It should be a surprise to absolutely nobody that there are large swaths of people who want to f*** Disney villains. Really, it would have been a far bigger shock if it had turned out nobody who ever watched the films that defined many a childhood had ended up crushing on the baddies. We could rhapsodize for days about the romantic and sexual allure of the pop-culture villain. Indeed, many members of Team FANGRRLS have done just that. We like 'em bad, what can we say? Clearly we're not the only ones, either, and one enterprising erotica writer has chosen to explore that fascination through a new series of books. Yes, the House of Mouse f*** fest is here, my friends!
Desperate Measures is the first book in the Wicked Villains series by New York Times and USA Today bestselling romance author Katee Robert. The first story follows Jasmine — yes, that Jasmine — as she becomes the partly-willing sexual slave of Jafar — yes, that Jafar. Upcoming novels will follow Hades and Meg from Hercules and Hook and Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Consider your childhood thoroughly ruined, my friends. (Or improved, I'm not here to judge.)
Writing erotica involving pop culture figures from our youth is hardly new or especially shocking. Personally, I've giddily read way too many romance re-imaginings of Beauty and the Beast to get all pearl-clutching about this trend. It's something storytelling naturally invites us to do. Great works subvert as well as comfort, and there's still something incredibly transgressive about taking the simplistic and often moralizing tales of our childhood and making them definitively adult. It's even more boundary-pushing when the narratives being appropriated are ones defined by The Walt Disney Company, a brand that has prided itself on family values and pretending the R rating doesn't even exist. That's not to say they don't get dirty, so to speak, but their specific moral and creative coding makes it exceptionally easy to read between those lines.
Disney villains tend to be more explicitly sexualized than the heroes (although that's not a guarantee, given the way characters like Ariel, Jasmine, and Esmeralda were designed in obviously sexual manners), so it's not hard to see that that would prove so attractive to young and impressionable viewers. The villains are often positioned as seductive, offering something much more tantalizing and taboo than your well-worn happy-ever-afters. Their selfish lusts for power have their own forceful appeal too. Given how asexual the prince romantic interests often seem to be (it's a lot easier to sell toys to kids that way), it's no wonder swaths of young viewers grew up looking for more of that swarthy villainy.
Disney has all too often relied on the “ugly equals evil” dynamic in their works, so it's fascinating that stories like Robert's reclaim them as attractive. There is a great benefit to that. Aren't we all kind of sick of the reductive and harmful social more that defines badness by aesthetic? Even Disney is turning its back on that trend, in both animation and live action. Remember, Jafar is hot now. Like, super-hot.
In Robert's first book in this series, Jasmine has always had a dark crush on the older, more sinister Jafar, and it is in his forceful approach to sex that she finds liberation from her staid and restrictive life. Villainy is positioned as a form of freedom in this narrative. It's not just that he offers a whole new world (get it?!) beyond what she would have been forced to live with according to her father, but that Jafar offers a more titillating route to power through desire. The book does deal in relations of dubious consent, but it's also very clear in Jasmine's sexual freedom and the activities she enjoys, mainly BDSM and voyeurism (and getting royally f*cked by Meg, so fanfic writers can tick that one off their list). And it's not hard to see why someone would extrapolate that dynamic from the original Disney movie. I'm sure many a viewer saw a scantily clad Jasmine pretending to seduce Jafar and wondered if Archive of Our Own users had had the same ideas they did.
One element missing from this series so far is the question of Disney villainy and queer coding. When I mentioned on Twitter that I was reading this book, someone asked how on earth Jafar could be positioned as straight in it. He is depicted in an undeniably camp manner in the movie (he wears eyeliner, is positively giddy about his own evilness, and his best friend is a sassy talking parrot), and that's not uncommon for Disney movies. There's a long history of queer coding in cinema (as fellow FANGRRL Tricia Ennis explains in this piece), and many LGBTQ+ fans embraced Disney's “gay villains” as one of their own. Here's hoping the rest of the series lets some of those villains be here and queer.
Of course, there is one big question that needs to be answered here, the veritable non-Dumbo elephant in the room: Is this legal? Can you really publish erotica featuring prominent Disney characters as your own work? Well, obviously not, but Robert has clearly thought hard about that problem and worked to avoid falling into such pitfalls. The novel takes place in a modern-day non-magical AU, with the setting seemingly in a made-up American city. Jasmine is the daughter of a crime lord, and Jafar is one of many opposing figures in this criminal ecosystem. Given the prevalence of sexy crime bosses in romance, this makes a lot of sense, and it also totally strips the Disney story of anything that could be considered Disney-esque or fall under that trademark. The other side effect is that it utterly removes the Aladdin story of its cultural and racial aspects. The setup centers on fighting factions and the exclusive sex club seemingly every villain in the area frequents, called The Underworld (get it?). As you can tell, none of this has anything to do with Disney's Aladdin or any story they've released in their decades-long history. It's very 50 Shades in its approach, only with even less narrative structuring taken from the original story.
That doesn't fix everything. Hades can be excused as being inspired more by public-domain Greek mythology than Disney's blue-flamed James Woods version. However, Captain Hook and Tinkerbell are under a trickier set of copyright rules. In the UK, Peter Pan is still under copyright and the royalties, as desired by J.M. Barrie, go exclusively to the Great Ormond Street Hospital. It recently entered the public domain in Europe, and the novel has been part of America's public domain for a while (although the play and various stage adaptations are still under copyright). The original story of Aladdin dates back to the 1700s, so it isn't under copyright. However, the named characters of Jafar and Jasmine aren't in the story. That's all Disney, and this is a company that is famously litigious when it comes to securing its trademarks. Truly, it's kind of amazing that Robert has managed to get the press she has for this book and not draw the attention of Disney. Perhaps the company doesn't want to Streisand Effect this stuff into infamy.
The ethics of fanfiction will be debated until the internet collapses, but regardless of the business side of things, fanfic has always been an excellent and oft-misunderstood means for people (especially women) to dig into transgressive ideas and sexual freedom through familiar properties. Robert just took it one step further, and it remains to be seen if she can finish the series before the lawyers come knocking at her door. So enjoy it while it lasts!
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.