Princess Review: A Recap


Princess movies aren’t something that generally pop up every year. Disney is well-known for retreading old territory, making a nice profit off of sequels and re-releases, so there isn’t a strong push for them to keep coming up with original heroines. After the release of Brave in June, there aren’t any other princess movies on the horizon for a long while. There are plans for a new series scheduled for the end of the year about a young girl named Sophia who becomes a princess when her mother remarries, but its aim at the preschool audience suggests that the show will be more about sharing and crossing the street than impressing a handsome prince.

It’s been over a year since I started writing Princess Reviews, and I can only hope that you’ve gotten as much pleasure out of reading them as I have in writing them. But what have we learned about these movies in all this time? Which movies are the best role models for girls, and which of them teach horrible, scarring lessons? Is princess culture really as damaging as many people seem to think, or is the whole phenomenon really harmless?


 Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

Given that this movie was made in 1937, you might not expect a terribly empowering view of women. Snow White is absolutely obsessed with marriage and doesn’t care who it’s with, and she spends her time cooking, cleaning, and sewing for seven little men. She doesn’t have much of a personality other than being really nice to everyone. She does provide a good example of catching more flies with honey, but other than that, she’s not really a princess that you’d want a little girl to emulate. Then again, given the differences between Snow White and more recent princess movies, it’s unlikely that a modern girl will be able to stay awake long enough to garner any sort of message from the movie.


While Cinderella also spends her time cleaning and singing about it, her situation is much more endearing than that of Snow White. Both women work as servants for their step-mothers and dream of a better life, but Cinderella manages to acknowledge that her life sucks and still remain optimistic. Of course, it would be more helpful if she actively tried to do anything about her problems, but instead she sits back and lets everyone else handle her problems. It’s hard to see her as much of a poor influence, though, since she’s barely in the movie.

Sleeping Beauty

Aurora may have to lay back and wait for a man to rescue her, but her situation is better than most. After spending a carefree life chilling out in a forest, Aurora learns that she is a princess. Instead of luxuriating in the idea of wealth and power, Aurora sees past the perks and balks at the closely-monitored life of a politician. Her idea of love is still rushed and superficial, but at least her beau has the same problem. Either way, the movie’s art style leaves more of an impression than the protagonist, so there’s not a lot to worry about.

The Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid is often said to tell young girls that it’s totally awesome to sell your voice and leave your family in order to get a vagina. While that particular message is a bit farfetched in the context of the actual story, the messages in The Little Mermaid are still pretty dangerous. Everyone eventually has to grow up and leave their parents, but Ariel is only sixteen when she decides to cut and run. In a society where there’s a lot of pressure on young girls to grow up more quickly, seeing a role model do this isn’t great. Her relationship with Eric is a lot healthier than the romances in the earlier movies, given that their attraction is based more on their acts of heroism than their appearances, but it’s still rushed and shallow.

Beauty and the Beast

Belle is one of the strongest princesses out there. She has no romantic aspirations, and longs instead for adventure, thoughtful reading material, and intelligent discourse. She stands up to the things she’s afraid of, and she sacrifices herself for the ones she loves. Her strength is what makes Beauty and the Beast such an awful movie for young girls. Belle is obviously a good role model, and she stays by a man who screams at her, throws tantrums, and breaks things. After a while, he stops being awful and turns into the perfect man, quite literally. So many women stay in ill-matched, abusive relationships because they think they can “fix” their partner, and when that change doesn’t happen, they blame themselves. Despite having one of the strongest protagonists, Beauty and the Beast sends the worst message.


Princess Jasmine may need to put some real clothes on, but she’s otherwise a pretty good influence. She’s smart, adventurous, and more interested in a friend than a lover. She uses her power to get things done, but she never abuses her influence. Her whirlwind romance isn’t perfect, but it’s surprisingly endearing. The main problem with Jasmine is the Halloween costumes her young fans will inevitably want to wear. Depending on their location, there’s a strong chance of frostbite.

The Swan Princess

While it’s not a Disney classic, wasn’t highly marketed after its release, and is all-around pretty terrible, The Swan Princess is noteworthy for its introduction to critical thinking. Odette is initially an intelligent, vivacious girl, and she doesn’t want to marry her Prince Charming until he gives her a reason he loves her other than a hot body. This message would pack a lot more punch if Odette didn’t suddenly lose her spine and her personality once she hit eighteen, but her initial refusal is enough to get the cogs turning.


It may stray further from historical accuracy than Jurassic Park, but Disney’s Pocahontas does provide a strong female character. The protagonist seeks adventure and thinks for herself, and when faced with having to choose between a man and her community, she chooses to swallow her feelings and stay with the people who need her most. The romance is quick and mostly based on a mutual fetish for the exotic, but it ends on a high note and doesn’t make Pocahontas any less strong.


Billed as fiesty and independent, Anastasia is really more bossy and snobbish. As an orphan, she values having a family more than finding a lover, but she immediately abandons the one surviving family member she has in favor of a man. Her acidic relationship moves far too quickly and ends in marriage. Basically, Anastasia kind of sucks as a person. She just happens to be in a cool movie with decaying skeletons and shit.


Mulan may have to pretend to be something she’s not in order to gain respect, but that’s more due to the time period than any character flaws. In an environment where women are only really there to pop out male children, Mulan manages to make a name for herself and gain respect amongst her male peers. Like Pocahontas, Mulan is only very loosely based on real history, but the message the Disney-fied version makes quite an impact. The best part is that Mulan initiates a relationship with the man she’s interested in and takes the whole thing slowly. That’s a wonderful example for girls to follow.


Giselle may be a parody of the princesses before her, but her over-sexualized merchandise drew the attention of more than just her young audience. Her overwhelming naivete and Robert’s extreme cynicism clash in a manner indicative of explosive arguments down the line, and the fact that her sewing and housekeeping skills were impressive enough to end a serious long-term relationship should be a big red flag. Then again, she does use her newfound riches to start a successful business, so she may not be the worst role model in the world.

The Princess and the Frog

Tiana is not your typical princess: she works two jobs and pinches pennies in order to start a business. Her marriage to a prince doesn’t change her career goals, but it does allow her to enjoy aspects of life other than work. Her friends may help her ascend the career ladder, but she worked hard to get on that ladder in the first place. In the real world, it takes both hard work and strong connections to get ahead, so why not show that to young girls early on in a way they can comprehend?


Disney’s newest princess has her fair share of relationship problems, but this time, it’s not from a man. Yes, Rapunzel’s relationship with Flynn Rider is shallow and based on the spark that seems to come from clashing personalities, but her deeper personal problems are with her mother. Gothel keeps Rapunzel locked away, assuring her that she is ugly, clumsy, and worthless, and that a single step into the world will just get her mugged for her magical hair. Rapunzel does manage to escape, and while that message could be very empowering to girls in similar situations, the main focus of all the merchandising is simply her contrived romance.

With a deep conversation about the differences between fantasy and fiction, any princess movie would be acceptable for a young girl, but some are more worrisome than others. I will be reviewing Brave in a few months, but until then, feel free to let me know about any movies you think might be worth a Princess Review.