Another week, another Disney list (only one more to go!). This time, it’s my turn to look at some of the most iconic (and the most aggresively marketed) of Disney characters: the Disney Princesses. The title of this post is misleading, because I decided that, since there are only twelve “official” Disney Princesses in the Canon, it wouldn’t make sense to make a top ten, so this is a ranking of the twelve, again, “official” Disney Princesses in the Disney Canon. Which sparks the question: what exactly is an “official” Princess? Funny you should ask, because it seems like the classification is highly arbitrary. It apparently doesn’t have anything to do on whether or not you are a Princess, or what kind of movie you appear in. It has, however, all to do with marketing. For example, Merida, from Brave, is considered a Disney Princess despite her movie not being in the Disney Canon (because it is a Pixar movie).
Meerida is actually an easy case. Consider how characters like Eilonwy (from The Black Cauldron) and Kida (from Atlantis: The Lost Empire) are not “official” despite unambiguously being Princesses. It doesn’t stop there, since I’m not sure that Mulan and Pocahontas (who are considered “official”) are actually Princesses. I guess you could call the daughter of the leader of the Powhatan tribe a princess, but Mulan, who is not royalty, and probably ends up marrying a high-ranking officer, but not a nobleman, is definitely not a princess. Anyway, this is all stupid because, like I said, the only factor in determining who is and isn’t an “official” Disney P rincess is marketing value. You can only join the club if you are going to sell a lot of dolls. For this list, I considered the “official” Princesses that appear in Canon movies (so no Merida, and no characters that have, for one reason or another, been deemed “unmarketable”).
Oh, and just as a reminder, this is obviously completely subjective, and based solely on the way the character is written, designed, and animated. I am not trying to make any kind of feminist statement of anything simply because I’m not in the mood to open that can of worms.
12. Princess Aurora (from Sleeping Beauty)
On the one hand, Sleeping Beauty is a strong candidate for being the most visually outstanding movie in the Disney Canon. Every element of its design is as eye-popping as animation could get back in 1959, and it holds up terrifically well. On the other hand, though, Princess Aurora, or Briar Rose, as she is referred to for the most part of the movie, is not a very exciting or interesting character. She may have the title role, but she isn’t in very much of the movie. She basically sings in the woods for a little while and then spends the rest of the movie asleep, waiting to be rescued by Prince Philip. Maybe if she had a little more to do she would be higher on this list, but as it stands, she gets last place almost by default.
11. Princess Elsa (from Frozen)
Sure, she has her show-stopping moment when she gets to sing “Let It Go”, but you can only get so far in my estimation when you are a character that spends most of the movie moping around. By the end of her musical number, Elsa supposedly emerges as a self-assured, powerful ice sorceress, but a few scenes later she goes back to being a scared, tormented teenager. Such a characterization might be what the movie needs, but it also makes her a rather dull character to watch. If there ever is a Frozen 2 (and I hope to God there isn’t), we better get a confident Elsa that uses her powers as often and spectacularly as she pleases.
10. Tiana (from The Princess and the Frog)
I feel like this is awfully low for a character as ambitious and well-intentioned as Tiana. Let’s forget about the whole “first African American” Princess for a moment, the really great thing about Tiana as a character is that she is a hard-working, determined, strong woman. She knows what she wants, and she is going to get it. That is an amazing message for little girls if there ever was one, which makes it all the more frustrating when the movie ends up giving the message that working hard isn’t going to help you achieve your dream as much as wishing on a star and falling in love with a womanizing Prince is. Anyway, Tiana could have won extra points for how beautifully animated she is, but it doesn’t help that she spends most of the movie as a frog that is rather boringly designed.
9. Snow White (from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)
As far as personality goes, Snow White is as blank a slate as you can get. She does, however, know how to croon a thirties standard, and how to melodically persuade woodland critters to help her clean up the dwarfs’ house. I guess she does express a certain level of strong personality when she demands the dwarfs wash their hands before eating dinner, but yeah, that is definitely not much. Still, the appeal of Snow White is the same as the appeal of the movie she appears in: she is a marvel of the craft, a historical milestone in the art of animation, and as fantastically and carefully animated a character as there ever was in the medium. I might not want to have a conversation with Snow, but I could watch her sing and clean that house forever. I’m sorry if that sounded uncomfortably sexist. You know I didn’t mean it that way.
8. Princess Jasmine (from Aladdin)
I guess Jasmine is not a very memorable character, because I can’t really remember all that much about her or her personality. I guess this is a good place for her on the list, because while I don’t have any big problems with her, I can’t find any outstanding qualities in her either. I guess it is somewhat empowering that she doesn’t want to be married to some random prince she has never met, but she is also a little too rude and uncooperative with the fact that her being married is an important political move for her country. You also have to be a little dumb to not realize Aladdin and Prince Ali are the same person, especially since he is apparently the only guy in the whole kingdom that doesn’t look like a cartoonish buffoon.
7. Anna (from Frozen)
There is no denying that she is ridiculously naive, but she is also determined to do something! And if I’m being honest, I find her unbearably adorable. And so enthusiastic! She also has her fair amount of pathos, and I can’t help but feel for the whole loneliness thing she experiences during “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”. Also, she is clumsy! How adorable is that? Sorry, is that a non-feminist thing to say? See, I should never have made this list, I feel so uncomfortable! Anyway, yes, she might be a little too similar to Rapunzel, but I do still find her more fun and exciting than her sister.
6. Cinderella (from Cinderella)
I feel like there is this perception that Cinderella is the most passive and boring of all Disney Princesses, and while she is definitely a product of her time, she has some very interesting qualities to herself. I said so when I wrote about the movie, but I continue to be fascinated with the psychological aspects and relationships featured in Cinderella. If you look at the movie, Cinderella isn’t as much a helpless young woman as she is a motherly figure, which is logical considering how the whole theme of the movie seems to be motherhood. She represents the caring mother as opposed to Lady Tremaine’s evil ways. It makes sense that a family movie released in 1950 would be concerned with showing the virtues of being a good mother, but it doesn’t mean that Cinderella isn’t an interesting character.
5. Pocahontas (from Pocahontas)
There are many things wrong with Pocahontas, but its depiction of the title character is not one of them. First of all, Pocahontas is simply one of the most beautifully animated characters in the story of the medium. I don’t care what your computers are capable of doing, they will never make a character move as gracefully as her. And on the other hand, while there is some “noble savagery” going on, she is one strong woman. She isn’t afraid to tell John Smith that he is an idiot, she isn’t afraid of standing up to her father, and most importantly, at the end she decides to stay with her tribe instead of following John Smith back to England.Well, at least until that horrible straight-to-video sequel that we all pretend never happened.
4. Rapunzel (from Tangled)
I continue to be delighted and fascinated by the character of Rapunzel (and with Tangled as a whole). First of all, she is so freakingly delightful, perhaps the most charismatic and lively of all the Princesses on this list. She is also, however, the most realistic as far as depictions of what an actual teenaged girl is like. The level of psychology implied in Rapunzel’s story and personality is rather outstanding. I can’t think of a more relevant way in which you could depict the story of a girl who grows up locked up in a tower not knowing the person she thinks is her mother is actually her captor.
3. Ariel (from The Little Mermaid)
“I wanna be where the people are/I wanna see, wanna see them dancing” I could just quote the rest of “Part of That World” and call it a day, but instead I’ll say this. In these tumultuous times in which so many people are fighting for the civil rights of the LGTB community, I think it’s time that we embrace Ariel as the transgender icon that she should have become by now, because if the story of a mermaid who becomes a human isn’t an allegory for sexual identity, I don’t know what it is.
2. Mulan (from Mulan)
One of my big takeaways from doing this whole Disney Canon project, was that Mulan is a freaking amazing movie, and not in small part because it at has a freaking amazing heroine at its center. Say what you will about any of the other Disney Princesses, but none of them started the movie as a clumsy teenager, worked their assess off training, and ended up saving all of China from being conquered by an evil warlord. Her character arc is so clear and well defined that she might very well be the best role model of all the Disney Princesses.
1. Belle (from Beauty and the Beast)
Belle seems very much like the first Disney Princess for which trying to give her a more feminist personality was a major concern. Thankfully, though, her role as a strong female goes beyond the fact that she reads books (a characteristic that is, nevertheless, a very nice touch). The truth is that she shows a level of agency that was unprecedented in Disney movies at the time, and one that is arguably still yet to be surpassed. Also, because the filmmakers working on this film ended up making one of the best animated films of all time, her character arc is still the best example of reconciling having a female lead that is strongly independent and falls in love at the same time. It might be depressing, but movies are still not great at balancing something that is as common in real life as that.