With the release of “Raya and the Last Dragon,” the Walt Disney Animation Studios has now released 13 films that can qualify as “princess” films. These date back to the very first feature length film from the studio, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” While the first princess appeared all the way back in 1937, the concept took off with the launch of the Disney Princess toy line. But, the rules of that toy line have led to confusion on what constitutes a Disney Princess or what constitutes a Disney Princess movie. So, these are the parameters I’m setting for this list.
A. The Princess must be the main character of her movie. That means no “Aladdin” as Jasmine is not the main character of that film.
B. The success of “Frozen” has led to Anna and Elsa getting their own toy lines, so they aren’t considered official Disney princesses. Despite that, I am including “Frozen” and “Frozen 2” as they include with actual princesses.
C. A princess must be royal by birth or marriage or commit an act of great heroism. That means “Mulan” is available as she is one of the greatest heroines Disney has produced.
D. Although Merida is considered a Disney Princess, the film was made by Pixar and not the Walt Disney Animation Studios, so “Brave” won’t be included in this list.
So with those parameters set, this is my ranking of the 13 Disney princess films. Remember this is completely subjective to my opinion. Feel free to disagree. I’m sure you will.
13. SLEEPING BEAUTY
This film from 1959 was a box office bomb that severely hurt Disney’s standing at the time. While it eventually found its audience through airings on “The Wonderful World of Disney,” it did not start out strong and I understand why. Aurora is the weakest of all the Disney princesses as she spends a large section of her film asleep. She’s the least important character of the film. Disney’s decision to focus on Maleficent when they made a live action version makes perfect sense, because she’s the real star of the film.
12. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
The film that started it all. This is the most important film Walt Disney ever made. This is the most important animated film of all time. But, it’s also clearly a product of the 1930s. The animation is beautiful, but the story is lacking. It’s simple, but a little too simple. It was exactly what was needed in 1937, but as technology advanced, the company improved upon it and made better films.
11. FROZEN 2
The only sequel to appear on this list and one of only four sequels made by the Walt Disney Animation Studios, “Frozen 2” falls into the traps of many other sequels. It’s enjoyable enough, but is still a lesser version of the film that spawned it. Personally, I like the music in “Frozen 2” better than the music in “Frozen.” “Into the Unknown” is more enjoyable than “Let It Go” to me. As Disney expands its sequels from the now defunct Disneytoon Studios that made the straight to video sequels of the Renaissance to its main studio, I hope to see better films going forward. This one was fine, but left a lot to be desired.
This will be a controversial pick, but “Frozen” does very little for me. Objectively, it’s a perfectly fine movie. But, Olaf annoys me more than any other character in cinematic history and distracts from the interesting Elsa storyline. While the Anna storyline is predictable while still poking fun at Disney’s past in a meta way, Elsa’s storyline is intriguing. This film is beloved by many, but it’s just kind of meh to me. Entertaining? Yes. Contender for Greatest Animated Disney Film of All Time? Not for me.
9. THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG
This is the last 2D animated film and the first to feature an African American princess. This one gets overlooked, but is a real hidden gem that transitioned from the Post-Renaissance Era of animation to the current Revival Era. The story is one of the better ones in recent memory. Sadly, this film wasn’t a smash hit at the box office and is often forgotten about.
Personally, I think Mulan is the coolest of all the Disney princesses and she’s not even a princess. She’s not royal. She doesn’t marry into royalty, but she saves her country. It’s an amazing act of heroism that deserves recognition. That being said, there are other princess films I enjoy more. There are parts of Mulan that can drag, but Mushu is one of the best side characters in Disney canon.
Disney found a way to bring the story of Rapunzel to the big screen in an incredibly entertaining way. It’s funny. It’s fun. “I Can See the Light” is a really good song. And, I really enjoy the way Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi play off of each other as voice actors. It’s a chemistry that shines through in their performances. Plus, there’s some very creative uses for a frying pan in this film.
One of only three princess movies made before the Disney Renaissance, “Cinderella” is the best of the three to me. While Cinderella is far from being her own woman, she’s a lot closer than either Snow White or Aurora. She does more to advance her story while the other two let the story happen to them. This may be the zenith of storytelling during the years Walt Disney was alive. Plus, it features his favorite animated sequence of all time.
This film is controversial due to its white-washed telling of history, but, just taken as an animated kids film, it’s one of the best Disney has produced. It features, what I believe to be, the best song in Disney canon in “Colors of the Wind.” It tells a great overall story. Yes, it would be easier to accept the morals of the story if this wasn’t based on historical people. The actual Pocahontas lived a very tragic life. While that shouldn’t be forgotten, it also wouldn’t have made a good kids film. This one loses some points for that. It had the potential to be an all time great if they just would’ve made up some characters instead of reworking history into a G rated story.
This is my absolute favorite story about the Rock trying to drown a little girl. I prefer warmer weather to cooler weather so seeing warm islands rather than cold snow is always a plus. And, the music from Lin-Manuel Miranda is some of his best work. Plus, it avoids the typical love interest storyline that almost any other Disney movie has, especially the princess movies.
3. RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
The most recent princess movie is one of the best Disney films I’ve ever seen. First off, I love dragons and while this dragon isn’t scary, it’s still a dragon, so that’s a big plus from me. Also, there is not a boring part of the film. A lot of early Disney films can drag in the middle. Even some of the Renaissance and Revival Era films can drag. But, “Raya and the Last Dragon” never dragged. It slowed down in the right spots and sped up in the right spots. It’s pacing is perfect. It’s subject matter is a lot of fun. And, it’s got one of the best lessons for modern times.
2. THE LITTLE MERMAID
This is one of the most beloved Disney films and I can certainly see why. It establishes the formula that all but one of the Disney Renaissance films implemented to great success. If you like “Aladdin” or “Hercules,” you have “The Little Mermaid” to thank. It features an amazing soundtrack written by the incomparable duo of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. It launched one of, if not, the most lucrative eras of animation. It’s an all time great.
1. BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
The third film of the Disney Renaissance, “Beauty and the Beast” is the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars. It’s the second of three films to feature music from Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. And, it’s their best production, in my opinion. While Ashman didn’t live to see this film’s success, when he learned of its amazing opening, from his hospital bed, he told his friends he knew all along it would be a hit. It’s not without its flaws, but, to me, it’s the most entertaining of all the Disney princess films and is in my top 5 Disney films of all time.
That’s my ranking. But, which do you think is the best? Which is the worst? How would you rank them differently? I look forward to reading your rankings, but please keep it civil.