The first Disney Princess is Snow White. Now, a lot of people would have you believe that this is only to be expected—of course the first Disney movie and the first Disney princess coincide, because Disney is all about the princess movies. Insert complaint about Disney movies here, and there are several complaints it could be. Some of them are even reasonable. Then you tell them that the next ten Disney movies are completely princess-free, and that arguably Disney only twice released two princess movies in a row, and they will not understand or believe what you’re saying.
Now, that “arguably” is doing a certain amount of work, depending on your princess standards. There is no dispute that after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we’d go until 1950 and Cinderella, the twelfth Disney animated feature, before we got a second princess. Seven of those ten movies between them were package films, but there isn’t even a princess short in the lot. Three more films would go by before Sleeping Beauty made a third Disney princess. Then it would be literally thirty years and The Little Mermaid before we settled into the current pattern of a princess every few years. The first time there would be two Princess Movies in a row was Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.
On the other hand, of course, there are the debatable cases. They don’t count Megara of Hercules as a princess, but her being followed by Mulan—who isn’t a princess but is a Princess—is considered by some the first case of two in a row. Other debatable cases? Princess Kida is a princess but not a Princess, but since the movies on either side of Atlantis: The Lost Empire are The Emperor’s New Groove and Lilo & Stitch, it doesn’t matter. Tiana was followed by Rapunzel, the second definite case. Vanellope von Schweetz is another princess-not-Princess, and she’s followed by Anna and Elsa. She also then comes between Moana—who rejects the title of princess but is officially a Princess—and then Anna and Elsa again. And there are princesses in Raya and the Last Dragon, after Anna and Elsa. Though they’re not Princesses yet.
In fact, the official Disney Princess list is a little surprising; neither Anna nor Elsa are on it. I suppose because, if you’ll pardon spoilers, they are both technically queens by the end of Frozen II. The list also includes one Pixar character; Brave gets us back into the “depending on your terms” cases. Her movie came out before Wreck-It Ralph by a few months. For a while, Alice was on it, which would make her a duplicate—her movie came out after Cinderella—but they seem to have realized that was a bad idea and taken her back off it. But Mulan is definitely on it; unlike the others, she is neither born a princess nor marries a prince. I mean, Pocahontas is a little complicated based on what we know of the Powhatan, but at least you can make an argument. Not so with Mulan.
So right now, Disney lists twelve official Princesses, one a Pixar character. There are six more movies where an argument can be made. That brings us to a total of seventeen Disney animated features in the official canon, plus one Pixar, with princesses or Princesses in them. Out of a total of sixty movies in the Official Disney Animated Canon. And 24 Pixar films. So why is there this belief that Disney doesn’t do anything but Princess Movies? Not only is it demonstrably untrue, it’s never been true.
Yes, let’s be real—part of it is marketing. Disney has put a lot of time and effort into marketing their Princess brand. In fact, there are some current choices that I passionately believe are solely to do with marketing. All the Princesses have a colour that they’ve claimed. But Cinderella’s ballgown is in white, and Disney’s got to know that parents are less likely to buy their kids white play dresses. So they put her in blue instead, so they put Aurora in pink, and Ariel gets the same green as her mermaid tail despite wearing a pink gown in the movie. I believe this strongly enough so you’d have to show me internal documentation to convince me otherwise.
And part of it is that the Princess movies, at least in recent years, have tended to be the more notable films. Admit it—you also forgot that The Rescuers Down Under came between The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. I could tell you that Dinosaur came between literally any two movies in the last thirty years and you’d believe me because who even remembers Dinosaur? (It’s between Fantasia 2000 and The Emperor’s New Groove, three of the twelve non-Princess movies between Mulan and The Princess and the Frog.) Even several of the movies I like, such as Meet the Robinsons, are pretty well forgotten.
But that leaves out that, you know, Aladdin was followed by The Lion King. And if you really want to stretch the definition of “princess,” and know enough about how lion prides work, you could include Nala as a Disney princess, but literally no one does because why would you argue that point? I also feel as though Zootopia and Big Hero 6 did well enough and were memorable enough to come up more often in the discussion. And again, Vanellope doesn’t make the official Princess list and gets a scene in her sequel making fun of the whole thing. And those movies were popular enough that it’s a plural.
The fact is, there aren’t even all that many fairy tale movies from Disney. There are more Disney movies based on non-folk/fairy tale books than any other category—think Tarzan and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, yes, but of course The Rescuers is based on a series of books, and any number are based on quite obscure children’s books. Yes, most of the ones that are feature Princesses. And many of the female protagonists are Princesses. Heck, it’s even arguable that all the folk/fairy tale ones feature Princesses. I get that. And it’s also true that Disney does great folk/fairy tale movies, though a Danish friend of mine shook his head when Hans Christian Andersen stories were called either one of those things. In Denmark, they’re literature.
Genuinely, I think it may be a way of dismissing the studio. A combination of “Disney Is All About Marketing” and “Disney Is Only For Kids And Probably Girls.” While I don’t dispute that Disney is, quite a lot of the time, All About Marketing—they’re a business, after all—and indeed have shared certain of my own Disney Marketing feelings, and while they definitely have in recent years capitalized quite a lot of the Disney Princess Brand, it’s hardly as though they’ve allowed Encanto to slip quietly under everyone’s radar. Encanto is also quite obviously a demonstration of how their movies can speak to diverse populations. Yes, these are in theory children’s movies, but there’s a reason I think of family movies as distinct.
And honestly, if they are kids’ movies, so what? Art for kids is still art, and while there’s definitely such thing as bad art, that’s a separate conversation. You don’t have it by a mere “that’s for kids.” Yes. It is. So is it good or bad? There’s a children’s author my kids adore who is extremely firm that he’s writing for kids, not grown-ups, and his writing is amazing on its own merits. It’s even worse by dismissing things as being “for girls,” and I hope I don’t have to explain to you how.
No matter the reasoning, it seems the idea of Disney Princess Movies as dominating the landscape is not one that’s going to go away any time soon. In a way, that’s fine; an idea suggested to me today is that Raya and the Last Dragon was planned to give us an Asian Princess who was also actually, you know, a princess. It genuinely would’ve been nice if the movie had done well enough to make that happen.