The evolution of Disney Princesses, from Snow White to Frozen 2
Over the past almost-century, Disney Princesses have gone through quite a lot of (much-needed) evolution. From the very first one that debuted in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the most recently released film Frozen 2 (out this weekend), the royal legacy is constantly changing for the better. Click through the gallery to see the timeline of Disney Princesses through the years and find out how today's heroines compare to the past's damsels in distress. Started from the '30s, now we're here!
1937: Snow White
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came out in 1937, debuting the very first Disney Princess with Snow White herself. Voiced by Adriana Caselotti, she's incredibly of her time (i.e. dated af). Her whole deal is she's, like, really pretty. Plus she cooks and cleans a house for seven dudes who can't seem to pick up after themselves. Thankfully, we've come a long way with our Disney Princesses since Snow White.
Another Disney Princess who is extremely outdated when looking at her through a modern lens is Cinderella's titular damsel (voiced by Ilene Woods). Forced to cook and clean for her ugly (which, back then, meant evil) stepsisters and stepmother, all she needs to achieve happiness is a pretty dress and handsome, rich husband to fall in love with her and pull her out of her dreary life? That's not a great message to send young kids watching today.
Keeping the problematic train rolling is Sleeping Beauty's Aurora (voiced by Mary Costa). It doesn't get more yikes than a woman who is awoken from a cursed sleep by a nonconsensual kiss. She caps off the trifecta of the "Golden Era" of Disney Princesses, i.e. the damsels in distress who wait around for their princes to save them. But the trend of passive female main characters ends here, thankfully.
After a 30 year hiatus, The Little Mermaid splashed onto the scene with an extremely different kind of Disney Princess. Unlike the gentle, delicate women that came before, Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) is rebellious, curious, confident, and goes after what she wants in life. She breaks the rules and seeks adventure. She doesn't wait around for a man to save her — she saves her prince. Twice! And don't try to argue that Ariel gives up her voice to get the guy. She actually chooses to give up her voice to become a human, fulfilling a lifelong dream of living up above the confines of the sea. A romance with a hot, dog-loving prince was just a fun bonus. She's the first Disney Princess to own her agency, signaling an important shift for the company's values.
Just two years later, Beauty and the Beast introduced Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara). This Disney Princess, like Ariel, wants more out of life. She's smart, choosing to read as many books as possible instead of swooning over the hunky (but horrible) town eye candy. She also falls in love with a man for his personality over his (beastly) looks. Talk about a modern woman!
Pocahontas continued the much-needed push for non-white Disney Princesses with the titular Native American heroine, voiced by Irene Bedard. But unlike Aladdin, Pocahontas' face behind the princess actually is a woman of color — Bedard is one of the most well-known Native American actors. This was definitely a step in the right direction for Disney. Plus Pocahontas is literally out here ending wars and pushing for acceptance no matter what your skin color is.
Enchanted marks the first live-action Disney Princess, and while Amy Adams' naive, optimistic Giselle's way of thinking is more in line with the Disney Princesses of the past, this rom-com subverts all those dated stereotypes and ideas brilliantly as Giselle gets a harsh but authentic dose of reality when she's exiled from her animated fairytale world into live-action NYC.
The Princess and the Frog's Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) introduces Disney fans to a woman who would rather work hard (sometimes to the point of exhaustion!) to achieve her dream rather than take any shortcuts — or rely on a man to help her get there. But she also does the right thing, even when it's the hardest choice to make. There aren't many role models better than Tiana.
Disney took a classic fairytale character like Rapunzel and modernized her for Tangled. Voiced by Mandy Moore, she's another Disney Princess who bursts out of her comfort zone to seek a better life for herself. Plus she outsmarts a con artist to get what she wants. Not bad for someone who had never been outside of her tower prison her entire young adult life.
If you want to see just how far Disney Princesses have come since Snow White, just look at Brave. The young and headstrong Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) refuses to marry a prince, instead competing for her own hand in marriage. And her growth during the movie has nothing to do with finding love but rather mending her broken relationship with her mother.
2012: Vanellope von Schweetz
Sarah Silverman's plucky young character is Disney's first Jewish princess, since it was revealed at the very end of Wreck-It Ralph that she was an actual princess instead of just a racer. She strives to race with all the other players despite her glitching putting her at a disadvantage. And in the end, she embraces her glitching and turns her weakness into a strength.
2013: Anna and Elsa
Both of the princesses in the first Frozen movie represent strong, positive, modern traits. The real love story is between sisters Anna (voiced by Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel) rather than with a guy. Plus Elsa learns to embrace her power rather than suppressing or fearing what makes her special, giving us the power ballad that defined a decade. And with Frozen 2's release, these princesses continue to push Disney's values forward.
Along with introducing acting/singing phenom Auli'i Cravalho to the world, Moana also debuted a young princess who puts her own life on the line to save her people. She doesn't let fear or doubt stop her from doing the right thing. And she also doesn't let anyone get in her way — even if it's a legit demigod.
2019: Princess Leia
While Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope actually came out in 1977, introducing fierce Princess (now General) Leia to the world, the Disney-Fox merger that made her a Disney Princess didn't happen until March 2019. And she's the perfect Disney Princess for now — rebellious, strong, and a true leader, fighting the war against evil no matter how impossible the odds may be. And late star Carrie Fisher was a true national treasure, using her platform to elevate important conversations about addiction and mental illness, becoming a true advocate who spoke up even when it was tough. It feels right that Fisher's Leia is the most recent addition to the Disney Princess club (even if it's by a technicality!).