Snow White. Cinderella. Sleeping Beauty. Jasmine. Mulan. You don’t have to be a diehard fairytale fan to recognize these names and the fantastical stories tied to each of them. Therein lies the power of Disney princesses, many of whom have served as cultural icons for countless children worldwide for the better part of a century. Whether you’re a fan of the more traditional OG princesses (and all the childhood nostalgia that comes with them) or prefer the more modern take of what happily ever after can look like, these ladies know how to dominate the wonderful world of Disney like nobody’s business. After all, the concept behind Walt Disney’s vision may have started with a mouse, but it isn’t called Mickey’s castle in the Magic Kingdom, is it? Now that’s what we call girl power!
And what better time to celebrate that embodiment of female representation than during Women’s History Month? So journey back with us to some of the most memorable moments in the franchise’s longstanding history of magical milestones and reflect upon the impressive evolution of Disney princesses through the years. From the very moment they glided across our screens, these royal regents have provided next-level animated entertainment and inspired people of all ages to believe in happy endings.
1. Snow White from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937)
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves had its theatrical release all the way back in 1937, marking the debut of Disney’s first-ever princess to star in an animated full-length feature film. Sure, it may have made some of us a little wary of apples and stepmothers, but to this day, Snow White serves as a pivotal source of Disney’s history. After all, she paved the way for all the wonderful young women that came after her.
2. Belle from Beauty and the Beast (1991)
It’s a tale as old as time: girl meets beast, beast imprisons girl, girl and beast fall in love. In all seriousness, though, Belle remains a favorite among princesses to this day. She’s smart and kind and isn’t afraid to stand up for what (or who) she believes in — not to mention the epic musical numbers throughout the movie. It’s no wonder the film was nominated for not one, not two, not three, but four Academy Awards in 1992, which included the ever-so-coveted Best Picture category. This, in turn, made Belle the very first princess to be in an animated film that was nominated for Best Picture.
3. Jasmine from Aladdin (1992)
What wasn’t there to like about Jasmine? This girl was tough. She wanted to defy royal traditions and marry for love. Plus, she had a legit tiger for a PET. I mean, come on, that’s just really, really cool. But one of the most standout things about Jasmine is that she was the very first princess to wear pants as her main form of attire. That may seem small now, but that’s a pretty significant turning point for the franchise — not to mention super relatable to those of us who instantly slip into sweatpants the moment we get home. And, princess or not, those pants looked fashionable but also extremely comfy. That’s a win-win!
4. Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009)
While all of Disney’s princesses possessed many fine attributes, one thing they didn’t possess was a job — until Tiana came along. Yes, she was the first princess to have an actual day job to help achieve her ultimate goal of opening her very own restaurant. Even more importantly, Tiana also made history by becoming Disney’s first Black princess in an animated film, serving as an important source of representation for the franchise.
5. Rapunzel from Tangled (2010)
What’s better than being a princess? How about one with the added bonus of magical capabilities? Enter Rapunzel. Not only does she have exceptionally long hair, but that hair also gives her the ability to heal others, making her the first princess with legit magical powers. That almost makes up for all the tangles and snarls that will surely come with it.
6. Merida from Brave (2012)
Not only is Merida the first princess captured in a Disney-Pixar film, but she is also the very first one not to end up with a romantic partner. Throughout the entire course of the film, Merida never has a love interest. Instead, the movie focuses on her journey of self-discovery (“I’ll be shooting for my own hand!”) as well as her relationship with her mother. In the world of fairytales, that’s almost unheard of. It made for a refreshing change of pace and proved that you can still get a happily ever after with or without a man.
7. Moana from Moana (2016)
Along with becoming Disney’s first-ever Pacific Islander princess, Moana became a crucial part of history by becoming the first film to get translated into the Tahitian language. Film story consultant Hinano Murphy made the announcement during a press conference in 2016, stating at the time, “Native languages, like Tahitian, are being lost; it is important to find new ways to excite the communities, elders, young adults and children here [in Tahiti] about our language. Hopefully, this will also inspire other Polynesian islanders to find innovative ways to teach their languages. We hope this version will be used as a teaching tool for many decades into the future.”
Being a Disney princess is so much more than just a title. They are role models to young girls everywhere — teaching, encouraging, and inspiring them to embrace their own individuality and find the happily ever after that’s right for them.