Disney movies are notorious for slapping on happy, Hollywood endings where they don’t necessarily fit. Hans Christian Andersen’s original Little Mermaid doesn’t end up with the prince. Instead, she throws herself into the sea. The real-life Pocahontas never even married John Smith. Instead, she was captured by the English, married a tobacco planter, and died away from her family in England.
Those, of course, aren’t the endings most children are familiar with, raised on exuberant, animated feel-good musicals. But that’s what makes Dina Goldstein’s photo series “Fallen Princesses”–which shows familiar princesses in unfamiliar, bleak contexts–so captivating. She’s not simply adding darkness to these stories where it didn’t exist but revealing their more-complicated original spirits, using uncomfortable post-modern settings and aesthetics.
In one photo, Princess Jasmine becomes a guerrilla fighter, with choppers swarming overhead, in some Arabian desert. Rapunzel loses her golden locks during chemo. Little Red Riding hood gets fat.
The photo series has suddenly gone viral even though the project has been in the works since 2007. (“They have been around for a while, but it [the series] just keeps coming back on the Internet. And it seems it’s back for a new set of eyes right now,” Goldstein told Canadian TV.)
Gold says the inspiration for the photos came from dealing with her own daughter’s obsession with princesses at the same time that her mother was diagnosed with cancer. “I began to think: what if these princesses had to deal with real-life issues after the ‘happily ever after’ ending?'”
What if, indeed. The photos could be a litmus test for what kind of parent you are. Should you puncture the fantasies of your elementary school kids by showing them how tough the “real world” can be, even for princesses? Or do allow children to bask in the artificiality of Disney’s glow?