For the past several decades, Disney has spent a lot of their time bringing fairy tales to life for the audience—tales adapted from old myths, legends, folklore, and Hans Christian Andersen.
During that time, the mouse house has introduced the world to all kinds of heroes, heroines, and princes; however, none are better loved than their princesses. All of them have had grand adventures where they’ve had to confront unspeakable evil in all its forms.
From Snow White to Vanellope, Disney’s Princesses are a fundamental part of the Disney brand. They have shown generations of young women that they can do anything—and recently, they’ve all assembled for the first time in Ralph Breaks the Internet to critical acclaim.
But who is the best Disney Princess of all time? Who had the best story, character, and moral fortitude? We’re going to rank them, all the way up to the very best!
As positive messages to young women go, Ariel was guilty of being one of the worst. Allowing herself to sign a deal with Ursula where she gives up her voice and existence just to acquire legs for meeting a boy? Not the right thing to do at all.
The message was supposed to be one of being young and naïve; however, it comes across as encouraging one to change one’s self to meet another’s ideals of beauty. Ariel may be a Disney Princess, but her story is not one that people will want to show their daughters.
14. Snow White
There’s little wrong with Snow White’s actions—other than assuming that an empty house and all the stuff in it is essentially up for grabs. The real issue is that she’s the victim of her story, in that she’s extremely passive and doesn’t fight back at all.
Perhaps her weakness is down to it being a literal adaptation of the original German fairy tale. (Plus, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is a film from the 30s!) However, the ideals of womanhood have moved forward, and Snow White is a relic of the past.
Letting a prince fight your dragon for you while you take a nap may not be an exact description of Sleeping Beauty, but the overall message is pretty close. Aurora’s curse puts her in a deep sleep that only true love’s kiss can break, and Philip attempts to slay Maleficent.
Due to her curse, Aurora is kept away from the kingdom of which she’s princess, and she’s banned from talking to strangers. The whole character is an amalgamation of classic princess tropes with nothing more to add. Today, she’s uninspired—even if still charming.
Cinderella lives a horrid life up until the events of the famous night featuring her pumpkin carriage. Her stepmother is cruel to her, and she’s forced to be a maid rather than a daughter.
Cinderella’s revenge comes when her Fairy Godmother comes and helps her attend the ball. She summons the resolve to go through with it—despite knowing that her stepmother would be furious—and becomes a hit at the party, causing the prince to fall for her.
Cinderella’s message was a step forward for Disney, though it still seems old-fashioned by today’s standards.
Pocahontas was strong, willful, and knew that her place in the world was to be with her people—but she was boring. The film is no classic, and has become somewhat lost in the Disney oeuvre.
As a character, she stands for an overall positive message to young women as she tries to stop senseless fighting and bloodshed. Pocahontas doesn’t go back with John to England, understanding that a man isn’t more important than her duty and her people.
Pixar’s Brave is a largely ignored picture from the studio since it began an era of declining quality. It’s not a bad film; it just isn’t up to Pixar’s usual standard. Merida, as a character, is funny and wholly herself, even if she doesn’t bond with the audience entirely.
The reasons for this are hard to pin down, but it might be that she’s part of a film from which people expected better things. After all, she’s willful, bold, and a dab hand at archery—but missing that special element that’s needed to make her an icon.
Tangled feels like the bridge between Disney’s shoddy era and the Disney Revival Era. Rapunzel is half old-fashioned damsel and half hair-wielding warrior. She represents a girl that goes out into the world and finds her strength, fending off all kinds of evil in the process.
Though her rescue remains similar to the original story, she stands up to Mother Gothel when she realizes the truth and confronts the hateful woman. Through the film, Rapunzel stops being a classic Disney Princess and becomes one that fits the modern age.
By far the most fun Disney Princess, Vanellope was made to forget that she was the princess of her arcade video game by the evil King Candy (who was secretly Turbo in disguise).
Her friendship with Ralph is one of the best in all of Disney’s long history, as the pair share a bond that has no sense of romance to it. Vanellope has a strong sense of loyalty to her friend, and her story makes her a unique princess from the rest.
Because of her loneliness, Anna tries to marry somebody she has only met hours before; however, that’s where her similarities to classic Disney Princesses end. She’s a strong and determined young woman who loves her sister so much that she gave her life to save her.
Anna and Elsa’s relationship is complex due to Elsa’s powers and fear that she’ll hurt Anna. But when the film comes to an end, Frozen showed that sibling love can rival romantic love any day.
A Disney Princess with a tireless work ethic and a background that doesn’t involve any kind of castle? Yes, please! Tiana’s journey in The Princess and The Frog was eye-opening for her, but also made her resolute in her ambition to be her own woman.
After being turned into a frog, Tiana falls in love with a selfish prince who has had everything handed to him. But throughout the film, he comes to realize that her way of life is more fulfilling than his.
The Princess and The Frog made it clear to young women that there was nothing wrong with who they were—and not to change for a man.
Based upon the old Chinese legend of a female warrior, Mulan was an early example of the changing society reflected by Disney.
No longer was the princess of the story depicted as somebody in need of rescue; rather, she does the rescuing by taking her father’s place in the imperial army and serving in his stead.
Mulan defeated the Huns using her intellect and skill, proving she was as tough as any man around her. Her love for her father and devotion to her ideals saw her become an icon in contemporary cinema.
Elsa’s story is of confinement and fear of what she can do—until her will finally breaks and she lets everybody know. She’s a young woman struggling to be a Queen as she carries the burden of her parents’ deaths and her magical abilities.
She’s defined by her relationship with her sister Anna, as Elsa’s deep love for her sister is what drove her to isolation. Many people can identify with inner struggle, which makes Elsa a great character: she was responsible for showing people that it’s okay to trust yourself.
Moana’s journey across the ocean to save Maui and restore the heart of Te Fiti is as good as any Disney film has been in the modern era, and its leading character has come to define what young women see on the screen now in Disney Princesses.
Moana wasn’t a tale of love; it was a story of courage—something the eponymous character had an abundance of. Her attitude toward saving the island and her perseverence in the face of failure is what makes Moana a uniquely brilliant princess.
A complete firework of a princess, Jasmine’s fight against Jafar was only part of her journey in Aladdin. She also fought the very law that said she must marry a suitor!
As a character, Jasmine was a fearless rebel who knew that the law was unjust. As such, she chose to run away rather than be married off, meeting Aladdin in the process.
She saw through his disguise when he made himself a prince, and always called people out on their lies when she suspected as much.
She chose to be with the person who made her feel whole, which is an important take-away to anybody watching in any year.
Belle was Disney’s first truly independent woman. She was somebody who didn’t care what others thought of her and had no time for the macho neediness of men.
Belle was wickedly intelligent, having the rare gift of seeing one’s true inner beauty and knowing evil when she saw it. Her time with Beast presented Belle as a savior who took the place of her father, and over time she came to see who Beast was underneath.
She wasn’t a doe-eyed damsel. Belle was an intellectually superior renegade who fell in love with a man who had paid for his sins. Truly one of Disney’s best characters of all time.