The princess line is one of Disney’s most successful franchises, but not all Disney Princess films are created equal. Which of these blockbusters are true artistic achievements, and which should have stayed on the drawing board?
Last week, we began our Disney Princess movie rankings by unveiling the top four of all time. We will start this portion by examining those films just outside the upper echelon.
Releasing near the close of the Disney Renaissance, Mulan simultaneously depicted ancient Chinese culture and twentieth-century gender relations with impressive authenticity, at least for a Disney film.
Fa Mulan is arguably the most self-sufficient princess in the entire roster, blowing up mountains and dueling villains to save her people and bring honor to her family. Her movie also features the best foil character not named Genie, but Mulan’s other friends are pretty much worthless stand-in characters who just take up space and sing badly on purpose.
Speaking of music, Mulan‘s decent soundtrack is carried hard by one of the greatest songs in Disney history and Lea Solanga’s Broadway voice.
Some story developments are almost too conveniently gender-focused when no one is supposed to know Mulan is a girl, but otherwise the story is above average for a Disney movie. All in all, Mulan is absolutely a film worth fighting for.
Moana was an absolute blast to see in theaters last year. As the latest princess film, its computer animation was unsurprisingly stunning, and a soundtrack from the brain behind the Hamilton hip-hop musical was an exciting mixup from the usual Broadway style of Alan Menken and others.
Lin Manuel-Miranda’s music is the biggest strength of the film, from the best princess solo song since 1998 to an impressive performance by Dwayne Johnson. Aside from the tunes, the titular character is what stands out to me.
Many Disney princesses face conflict stemming from expectations their parents and society assign to them. Sometimes, as in the above film, this conflict is presented and developed well in the main character. Sometimes it’s written quite horribly, as in the movie below. I believe Moana as a character presents and handles this type of conflict better than any of her peers. She honestly wants to stay on her island and fulfill her prescribed role as future chief, but she also battles an internal call to the ocean. She doesn’t simply discard one of her roles; instead, she embraces both and learns how to bring them into harmony.
Despite some great character development, Moana’s plot is overall pretty barebones. Not a lot actually happens, and the final conflict resolves very abruptly. The other elements mostly make up for it, but due to this shortcoming, #6 is exactly how far she’ll go.
7. The Little Mermaid
No other film on this list sports a mix of such amazing and terrible elements as The Little Mermaid, so it’s only fitting that it lands right in the middle of the rankings.
I cannot think of a worse Disney protagonist than Ariel. A spoiled brat with no empathy for anyone else’s perspective, Ariel is willing to trade away her only redeeming quality (her voice) to an obviously evil squid witch so that she can change her biology and MATE WITH A DIFFERENT SPECIES.
When you really think about Ariel’s choices and how they shape the central plot, the whole thing is quite bizarre. I understand being discontent with your lot in life, but running away from everyone who loves you so you can change your anatomy and live with a species that you’ve never even met before? How does any of that work?
Now, if Ariel had faced the consequences of her actions and worked to amend them, making the story one of growth for the protagonist, then some of these bizarre elements would be excused. But Ariel still gets everything she wants at the end. She still gets to be a human and have her perfect Mr. Jawline prince. She runs away at 16, rejects the advice of the more mature characters, essentially makes a deal with the devil, and gets a “happily ever after” anyway. Ariel is no doubt the absolute worst Disney princess.
It’s not all bad, though. The Little Mermaid ushered in a second golden age for Disney animation. In fact, without its success, Disney may have abandoned animated feature films entirely. Regardless of the strange nature of the story and the awful main character, The Little Mermaid boasts one of the greatest soundtracks of the bunch, courtesy of the great Alan Menken. I mean, its third-best song would top the soundtrack of many other movies on this list.
If the upcoming remake actually survives production, I’ll be very curious to see if it can portray a mermaid/human love story in live action without becoming awkward.
It may seem pretty late for the old classics to finally be making an appearance, but these films simply have not aged very well. Cinderella released almost 40 years before the oldest movie in the top seven, and it shows. Aside from ardent lovers of the classics, our storytelling standards have changed since Cindy’s day.
Cinderella is an impressively kind and selfless person, despite the mountains of abuse thrown her way. However, due to the period in which she was written, she doesn’t really do anything. The mice, the Fairy Godmother, and the Prince each take turns doing everything for her. In fact, the plot as a whole is extremely straightforward and kind of empty.
Still, Cinderella was a beautiful and charming production at the time of its release, and it almost singlehandedly saved Walt Disney Productions from financial collapse. It also spawned a couple of the most iconic Disney songs of all time. These factors, combined with Cinderella’s kindness, keep her movie just out of the bottom five.
That’s all for this portion of the Disney Princess film rankings. Now a total of eight placements have been revealed, and the bottom five will soon follow. Remember to check out the top four if you have yet to do so.
What do you think of the placings for your favorite Disney Princess? What has surprised you? Let us know here on this post or on social media.