The Best and Worst of the Disney Princess Movies


Aziem Hassan | flickr

When entering Disney World, you will find the signature Disney castle at the heart of the park. Every Disney film opens with the iconic Disney castle, a reminder that you are viewing a Disney movie.

Sarah Yosef

From the first Disney Princess movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” in 1937, to the most recent addition, “Raya and the Last Dragon,” in 2021, children have found themselves staring at the TV, their eyes in wonder, being transported to a fantastical world — a world where there are princes and princesses, where dreams come true. Countless childhoods were built on these movies, and nostalgia keeps these stories in reverence for many generations. Parents take children to princess-themed Disney Parks, and children cherish toys based on the film. 

But now, Disney is at it again, this time from a different angle. Disney is remaking every animated movie they have ever made to squeeze as much money as possible from our childhood. Unfortunately, their recent remakes lack the charm and originality that the first films’ animation had. As a result, a growing number of people have been speaking against Disney’s remake war. A notable example of these protests is against the upcoming live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid,” scheduled for theatrical release on May 26, 2023. 

Disney has sparked much backlash by continuing to keep its hands in the remake jar. With “The Little Mermaid” specifically, some of the criticism was explicitly about the casting of popular singer-songwriter and actress Halle Bailey as Ariel. Ariel is a white, red-headed girl in the original, but she will be portrayed as African-American in the live-action. So those criticisms are primarily rooted in racism or wanting the character to match the animated Ariel.

Controversy has also surrounded other live-action remakes, and in the case of “Mulan,” it was more serious. Yifei Liu, the actress who plays Mulan,  reshared an article from a Chinese Communist Newspaper supporting the police brutality in the Hong Kong riots. There was also a lack of diversity in the production, costume department, and directors. At the film’s end, Disney thanks the Xinjiang government for allowing them to film in the same province where China is committing human rights violations against the Uyghur people, a persecuted ethnic and religious minority.

The “Mulan” remake also faced backlash for other, less serious reasons. The live-action was not a musical and removed both a key comic-relief character, Mushu, and Captain Li-Shang. Similar to other live-action remakes, it failed to capture the essence of the original and missed out on some of the Disney magic.  

For this ranking, live-action movies are out of the picture. So I will give my ranking for the top four and the worst four of the “traditional” princess movies, although there may be some comparison between the animated and the widely dreaded live-action remakes of our beloved classics. 


In my opinion, the worst four Disney Princess movies, with one as the worst, are:

4. Brave (2012)

“Brave,” more like Bear. The movie centers around our main character, Merida. Honestly, she is a very unlikeable character. She does not want to be confined to her feminine duties of marrying a prince and not being able to use weaponry (bow and arrows) like her father, but how she goes about it leaves her character with much to be desired. Her mother turned into a bear just makes it worse. Merida is a very annoying character, never even attempting to listen to her mother. Her mother gives a reasonable argument for marrying, trying to make her daughter understand her perspective, while Merida plugs her ears and says, “I’m not listening” the entire time. 

Turning her mother into a bear did not fix their relationship; it was just Merida attempting to keep her mother alive (which she should do). We did not see character development or a mended mother-daughter relationship, even by the movie’s end. The suitors made it evident that this movie was trying to make Merida single on purpose rather than giving her a good option to reject, which would have revealed more about her character’s perspective. The concept and the plot left a lot to be desired. 

3. Cinderella (1950)

“Cinderella” is meek and controlled by her step-family; we never understand why she does not leave. Her meeting the prince and falling in love after just one meeting never made sense. Also, her having the only foot in the entire kingdom is ludicrous. 

Cinderella is a nice person, and I do not hate her as much as the other characters in the movie, but I believe the live-action remake does a great job of fixing many of the logistical issues of the plot, like the shoe and the love at first sight. In the remake, Cinderella has a meeting with the prince, so they have more than one dance to fall in love with. In addition, we gain a better understanding of the stepmother and her motivations, and overall, the remake tells the story in a more flattering light with more in-depth characters and story.

2. Pocahontas (1995)

I have a lot of childhood memories surrounding this film. I thought it was the most historically accurate film ever…it was not. Now, watching it again, my opinions have changed. Pocahontas is the only Disney movie that is undoubtedly problematic and harmful. Pocahontas is not bad, and her motivation to care for her people makes sense. Still, everything about the story is uncomfortable. When Pocoahantus met John Smith in actual history, she was ten, so no romantic interest was involved. 

Also, the movie makes the crime of the colonizers equal to the “crimes” of the Natives. The Jamestown colony killed and destroyed the lives of so many Native Americans, and trying to compare and show equality in wrongs is alarming. Also, the rhetoric of the white settlers is not acceptable, and Smith calls the Natives “savages” while only changing his mind because of Pocahontas’ beauty, highlighting the fetishization of Native American women that continues to this day. Because of its history, and the problematic image that Disney portrays, it is not a movie that I would advise anyone to watch. 

1. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

“Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” is the first ever first full-length feature animated production for film and the first ever full-length Disney movie. As a result, it holds a place in the Disney hall of fame, but to the standards of today, and in general, it is not a great movie, both in the plot and character development. 

The animation for its time is fantastic. The scenery, the characters, and just imagining having to draw every frame by hand deserve much appreciation. But Snow White, as a character, is concerning. She is only 14 and meets a man once, and she is in love, settling with him and abandoning her hopes and dreams. She has no character outside of doing laundry for the seven dwarfs as they are off to work. She is remembered for her white, pale skin and red lips. She is “saved” by the prince with a kiss, but she is unconscious and dead, so the prince here is quite creepy. The dwarfs are unmemorable, Snow White is bland, and the prince (31 to Snow White’s age 14) is a sex offender. My favorite character was the Evil Queen. She has a personality and knows what she wants. She is just a strong villain with an amazing style. Still, she is not enough to save this movie from last place.


Next, the top four Disney princesses movies of all time are: 

4. The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The first Disney princess movie with an African American princess, Tiana, is one of my favorite protagonists. She has motivations: her dream is to start a restaurant her father wanted. She loves cooking and works every day to reach her goal. Unlike many Disney movies, she is resilient and close to her family, where there is a general negative energy around her parents. The setting for the film is spectacular, and I love how it is incorporated into the story. We get New Orleans in the Roaring 20s. Though a bit historically inaccurate, the clothing is gorgeous, and the designs are fabulous. Prince Naveen has character (surprising, I know). He is a playboy who has all the girls chasing him and gets disowned for spending all his money. His falling for Tiana is heartwarming, and we see his character develop. 

My only issue with this film, and why it is not my favorite, is that Tiana, the first African American princess, is a frog for 80 percent of the film. Unfortunately, her becoming a frog makes all the culture we could have learned and experienced impossible, so it takes away much of what could be loved about the film. Still, “The Princess and the Frog” holds a special place in my heart. 

3. Moana (2016)

I had low expectations for this film. When viewing it upon its release, I thought it would fall into the trap that “Brave” did, giving us an annoying female lead or attempting to push a particular sort of trope on women that many modern and present Disney films try to push. But “Moana” didn’t do that. Instead, it was one of my favorite films. I like that she does not get with a man at the end. Her journey made sense without it, unlike “Brave.” 

Moana is a compelling character. She has motivations. She cares deeply about her community and family but feels called by the ocean. She is weighed down by truly desiring to bring honor to her family but also feels that she must disobey to follow a greater purpose. She ends up following her heart not because she doesn’t care but because her community is in danger. Moana’s character develops from following the simple task of returning the heart of Te Fiti because the ocean called her, to showing kindness and compassion when all hope is lost. Along the way, the friendship she develops with Maui is heartwarming. His character goes from not caring and wanting to abandon her too, in the end, helping her save the islands and restoring his own honor. I also like that they have a completely platonic relationship. This film shows that even Disney can make new good movies without remaking old stories. 

2. Mulan (1998)

“Mulan” is a film that I love to death; it is so good that the live-action makes me cry. Mulan shows that women do not need to be confined to being a modern “girl boss,” but they can show their strength in different ways. In modern movies, women must show their strength physically only, like in the Marvel franchise, but in “Mulan,” we see that Mulan, as a character, is witty and intelligent and thinks outside the box. She is able to complete tasks with her mind, and when her army is much smaller compared to the Huns, she defeats them with an avalanche. 

In the remake, Disney forgets why Mulan was so memorable and instead falls into the trap many modern movies fall into, having a female protagonist be all-powerful and lacking all character with no growth to be seen. In the animated “Mulan,” Mulan does not want to be a soldier, but she becomes one because she cares for her father and is willing to sacrifice her life for him. In the live-action, she was already gifted to be a soldier from a very young age and had both strength and the ability to fight, so “saving” her father lacks any meaning or heart. In the original, there is a scene showing how it is both comedic and serious when Mulan and her fellow army members sing “A Girl Worth Fighting For.” They are laughing and singing joyfully, but the scene cuts to a destroyed village, and Captain Li Shang’s father, the army, is defeated, and his father is dead. Their reaction, and the realization that this is not all fun and games, are impactful…

The side characters in “Mulan” add to the charm as well. Mushu is one of my favorites. He is hilarious, and his attempting to help her — and failing — is amusing. Everything about him reminds me of why I loved Donkey from “Shrek,” and both characters are voiced by Eddie Murphy. The social commentary about women and the values that China had back then are addressed so that it is not hitting you over the head but rather shows it in the actions and the culture. 

Captain Li Shang’s relationship with Mulan is beautiful, and the tension between them is impressive. I also love the film because their relationship ends undefined. It remains a mystery. The movie’s final line is priceless: Mulan says to Li Shang, “Would you like to stay for dinner?” and her Grandmother in the background yells, “Would you like to stay forever?”

1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)

It is my favorite film of all time, but I hear so much distaste for this film, and it is entirely undeserving. It was the first animated film to be nominated for Best Picture. “Beauty and the Beast” is a misunderstood film, and the arguments against it  can be validated in the crappy live-action remake. But Belle is a fantastic character. As mentioned in previous films, she shows various character traits that modern movies fail to understand. Like in the “Beauty and the Beast” live-action, women must be a “girl boss” and “no-nonsense,” with very little room for any other substance or nuance to their character, and it is a way to put women in a box. As the character in the original film shows, Belle is feminine, kind, understanding, and nurturing. At that same time, though, she loves what she loves and is willing to defend that. She has more than just meekness and more than just strength. 

Gaston is the villain in the animated film, and we understand why Belle dislikes him. He insults what she reads and strongly suggests that he only wants to marry her to make her a trophy wife. In the live-action, the man is ordinary; he has no issues and is just another man interested in her, so her negative reaction to him makes no sense. He never attacks her for reading and even defends her in front of others. Her character in the live-action makes the Beast and what he does Stockholm Syndrome instead of love. Her caring for her captor makes no sense, given her track record. 

In the animation, Belle’s character makes more sense. She saves her father because she is caring and willing to sacrifice herself for those she loves. Her changing her mind to save the Beast after he saves her makes sense since she is nurturing, and seeing him hurt makes her willing to save him. The Beast shows his love for her when he gives her a library, and when he lets her leave and go back home, it shows that he loves her by letting her go. 

Belle’s character arc makes sense, given her traits, and she saves the Beast because he cares for what she cares for. She saves him on her own accord. The movie is beautiful, the setting is breathtaking, and the songs are amazing. “Be Our Guest” and “Tale as Old as Time” hit differently, and the animation brings them to life. The movie, the characters, and the plot are just one of a kind, making it the best.


Disney has made movies that are bad, good and heartwarming. Their movies have impacted generations of people, and their signature princess movies are one category of such movies. They show a fantastical world, with characters living lives different from ours. But at the same time, the charming characters have emotions and characteristics so similar to us, and these films teach children and adults alike how to persevere through unique circumstances. This ranking aims to show which ones Disney got right, and some that they need improvement on, and that even if Disney has its flaws, they have films that are unforgettable.