From live-action remakes to television spinoffs, from sequels to toy lines, Disney princess movies are constantly being thrust into the social spotlight. While our levels of exposure to these cartoon heroines can be oppressive at times, they are popular for good reason.
Disney is perhaps the best producer of feel-good movies that still bear a degree of substance, and its roster of Disney princess films is no exception (well, usually). Though this type of movie may sound strictly intended for a child audience, these productions often boast humor, music, and characters that can engage any audience.
But which princess films will stand the test of time as the very best that Disney has to offer? I have systematically broken down my thoughts into a ranking of each movie, complete with grades for plot, music, and the lead character. A few rules for inclusion: each film must feature an official Disney Princess, and no sequels or remakes allowed. In this first post, we will cover the four films at the very top. Let’s get down to business.
1. Beauty and the Beast
When the live-action remake hit theaters in early 2017, a new generation of moviegoers was introduced to the pinnacle of Disney filmmaking. The 1991 Beauty and the Beast was the biggest player in the animation studio’s resurgence in the late twentieth century, dubbed the “Disney Renaissance.” It’s also my personal favorite Disney movie of any kind.
The princess and central character, Belle, is one of Disney’s earliest figures of feminism. Ahead of her time, she rejects her town’s backward conventions regarding marriage and education. She avoids the advances of men until she finds love on her own terms. Of course, those terms include falling in love with a prince who looks like a beast, which can understandably hang some people up. Still, a central part of her character is that she can see the beauty in anyone, and I find that this aspect is wonderfully represented in her love story.
The supporting cast is no less remarkable. Gaston is arguably Disney’s most likable villain, while the candelabra Lumière remains a universal icon two decades later. The plot is much more adult at times than one would expect. I mean, coercing a woman into marriage by threatening to send her father to an asylum? That’s not a children’s-story concept.
Perhaps the best aspect of Beauty and the Beast is, of course, its music. Composer/wizard Alan Menken delivers his greatest and deepest selection of quality tunes in this film’s soundtrack, from the rousing “Gaston” to the fiery “Mob Song.” And of course, the movie’s title track has stood as a soaring love song for the ages.
Another outstanding product of the Disney Renaissance, Aladdin is ironically a Disney princess movie that succeeds largely without help from its princess.
The high points of Aladdin come from the titular character’s story, another exquisite Alan Menken soundtrack, and a perfect performance by Robin Williams. Seriously, Williams’s portrayal of the Genie is a once-in-a-lifetime feat. The cast around Disney’s Princess Jasmine makes this film shine high above the majority of its companions.
Jasmine is decent for what she is. While not exactly a huge step forward as a progressive figurehead one year after Belle, Jasmine to is a symbol of sorts for women empowerment. She is famously “not a prize to be won,” though she sure dresses like it at times.
Menken crafted one of the greatest Disney love songs in “A Whole New World,” and Williams provided rich, multi-dialectic performances in “Friend Like Me” and “Prince Ali.” From the soundtrack to the characters, Aladdin is a memorable Disney princess film for the ages.
I proposed to my fiancée by singing a rewritten version of a Tangled song, so pardon me if I’m a little biased. This 2010 reimagining of the Rapunzel fairy tale is charming, romantic, and just plain fun.
Tangled focused more equally on the princess and male lead than most of the Disney princess movies prior, resulting in a pair of more balanced and well-developed characters. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider struggle with multiple internal conflicts, including issues of insecurity, identity, and belonging. They also work incredibly well as a pair, though Rapunzel still shines through as the proper star.
Rapunzel is adorable, and while perhaps not overtly feminist, she does feature a good balance of fending for herself and knowing when to seek help. Mandy Moore’s voice makes this princess one of the more vocally impressive in the bunch.
Speaking of music, there are some great tunes to be found in Tangled. While each entry is quality stuff, only one is truly a masterpiece: “I See the Light,” the best duet since Aladdin.
This production’s weakest point is its plot. While enjoyable, the story itself is fairly generic, even for a fairy tale retelling. The tears resurrection scene is straight out of Beauty and the Best, not to mention several other stories across various media. Still, every other aspect of the movie leaves you so spellbound and entertained that you hardly notice the plot simplicity until later.
The third Disney princess film in the modern Disney era, Frozen was hailed (heh heh) by many to signify the beginning of a second Disney Renaissance period. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Frozen‘s immense popularity, especially among the very young, has led to something of a counterculture revolt against the movie. I feel for those who have been turned off to Frozen because of unending exposure to badly-sung versions of its songs, but please realize, this is not the movie’s fault! Rejecting the idea that Frozen might be a quality film simply because it’s incredibly popular is a shallow and irresponsible judgment. Find another way to be hipster.
This 2013 movie is unique in boasting two princesses, and both characters have merit. However, the lead and far more interesting princess for me is Elsa. Her internal struggles are some of the most well-portrayed examples of character development across the Disney canon. I believe this scene is an achievement in depicting complex emotion in a visual and audible genre. A literal storm of fear entraps her, clouding her judgment and chilling her heart. Still makes me shiver. The film also broke ground for Disney princess movies by depicting another type of love as more powerful than romantic love.
In addition, due in part to the incomparable Idina Menzel, Frozen‘s soundtrack is among the best on the list. If one can get past the sounds of three-year-olds bleating out the lyrics, “Let it Go” is simply incredible, and it’s joined by a host of songs with similar merit.
Despite the over-hype, Frozen is a modern Disney work of magic not to be missed.
That’s it for the first section of my Disney princess film rankings. How do you feel about the selections? What movies are you surprised not to see? Let us know by commenting on this post or on any of our social media platforms.