Though Disney Princesses are popular, not every one of them is treated the same. While princesses like Cinderella, Belle, and Mulan know how to steal the spotlight, certain Disney ladies don’t get the same attention despite being wonderful role models, era icons, and overall entertaining human beings.
However, when considering some of the best Disney Princesses, it’s important to be a little flexible on what that means. Officially, only 12 characters are considered Disney Princesses, and Frozen‘s Anna and Elsa aren’t even on the list. However, it’s possible to consider any leading lady with a royal connection in a Disney animated film a ‘Disney Princess’, even if they aren’t on the official list.
Updated October 23rd, 2021 by Rose Graceling-Moore: Disney continues to grow its library of animated films, with this year’s Raya And The Last Dragon adding one new princess (and their first Southeast Asian princess), and the upcoming Encanto adding a magic-centric Columbian story to the vault. However, few new Princess (or almost-Princess) characters have managed to reach the level of acclaim as the big guns of Belle, Ariel, Jasmine, and their Disney Renaissance friends.
15 Rapunzel (Tangled)
2010’s Tangled tells the story of Rapunzel, who has been locked in a tower under Mother Gothel’s strict supervision for years. However, after a charming thief stumbles into her residence right before her 18th birthday, she enlists him to take her to see the floating lights – that will lead to a reveal about who she truly is.
Though Tangled was popular, it was overshadowed by the success of 2013’s Frozen and its leading pair of sisters. While Rapunzel has the kind of positivity, adventurous spirit, and kindness as the biggest Disney princesses, her time in the spotlight was cut short. This is especially obvious at Disney World, where Rapunzel has only a pleasant and picturesque rest area to her name, while Anna and Elsa have multiple attractions.
14 Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty)
Princess Aurora faces a problem similar to Rapunzel’s, being that she is often overshadowed by other classic princesses like Cinderella and Belle. Unlike Rapunzel, however, she really isn’t in her film very much, appearing in 1959’s Sleeping Beauty for only 18 minutes.
Aurora is overshadowed by the strength of other characters (like the villainous Maleficent who even received her own live-action films). She also lacks some of the personality traits that make the other princesses truly popular, as she is a comparatively meek character, quietly dancing in the forest, then being put under a spell, and finally rescued. Prince Philip and the Fairies are the real heroes of the movie – but that doesn’t mean that Aurora’s sweetness doesn’t deserve a little more attention.
13 Kida (Atlantis: The Lost Empire)
Atlantis: The Lost Empire hit theaters in 2001, and while Disney’s expectations were high, the film’s reviews came in mixed. Additionally, the movie’s box office score was modest. Possibly because of this (or maybe because she’s 8,000 years old) Kida never became an official Disney Princess, and she was quickly put on the back burner.
Fans weren’t happy about this because Kida broke the princess mold in both looks and personality. While there’s nothing wrong with the stereotypical princess, this different kind of Disney heroine deserves more of the spotlight.
12 Tiana (The Princess and the Frog)
When Disney released The Princess and the Frog in 2009, the studio returned to a more traditional animation style for the first time since 2004’s Home on the Range. The movie also featured Broadway-style songs that mirrored hits from the past. Though this could have been a recipe for success, the film just didn’t perform how Disney had hoped.
Tiana became the first-ever Black official Disney Princess, but does not get enough credit for who she is. Unlike many others, Tiana was driven, and follows her dreams – which are not limited to vague concepts like Belle’s ‘adventure’ or romantic ideals like marrying a prince, but focused on food and opening her own restaurant, Tiana’s Place. She is one of the more capable Disney Princesses, too – and eventually does become official royalty.
11 Merida (Brave)
Brave told the story of a Scottish princess who hopes to defy the arranged marriage customs of her kingdom. She enlists a witch to help her with this, however, she must soon deal with the beastly consequences of magic.
Merida is an official Disney princess, and certainly has all the traits that should make her hugely popular. She is a brave Disney Princess (obviously, given the film’s title), independent, has some sass and a mind of her own, but is still loving to her family and protective of them. Perhaps the lack of a love story in the film was just too much of a departure from the Disney formula, though, as she remains largely forgotten.
10 Megara (Hercules)
Megara sure knows how to flip the damsel-in-distress narrative, and for that alone, she deserves a round of applause. Though Hercules is iconic, she has unfortunately faded into the background.
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Meg is probably the princess with the quickest wit and the snarkiest comebacks. She was cruelly betrayed by an ex-boyfriend, and this has led her to resent love – but this doesn’t make her completely bitter. She eventually learns to open up to Hercules, and while Herc might swing the sword, it is Meg’s sacrifice that saves the day. With multiple layers and a quick-witted sense of humor, Meg needs a little more affection from the Disney brand.
9 Esmerelda (The Hunchback Of Notre Dame)
Esmerelda is one of the only Disney characters to actively pursue social justice. As part of the marginalized group of gypsies in Paris, she knows that life isn’t easy for her people. This is why she engages in outspoken acts of mercy when she sees someone being mistreated.
Despite being a true humanitarian, Esmerelda isn’t talked about nearly enough. This is likely because the Hunchback of Notre Dame is underrated, largely because of its dark themes that venture away from the usually cheery stories of other Disney animations.
8 Princess Eilonwy (The Black Cauldron)
The Black Cauldron also leans on the dark side, though watching it has only recently become a possibility with the release of Disney+. This 1985 fantasy adventure tells of a pig herder named Taran who ends up teaming up with a fluffy creature named Gurgui and Princess Eilonwy to track down a magical black cauldron before the Horned King can send an army of undead warriors into the world.
Because The Black Cauldron flopped at the box office, Eilonwy never received widespread popularity. Due to her bravery, however, she should not be overlooked.
7 Snow White (Snow White And The Seven Dwarves)
While Snow White is likely the most commercially popular of all the princesses on the list (after all, she has various attractions based on her at Disney Parks) she has lost a lot of the cultural popularity she once held as Disney’s original princess. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First off, younger generations are getting less exposure to Snow White as newer computer-animated characters like Moana, for example, are stealing the spotlight. There’s just not much new content involving her. Secondly, Snow White’s main goal is true love and she is often seen as outdated and not particularly feminist. However, she deserves some attention, still, for the ability to deal with her stepmother’s treatment while retaining her composure and kindness, for her optimism, hope, and the way she makes friends.
6 Jane (Tarzan)
Though Jane is not British royalty, she is jungle royalty being that she’s the wife of Tarzan, who rules over the apes. Because of this, she deserves a spot on this list, and more importantly, she deserves more attention as a Disney leading lady.
She’s sassy, adventurous, smart, funny, has the most amazing accent, and rocks the color yellow. She also happens to be in a film that was produced during the Disney Renaissance, with music from the one and only Phil Collins, so what’s not to love?
5 Raya (Raya And The Last Dragon)
Disney’s newest princess may have slipped under the radar for many fans due to the COVID pandemic, which severely affected film releases and box office figures. Released in 2021, Raya and the Last Dragon was originally intended for a 202 release date, before being bumped to March 2021 – when it was released simultaneously on Disney + and in theaters… where they were open. Unsurprisingly, then, this didn’t become the hit it might have in another year.
That doesn’t mean Raya doesn’t deserve some real love, though! She’s got all the best traits of Disney Princesses past and present – the trust, kindness, good heart, and focus on friendship that the classic princesses have (along with a great connection to animals, if a dragon is an animal!). However, she is also brave, headstrong, incredibly capable, and a phenomenal fighter.
4 Moana (Moana)
Moana is another official Disney Princess who is popular, but still falls in the Frozen-adjacent timeframe that means she is overshadowed by Anna and Elsa. This is despite the fact that she ticks all the boxes: determined and adventurous warrior, understands the powers of love and understanding, animal sidekicks, and phenomenal songs.
It’s likely that had Frozen, which came out three years before Moana, not been such a massive success, that this Pacific Islander princess would have been absolutely huge.
3 Gisele (Enchanted)
Gisele very nearly became part of the official Disney Princess lineup, and with good reason! While she is live-action for most of Enchanted, she is a classic princess in every way (it’s the point of the character). However, Disney wasn’t willing to try and secure lifelong rights to Amy Adam’s face, which would have been necessary to make her official.
However, Gisele is an incredible (and very underrated) princess, who may not have reached the same popularity as others like her because Enchanted is primarily a live-action film. Within it, she’s sweet, kind, and optimistic, but still stands her ground in arguments, seeks to understand and to help people, and is creative and skilled.
2 Elena (Elena of Avalor)
It’s easy to see why Elena of Avalor doesn’t get the same kind of attention as the other Disney Princesses – it’s because she isn’t the star of a movie, but of a TV series. The series is hugely popular, though, as it follows Elena as she learns how to rule her kingdom after defeating an evil sorceress.
Elena’s story is unique, because unlike most Disney stories, it learns the lessons day to day, rather than in the big battle against a Disney villain, but she teaches the same phenomenal lessons of resistance and kindness that make every major princess great.
1 Anastasia (Anastasia)
Until recently, Anastasia would not be in the running as a Disney princess, as the film was created by Fox. However, with Disney’s recent acquisition of the studio, Anastasia can now be considered part of the Disney Princess Pantheon… at a stretch. Hopefully, this will gain the film the attention it truly deserves, and Anastasia fits all the usual Disney Princess categories.
She has a great animal sidekick, an adventure where she overcomes hardship, a great attitude, strength and charisma, a charming romance, and some incredible gowns.
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