended beyond public perception to the individual thoughts of the filmmakers themselves. Brave (2012) explores Merida, a frizzy-haired, red-headed princess who single handedly defies both wider societal expectations of beauty and of her personal racial heritage. Similarly Frozen (2013) explores the love between two sisters, rather than the sought-after romantic love of a prince. The song “Let It Go” tracks the changes in discovering ones sexuality for oneself. This clear acknowledgement from Disney regarding the problems surrounding ‘The Princess’ character-type prove that perhaps this is one concept which thrives on its being challenged. Perhaps this set of values we so adamantly wish to associate with our childhood memories are not as crystal cut as we may think.
The provocative work of Saint Hoax therefore extends beyond just the screen or print, but into our thoughts and understandings of the concepts enforced on us from such a young age through the medium of the kid friendly movie. The uncomfortable reaction we experience upon viewing such a work is clearly a comment on both the power and influence on an international phenomenon such as that of the Disney Princess, as well as on the limits of our perception in approaching what we believe we know and love.