When I was a kid, for six straight months, I dressed as “Ariel Pink” (what I used to call Ariel in her pink dress from “The Little Mermaid”) every day. And not just for dress-up — I wore my “Ariel Pink” dress to preschool, restaurants and even to sleep. I wore it so often that my parents had to buy me a second one. As that obsession subsided, in came my love affair with “Sleeping Beauty’s” Aurora. And when I wasn’t a princess, I was one of their sidekicks. My older sister and I recreated Disney movies in our basement, with her playing the princess, and me playing every other character.
My sister and I were practically raised on the Disney Princess franchise. They were our role models, everything we dreamed of being. While neither of us became an actual princess (unfortunately), the imagination these films inspired in us undoubtedly impacted the creative people we’ve both become. These films continue to hold a special, nostalgic place in my heart. So here are my incredibly biased rankings of this iconic franchise:
- Brave (2012)
I saw it once when it came out and honestly don’t remember what happened — just that I was bored.
- Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs (1937)
As the first Disney Princess movie, it’s the blueprint, the first draft and, honestly, has a ways to go. The animation is gorgeous, but the plot is forgettable. Plus, down to his awful name, Prince Floridan is the least appealing Disney Prince. And yes, apparently Charming is not his real name.
- Pocahontas (1995)
The music: superb. The story: not so much… the source material is grossly mishandled.
- Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Similar to “Snow White,” the animation is pretty, but the plot is lacking. At least it has humorous side characters and better music. And Philip is a major upgrade from Floridan. But given Aurora is only in 18 minutes of the movie, it honestly barely qualifies as a Disney Princess film.
- Cinderella (1950)
This time, the princess is actually the main character! With catchy tunes and arguably the most iconic fairy tale plot, “Cinderella” is my favorite of the classic Disney Princess movies. Cinderella herself is a little bland, but the film remains a solid installment to the franchise.
- Aladdin (1992)
Robin Williams! The humor is positively on point. The medium of animation is used to perfection when it comes to the genie and the flying carpet. But once more, the film is more about the would-be prince — and Robin Williams — than the princess. And let’s not forget that Aladdin — while charming — massively lied to Jasmine.
- Thumbelina (1991)
Chronically underappreciated, Thumbelina only recently became a Disney princess with Disney’s acquisition of 20th Century. (I love this movie so I made the executive decision to include it.) The animation is positively stunning, and the soundtrack is lovely. My sister and I agree the plot is bizarre at times, but endearing nonetheless.
- Frozen (2013)
Though it quickly became overplayed, “Frozen” remains a solid addition to the franchise. The story of the sisters is heartwarming, and the score is catchy. While Disney’s “twist villain” has by now been overdone, at the time, Hans’ villany was a shocking and engaging reveal.
- Mulan (1998)
Female empowerment at its finest. Plus, a fantastic soundtrack with the Lea Salonga.
- The Little Mermaid (1989)
“The Little Mermaid” hits all the beats of the formulaic princess film: a fun gimmick (mermaids), an admirable heroine, a handsome prince and an iconic soundtrack. There’s nothing especially unique, but it does what it sets out to do so well.
- Tangled (2010)
A great retelling of a classic tale with a nice underlying message about chasing your dreams and being unafraid to discover new ones. Rapunzel is adorable and tenacious. Flynn Rider is everything you could want in a Disney prince — or rather, thief. To top it all off, they’re voiced by two of my favorite actors, Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi, respectively.
- Moana (2016)
Surprisingly — yet unsurprisingly — Moana is the only Disney princess on this list without a romantic interest. Moana is fierce, persistent, well-rounded and beautifully independent. The story is rich with ancient Polynesian culture, which Disney actually took care to research this time. Moana engrosses you with its gorgeous animation, laugh-out loud moments and sweeping soundtrack.
- Beauty & the Beast (1991)
One of Disney’s best heroines, Belle is intelligent, generous and loving. She’s a true role model to young audiences. The Beast is a solid love interest, and Gaston is positively comical — and apparently based off of screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s ex, which adds a whole other layer of hilarity for me. There’s a certain charm to this film and to Woolverton’s script that gives it the number three spot on my list.
- Anastasia (1997)
Another recent 20th Century acquisition, “Anastasia” was actually developed to replicate and rival the Disney princess franchise. Well, it definitely succeeded, earning the number two spot on my list. Anastasia/Anya is an unforgettable character: she’s stubborn, scrappy and has loads of spunk. Her relationship with Dmitri is the best enemies-to-lovers arc to ever grace the animated screen. The backdrop of 20th century Russia — while absolutely historically inaccurate — gives depth, suspense and intrigue to the film. If you weren’t fortunate enough to have this film be part of your childhood, it’s a must-watch.
- The Princess & The Frog (2009)
Tiana is sensational. Hardworking, kind, giving, empathetic. She’s a great role model for young girls, and her story conveys an important message — the best of the Disney Princess collection — about the value of hard work. Plus, Naveen executes the guy-falls-first trope to perfection. The soundtrack is amazing. Sadly, “The Princess & The Frog” stands as the last 2D animation film of the franchise (with “Tangled” and “Moana” using 3D animation). But the medium is used beautifully to tell Tiana’s tale.