As catchy as the songs can be and as endearing as many of the characters are, Disney films are no stranger to criticism in regard to how they portray women in traditional gender stereotypes. Sure, there have been a few characters that have taken some positive steps in breaking the mold of the classic “Disney Princess” but for every Mulan and Merida there’s a Cinderella, Snow White or Aurora. Even the strong female leads who break new ground are sometimes reverted back to frustrating stereotypes in the completely unnecessary direct-to-DVD sequels.
So, when my fiancé showed me the Disney Princess Roller Girls created by artist Amanda Robinson, known as pixie-the-gator on Deviant Art, I was excited to see an artist place these heroines in the context of roller derby, which has worked very hard to redefine women’s sports.
Though not a derby athlete herself, Robinson is somewhat familiar with the sport and she has considered giving it a shot herself. “I’ve never played, but I have been to a couple bouts and I have been friends with women involved in my local league. I love the atmosphere and the spirit of camaraderie that the sport invokes. I have entertained the idea of checking out a derby boot camp.” Taking some of her favorite characters from the films and placing them within the sport was an exciting process for her. “Disney has always been a big influence on me. I thought it would be fun to give the princesses a new twist,” she explained of her decision to illustrate the Disney Princess Roller Girls. “I did a lot of research going through roller derby fashion catalogs and Disney model sheets. I tried to make sure most of the outfits would be reasonable athletically while still conveying the girls’ personalities and still keeping them each fairly unique.” While some of the designs came naturally to Robinson there were a few, such as Mulan’s “Mulan Bruise” derby persona, that proved a little more challenging. “I went through a few different designs with Mulan. I had a tendency when starting out to just give the characters short versions of their movie costumes at first, but [eventually] settled on more contemporary styles.”
Robinson has been drawing all of her life and carries around a sketchbook wherever she goes. When an idea comes to her, she will first sketch the piece out before scanning it and coloring it in digitally. Robinson graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in 2004 with a degree in Animation Art and Design and describes her experience of being there as an extremely positive one. “I focused mainly on traditional animation. It was amazing being in such a creative environment surrounded by like-minded people. School was a great experience for me,” she explained. That being said, Robinson feels that art is about much more than just studying and learning the techniques. Its also about challenging yourself and being resourceful in how you create. “I think a true artist isn’t just someone who knows how to draw, but someone who thinks creatively and is creative in many facets of life, not just traditional mediums.”
Though it is not likely Robinson’s intention, I personally like to think that these Roller Derby Princess illustrations tell a much bigger story. For example, I like to imagine that the back story for “Mulan Rude” tells of how after Mulan II, in which she helped princesses Ting-Ting, Su and Mei get out of their arranged marriages, the four women then started China’s first roller derby league together to reclaim themselves and inspire others in the process. Or how Squid Vicious shows that, maybe, the first thing that Ariel REALLY did when she got her human legs was pull fishnets over them and start a derby revolution on dry land. Then there’s Snow White, who I like to think realized that she didn’t know the first thing about this “The Prince” dude (an ageless guy who thought it would be appropriate to make out with a 14-year-old girl in a coma) and having grown tired of playing the part of a cleaning, singing, subservient young women, she strapped on some quad skates, joined a junior derby team and became Snow Fight. Roller Derby does seem to possess that power of transformation!
If you like Robinson’s Derby Princess artwork, prints are available for order online at Store Envy. She is also currently taking commission requests via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Speaking of commissions, Robinson has recently received a request to revisit roller derby and give the Dreamworks characters a chance to engage with the sport! Keep an eye out for the project on her deviant art page!
So, who are your favorites of the Derby Princesses and what backstory comes to your mind when you look at them?