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From the moment that Walt Disney animated its first feature film, Disney and princesses were permanently linked together. From 1937 and 1959 Disney would release three films based around princess characters and during the Disney Renaissance of the 1990s we would get five more. Disney continues to release new movies with princesses every now and then.
But just which Disney Princess movie is the best?? I decided to take a look at all of Disney’s animated princess films and rank the efforts, considering the princesses the flicks introduce and how good the movie is as a whole. This isn’t about which is the best Disney Princess, simply which movie that contains a princess is the best. Let’s dive in and figure it out.
Pocahontas is unique among the Disney Princess movies for being the only one based on an actual person rather than a classic fairy tale or an original concept. While this was an intriguing idea, in practice, we can see why Disney hasn’t gone down this road again. Disney-fying a well known fictional story is one thing, doing it to an actual person is something else.
Pretty much everything in Pocahontas is forgettable. The villain is generic. Most of the music isn’t memorable. Pocahontas herself isn’t a bad character, but the story surrounding her is simplistic. It’s Disney’s Dances with Wolves, and that’s not a compliment.
Cinderella was Disney’s second princess movie, hitting theaters in 1950. If there’s a single princess that is the Disney Princess it might be Cinderella. Her castle stands in the middle of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and the story itself may be the best known of all western fairy tales. Cinderella’s Wicked Stepmother get her due as one of the nastiest Disney villains in history. The movie even has a nice twist at the very end which audiences in 1950 likely didn’t see coming.
However, all that I just described is maybe half of the runtime of Disney’s Cinderella. A lot of the movie is dedicated to the family cat’s attempts to catch Cinderella’s mouse friends. If these were animated shorts they’d be cute, but they take the focus of Cinderella away from the characters we’re supposed to care about for far too long; because of this, the flick ranks lower than you might guess.
Merida from Brave is the one Disney Princess who was never in a movie from Walt Disney Animation Studios. However, she is still considered a part of the Disney Princess crew, at least for marketing purposes. Merida is Pixar’s only princess to date, but she’s a pretty significant representative.
Brave suffers a bit from the fact that Merida’s want/need dynamic never changes over the course of the story. It’s unclear how much she truly changes, which makes for a somewhat unsatisfying character arc. However, what does happen that causes growth for Merida is a deep understanding of her mother that wasn’t there before, and that’s certainly a story worth telling and a message worth embracing.
10. Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is an iconic film and one of the most important movies of the 20th century. It launched Disney’s feature animation division with a movie that shocked the public simply for existing. It will forever be an important part of film history.
Yet, while Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has some great music and the Wicked Queen was apparently so legitimately terrifying for little kids that things had a tendency to get messy in the theaters, this movie also is only of middling rank. That’s because Snow White isn’t the most exciting main character in Disney history, although the seven dwarfs that surround her do a great job to make up for that.
9. The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog is the last traditionally animated movie Disney ever made. The fact the movie wasn’t a box office draw was the major reason this form of animation is essentially dead. And it’s all too bad, because The Princess and the Frog is actually a really good movie.
Tiana is up there with CInderella as the hardest working woman in a Disney Princess movie. The jazz soundtrack is top notch. Dr. Facilier is one of the most underrated Disney villains. Plus, yeah, the loss of hand-drawn animation is a travesty and this movie is evidence of that.
Tangled is a personal favorite of mine. It’s got pretty much everything you want from an animated Disney movie. It’s funny, it’s got action, it’s got romance. Really, what else do you need? The animation on Rapunzel’s hair is worth checking out Tangled for the technical mastery alone, and while you’re at it, enjoy the smolder.
Most Disney villains have magical powers they use to exert their will. Tangled‘s Mother Gothel is so much worse than any of that. Her only ability is to be able to psychologically manipulate Rapunzel, in the way that only the worst sort of mother can. Tangled also has the best modern love song in all of Disney. So, yes, it has a lot going for it, but it’s not as classic as some other titles.
7. The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid was Disney’s first princess movie in 30 years. By modern standards, Ariel is maybe still a bit “classic” in her sensibilities, but for 1989 she was a breath of fresh air. This was the movie that launched the Disney Renaissance in animation and proved that Disney still had a lot to offer the medium that made the studio a household name.
It’s easy to see why The Little Mermaid was so successful. Ariel is easy to love, the soundtrack is one of the best that Disney produced. The ending leaves a little something to be desired, though. Ariel doesn’t really grow as a character in any meaningful way, but when you’ve fallen in love with her dream, it’s hard to want her to get anything less.
Jasmine is an official Disney Princess, and so her movie will be on this list, even is the movie itself isn’t truly about her. While Jasmine may not be the focus of the film, there’s no denying that Aladdin is an excellent film.
You can’t talk about Aladdin without talking about Robin Williams. His Genie is what makes Aladdin. Without question this is the funniest movie on this list for him alone. On top of that you have great music and an exciting adventure featuring a princess, combining into a near perfect movie.
5. Sleeping Beauty
The third of Disney’s classic princesses movies shows everything that Disney had learned about animation up to that point in a near perfect way. The art style, which combines Art Deco elements and classic medieval art, gives Sleeping Beauty a look no other Disney film had before or has had since.
Aurora falls somewhat into the Snow White trap of mostly being the victim of a plot that she takes no active part in. The bickering fairies also have a tendency to be more annoying than entertaining. However, in the end, Sleeping Beauty does have one of the most memorable antagonists in film history, along with an action-packed finale and a truly beautiful look. It’s enough to shift it into the fifth slot.
Mulan is unique among the Disney Princesses because she’s not technically a princess. She is neither of royal blood, nor does she marry anybody who is. However, according to the rules of being a Disney Princess (yes there are rules for this), you can also become one if you perform an act of heroism and Mulan certainly did that.
Mulan is Disney’s action hero movie among the princess titles and that, along with its Chinese history, puts it in a class very much by itself. Mulan is possibly the most proactive princess of the lot which makes for a character that you truly root for. Eddie Murphy’s comedic sidekick is no Genie, but he’s truly funny. The upcoming live-action adaptation of this one is going to have its work cut out for it.
Yes, we all know just how popular Frozen is. We’ve all heard “Let it Go” more times than we can count, and if you have kids you’re probably still listening to it, but there’s a reason for the film’s insane popularity. It’s actually that good.
In Frozen, Disney made a film that is both a welcome addition to its history of princess movies, while also making a conscious concession to the way those earlier films have become, a bit more complicated, over time. It’s a perfect balancing act. There’s a reason these princesses — and yes, there are two — are the first to ever get a full animated theatrical sequel.
In her movie, Moana claims she’s not a princess, but as Maui so succinctly puts it, if you wear and a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess. Moana is the daughter of the chief, and that basically makes her a princess. Most fans would certainly agree.
As the modern Disney princess movies go, it’s hard to beat Moana. The animation is absolutely beautiful. The movie’s backgrounds are lush and beautiful, the ocean feels as wide here as it does in reality. Moana as a character is more complex than your average princess, truly torn between her duties and her desires, making her more compelling, and her adventure is one of the most purely exciting. Add to that the best modern Disney soundtrack, and you have a big winner.
1. Beauty and the Beast
What else is there that can be said about the first animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards? The movie is near perfection. beautifully drawn using the best techniques of both traditional animation and computers, and some of the most memorable songs that Disney, a studio known for music as much as animation, ever created. There’s a reason that the live-action remake was too scared to make too many changes to this one.
While the remake may not have changed much, there’s no replacing the original. Belle has all the grace of a classic Disney Princess, while having an energy and a drive that is unique to her. Beauty and the Beast is one of the greatest examples of hand drawn animation ever, and the music is without equal. There’s just no topping Beauty and the Beast.
Whether adored for their beauty, their romantic relationships, or their adventures, the Disney Princess is one of the most well-known and popular archetypes in fiction. Most of these characters are so old they’re public domain, but the Disney version has largely replaced any other as the definitive version of these centuries-old characters.
We’re sure to get entirely new Disney Princesses one day, but the ones we’ve seen before will likely never go away. Every one of these women is somebody’s favorite and when it comes to that there’s no wrong answer.