At this point, we've seen just about every iteration of Disney princesses recontextualized by creative fans. The well may have run dry, but this exhaustion speaks to how eager a global audience is for animated females who break the traditional Disney mold. In the meantime, one writer has started conjuring some new princesses who break that mold so comprehensively they've become more likely characters for violent indie thrillers than family-oriented studio fare. Which is kind of a shame.
Former DreamWorks effects animator and fledgling artist Jason Porath recently created Rejected Princesses, a website that features detailed, often hilarious stories and illustrations about some historical and mythical women who were just too darn interesting to end up with their own big budget four-quadrant vehicles. It's a counter example to the litany of animated heroines who seem to lack much agency; the ones who have some semblance of power within reach, but too often end up relying on a romantic interest or other helpful tropes, to save the day. (Porath cites Hayao Miyazaki's—especially Princess Mononoke and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind—as popular counter-examples.)
Rejected Princesses developed out of a lunchtime conversation at Porath's old workplace back in February, during which he and some colleagues tried to determine who'd make the least suitable candidate for an animated princess. After eventually soliciting some suggestions on Facebook, the gears began to grind in Porath's imagination and he was very much compelled to see what some of these characters might look like, even if he had to draw them himself.
"Each woman is based off as much visual reference of the actual story as possible," the artist says of the project which formally launched last week. "As opposed to any specific cinematic princess that's come before. The influences are different for each woman's story, with an eye towards detail. Pasiphae's entry, for example, is actually set in the historical palace at Knossos, has the constellation for Taurus in the background, and even uses her laurel to give her figurative 'horns.'"
Initially he went strictly off of friends and Facebook folks' suggestions. Once he started doing heavy research for some of these characters, others would announce themselves and prolong the research phase indefinitely.
"I tried to cast a wide net with this first batch—not just culturally and racially diverse, but pulling from history, fiction, and myth," Porath says. "Some are badass, some sociopathic, and some are just bizarre. The idea can be an umbrella for a lot of stories, and I wanted to see which ones people would react to."
Now that the response has surpassed anything Porath had been hoping for, with fans sending in loads of requests every day, expect to see lots more unorthodox examples going forward—even if Disney, Dreamworks and the like don't follow suit.
Have a look at more Rejected Princesses in the gallery above and read one of Porath's stories in full below.
Here’s one of the most badass Rejected Princesses of all: Sergeant Mariya Oktyabrskaya, the first female tanker to ever win the Hero of the Soviet Union award, and her tank, Fighting Girlfriend.
During World War 2, her army officer husband Ilya was killed in action. In response, Mariya sold literally all of their belongings in order to buy a tank. She then wrote Stalin the following letter:
"My husband was killed in action defending the motherland. I want revenge on the fascist dogs for his death and for the death of Soviet people tortured by the fascist barbarians. For this purpose I’ve deposited all my personal savings—50,000 rubles—to the National Bank in order to build a tank. I kindly ask to name the tank ‘Fighting Girlfriend’ and to send me to the frontline as a driver of said tank."
Stalin wrote back pretty quickly and said yes.
Initially, the army was skeptical of her ability to handle a tank. However, she quickly proved in training that she could drive, shoot, and throw grenades with the best of them—skills she’d picked up from her late husband, with whom she’d presumably had some interesting dates.
On her first outing in the tank, she outmaneuvered the German soldiers, killing around thirty of them and taking out an anti-tank gun. When they shelled her tank, immobilizing Fighting Girlfriend, she got out—in the middle of a firefight—and repaired the damn thing. She then got back in and proceeded to kill more Germans.
During all this, she wrote a letter to her sister describing her time in the war. She told her "I’ve had my baptism by fire. I beat the bastards. Sometimes I’m so angry I can’t even breathe."
In the end, she was taken out by a mortar round when she got out of her tank in the middle of yet another firefight to fix Fighting Girlfriend. She was awarded the highest honor in the Soviet Military and is buried in one of the nation’s most sacred cemeteries.
- That’s roughly what her outfit would have looked like, depending on the time of year.
- The model of tank depicted is a T34 tank, the actual one that Fighting Girlfriend was.
- The Fighting Girlfriend logo was on the side of the turret, just out of the cropping of this picture, so it didn’t make the cut. I didn’t want to be inaccurate and just put it on the turret.
- Mariya is actually sitting in front of the machine gunner’s outlook, so it would be jutting into her and presumably she wouldn’t be very comfortable. It was the only way I could make the composition I had in mind work.
- The German soldiers used many different color tracer rounds, but red was among them.
- The planes in the background are PE-8 Petlyakov Soviet bombers.
[Illustrations by Jason Porath]