We’ve come a long way from the days of Disney Princesses with nothing to do but wait for their prince to come. Modern Disney princesses are wise-cracking, ass-kicking, baddie-punching powerhouses in movies made for everyone – though there’s no question that Disney’s earlier movies are still utterly charming.
Now that they're all available to watch among the best Disney Plus movies, how are you going to choose which one to pick today? There’s only one way to decide this: with a magic mirror! Or, if one isn't available, we can tell you which ones we rate the highest, and which we think should be lower down your list of priorities.
This isn't a totally exhaustive list of Disney movies with princesses in: we haven't included the newer live-action remakes of the likes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast because… well, they're not as good as the originals, so you should just watch those. And we've included some sequels here in the same entry as the originals because we think they're especially worth doing as a double-bill – but outside of that, we haven't included sequels. They're not always winners…
And to settle some other questions: yes, there are some honorary princesses in here; no, Nala still doesn't count; and we're not including Black Panther's Shuri or Avatar's Neytiri, but they're princesses in films available from Disney, so you'll get no argument from us if you want to count them.
1. Beauty & The Beast
Disney tried to make this as early as the 1930s, but it wasn't until 1991 that Beauty and the Beast made it to the screen – and it was well worth waiting for, because it's one of the best animated films ever made, and was a crucial part of the Disney renaissance. It earned Disney its first Best Picture Academy Award nomination for one of its animated films.
The animation is sumptuous, the romance beautiful and in Bella we got one of the very best Disney princesses of all time: whip-smart, unconcerned about others’ opinions and completely unfazed by talking teacups. Bella doesn’t need anyone to save her; she’s the one who saves everybody else.
Is this the most beautiful of Disney's Princess movies? It's certainly one of the most moving, and it's not every day you get The Rock hamming it up as shamelessly (and successfully) as he does here. It's arguably the most feminist film here, with Moana's independence just something that's innately there rather than anything requiring backstory – her desire to see and experience more is so engaging, and the whole movie sweeps you away when Lin-Manuel Miranda's incredible songs hit.
The adventure swings from the sublime (Moana's sweet interactions with the ocean) to the absurd (pirate coconuts), and reaches a climax that's about understanding other people's pain rather than overcoming evil, and we love it for that.
3. The Princess and The Frog
Disney's last 2D animation was also its first movie featuring a Black princess, but at least it got there in the end. The movie itself is a wonderful thing, with great characters across the friends and villains (including some gloriously menacing animations and songs for Dr. Facilier, plus a fantastic voice performance from Keith David), a visually stunning setting in New Orleans, and some thrilling set pieces.
The jazzy soundtrack, sharp writing and gorgeous artwork elevates what could be otherwise a pretty standard fairy tale, but it's so refreshing to have a Princess driven by ambition and work ethic to have something that anyone could have, rather than than wishing on stars and singing to birds. It does involve one of the most emotionally devastating deaths in the whole Disney canon… but that moment is so sweet at the same time.
4. Frozen / Frozen II
Now, by the end of Frozen II, neither Anna nor Elsa are Disney princesses any more; by then, they've both progressed to Queen. Yaaas. So maybe they don't count, but you'll have to – oh yes – let it go.
It's the first film that really earns Frozen the high spot here, because while the sequel was spectacular, it wasn't quite as great as the original. Frozen is absolutely beautiful, of course, but it's also very cleverly written and clearly has something to say about the tropes and patterns of previous Princess epics. Turning it into a story about the love of two sisters is such a great twist on the formula (though there's some classic royal romancing too). The songs are great, the jokes are funny and the whole thing feels as magical as you'd want a Disney movie to be.
5. Wreck-it-Ralph / Ralph Breaks the Internet
Okay, not only is Vanellope a Princess across both these movies, but the sequel surprisingly turned out to be the Avengers: Endgame of Disney Princesses, bringing them all (more or less) together.
Unlike most of the oeuvre, the original Wreck-it-Ralph isn't a musical, but it's an extremely sweet story about feeling misunderstood and like you don't fit in, but coming to love the real you, and working out that you can own all the sides of yourself that people see. And it's got super-cool racing scenes in. The best of all worlds! The sequel is a larger, sprawling tale that feels less focused to us, but some rate it even higher than the original. You'll have to decide for yourself.
We’ll admit some bias here: your writer is (a) Scottish and (b) a member of the ginger community. But that’s not the only reason Brave is so high in our list. Brave is a Pixar movie rather than a regular Disney one, and it has more in common with its stablemates than other Princess movies – again, it isn't a musical.
It's absolutely gorgeous to look at, genuinely scary in places and the mother/daughter dynamic is beautifully and sensitively expressed. And of course Merida is brilliant, and would go on to crack us up when she cameoed in Ralph Breaks the Internet.
Another not-technically-a-Princess movie (but she appeared in that Ralph Breaks the Internet scene, so who are we to argue), Mulan is based on the legend of the warrior woman Hua Mulan and features Eddie Murphy as the obligatory ’90s comedy sidekick. It's more grown-up than many, with a darkness that's quite the contrast to Murphy's (funny) quipping.
It's visually spectacular, there's a cracking soundtrack, and it's another Disney film that pushes past the stereotypes of familiar Disney Princesses – Mulan conceals her gender completely, disguising herself as a man so she can join the army. The end result is an entertaining story of empowerment and pushing past the limitations other people impose on you. And "I'll Make a Man Out of You" is a straight-up banger.
Two words: Robin Williams. Yes, Aladdin is very beautiful. Yes, Aladdin has an all-time-great soundtrack. Yes, Princess Jasmine is one of the better Disney Princesses. And yes, Aladdin is one of the best animations of any kind.
But all you'll want to talk about afterwards is the late comedian's astonishing performance – not just as the Genie, but as a whole movie's worth of characters. The whole thing is a hilarious, gorgeous magic carpet ride. That it contains pop culture references from the early ’90s does make it a bit odd to view these days, but it doesn't matter much.
Tangled brought the Disney Princess movie into the current age, mashing classic fantasy style with a distinctly Pixar sense of humor and pacing – and a 3D look, of course.
It's fun, funny, looks absolutely spectacular and in Rapunzel it has one of the most likeable of all the Princesses. Combining the sadness of the King and Queen with the desire to see Rapunzel escape from her forced confinement means you're rooting so hard for her escape, even as it's clear that escaping with a (charming, admittedly) rogue is going to be a terrible idea. But damn, what a fun idea it is too.
10. Sleeping Beauty
Aurora isn't exactly one of the most interesting Disney Princesses – perhaps it’s a bit much to expect a huge character arc from someone who spends a major portion of her movie in a Maleficent-induced coma – but Sleeping Beauty is still astonishing, with an immediately recognisable look and one of Disney's most memorable and frightening villains.
Many of the tableaus here are beyond iconic – this film contains some of the most arresting visuals ever animated.
11. The Little Mermaid
The many joys of this movies come from its outrageously great animations and design. The truly terrifying Ursula was modelled on camp legend Divine, and while Prince Eric has all the charisma of his own cardboard cut-out, this film felt fresh and exciting when it came out in 1989 – three decades after Disney's previous Princess film.
The soundtrack is fantastic, the story is fun and Ursula is endlessly watchable, albeit sometimes from behind your fingers. This film is what kick-started the revival of Disney animation, so is partly to thank for many of the films further up this list.
Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon and James Marsden are having the time of their lives playing characters from a faux Disney Princess animation pulled through to the real, live-action world. There's more ham here than at the world's largest charcuterie convention, and the absurdity of seeing elaborate animated-style costumes in real life is so much fun.
And the movie doesn't just coast on that – it's also a satire of the movies you find on this list, and what happens when the expectation of a fairytale life hits reality… but with a fun side of offering a glimpse of the idea that you could equally disappear off and live in the animated world if you really want to. The sequel, Disenchanted, isn't quite as well received, but it's hard not to be charmed by these actors getting back together again.
Walt Disney was coming to the end of his imperial period when Cinderella was made, and it shows: it feels a bit formulaic, and while it's efficiently told and beautifully animated, it feels a little less magical than it could have been when watching it today. But there's still an infectious fun to its story of having your life turned around, and obviously kids will always love the idea of everyday items (or animals) turning into part of their fairytale.
14. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Snow White is a hugely important movie – it was the first full-length color animated feature way back in 1937, and set the template for pretty much every animated movie made in the decades since – but familiarity, imitation and mockery (hello, Shrek!) have dulled its gleam somewhat when watching today.
The dwarfs are still funny and the evil Queen is still chilling, but Snow White herself is as dull as dishwater, a cipher without any obvious personality or reason to exist other than to have more interesting things happen around her. It's a technical and artistic masterpiece and proof of the genius of those in Disney, but these days it feels like an artefact to admire rather than a film to fall in love with.
16. Raya and the Last Dragon
Look, we don't need great songs for a great Disney Princess movie, but we missed them in our Raya and the Last Dragon review – the humor doesn't really do a good enough job of replacing it, which is why it's fairly low on our list. We really enjoyed how the story plays the old emotional piano, and it's lovely to see the sumptuous animation bring elements of Southeast Asian culture to life in visually exciting ways.
It just doesn't come together into a whole that's as memorable and satisfying as the others here, even if a great cast is doing their best to charm you.
As much as we enjoy Pocahontas the character, we’re less keen on the movie, which has great animation but lacks a lot of the fun you find in other entries here. It's also been criticized for the depictions of the Native American characters, and some suggest that the real Matoaka or Amonute – Pocahontas wasn’t her real name but an alias used to hide her identity from the English – was only 12 or 13 and forced into marriage after being kidnapped. Which ruins the feel-good vibes somewhat.
It's had a mixed reception since it was first released, though no one will argue that "Colors of the Wind" is anything other than great swooning masterpiece.
For more great family movies on Disney Plus, check out our guide on how to watch the Marvel movies in order.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.