My Disney Top 5 - Disney Princessesby Chris Barry, contributing writer
For those of us in education, January isn't the beginning of a new year; it's the middle of one. Technically the school year, at least up here in New York is half over. Five months have passed and before you know it, in another five months, we'll be saying goodbye to another crop of seniors as they graduate in June. This particular year is going to be a doozy for me because my daughter, Samantha, is going to be walking across that commencement stage. I know it sounds cliché to say they grow up so fast, but, in fact, nothing could be truer. The past 13 years of school have blown by and before you know it, my little girl is going to be headed off to college. About a half an hour before I sat down to write this, my wife and I clicked send on her online financial aid application, but sometimes it feels like she was just playing with her Disney Princess dolls in our family room.
Sam was big on the whole Disney Princess thing, and who could blame her? She was born in 1998 and around the year 2000, The Walt Disney Company collected their biggest princess characters together and began to market them as a group. Disney always had princesses, going all the way back to the very first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937. Many of their most popular characters—Cinderella, Ariel, Jasmine—were princesses.
In the late 1990s it was Andy Mooney, then chairman of the Consumer Products division, that had the inspiration to brand them as a collective, and the official Disney Princess franchise was born. Almost instantly, that smiling group of lovely young ladies adorned just about everything you could possibly imagine from dresses and clothing to toothbrushes and toys. We happily obliged our little angel, and for quite some time this was a Disney Princess filled home.
As Samantha grew up, the pink Disney Princess stuff began to disappear, but she's never lost her affinity for them and certainly hasn't lost her love of the Disney animated masterpieces where they reigned. Recently we stumbled across something on YouTube called the Broadway Princess Party. Tony nominee Laura Osnes, whose most recent foray into regality was as Broadway's Cinderella, has been hosting these evenings of Disney princess songs sung by the crème of Broadway's fairest leading ladies. If you're in the New York area this January 29, you could catch the Princess Party in all its glory at Feinstein's/54 Below.
We've been watching the different videos and discussing which stars did which classic songs justice and it got me to thinking, which of the Disney Princesses were my particular favorites and why? That certainly sounds like a Top 5 article doesn't it? So, with a tip of my hat to Laura Osnes, who's had me watching and re-watching Disney Princess favorites, and a special bow to my own little Princess Samantha, here are my picks for the Top 5 Disney Princesses.
The one caveat I must present here before I begin is that, in fairness to the name, I chose these five from the official list of eleven Disney Princesses. I realize that may cause some discrepancy among the faithful. After all, princesses like Mulan and Pocahontas aren't technically, or should I say aren't historically, princesses. And one of the biggest princesses of all—Anna from Frozen—isn't officially considered a Disney Princess. So, to avoid any confusion, I decided to go with Disney's official list to give me some parameters.
5 – Jasmine
Princess Jasmine of Agrabah earns a high spot on the list because of her struggle to be her own person and find the love that she wants, not the love that's forced upon her. She earns the audiences respect by claiming that she's not "a prize to be won," and for eventually falling in love with a bona fide street rat. Jasmine is as strong-willed as she is kind and forgiving. In the end, Princess Jasmine fights the good fight and wins the heart of her beloved Aladdin and all of us as well. Music is an important part of just about every Disney Princess' persona, and Disney Legend Lea Salonga as Jasmine singing "A Whole New World" is about as classic as it gets.
4 – Ariel
I'm a sucker for The Little Mermaid and always have been. If Jodi Benson singing "Part of Your World" doesn't melt your heart, than I'm not sure you have one in your chest. Ariel belongs in the top five because of her bravery, her determination, her curiosity, and of course that voice. The irony is that she loses that angelic voice in order to be with the one she loves.
That's quite a handicap but yet, despite not being able to speak to Eric, something inside of her radiates through and ensnares his heart. It's a very different connection that these two have over the others in the Princess franchise and a powerful one at that, and that helps puts her high on my Disney Princess list. It's also her determination to go beyond her borders and experience a whole other way of life that earns her respect in my book. She sees this other world as a total wonder and she'll do anything to achieve her goal of being, as the song says, a part of that world.
3 – Rapunzel
Want to catch this particular writer at his weakest moment? Sit down with me and watch Tangled. More specifically, the classic scene when Rapunzel and Flynn are out in that boat surrounded by the floating lanterns. First of all, it's one of the most strikingly beautiful things Disney has ever animated. Second, singer Mandy Moore truly tugs at your heartstrings singing "I See The Light," as does Zachary Levy. I'm a mess each time. But that's not the only reason Rapunzel makes this list.
Rapunzel's story is seriously tragic. Kidnapped as an infant, raised in isolation, and being used her whole life by one of Disney's most evil villains… and she still grows up to be kind, curious, artistic, and determined to explore the world outside of her tower. In one of my favorite scenes after she does finally get out, she agonizes over betraying Mother Gothel by leaving the tower and joyfully reveling in the glorious new world that she's found. She does so with every ounce of passion that she has inside her.
She is a multi-faceted character displaying genuine sincerity and kindness for all who come across her path, yet she's tenacious enough to finally stand up to the woman that has wronged her for her entire life. Not to mention the fact that she completely surrenders herself to her evil kidnapper to save the life of the man she fell in love with. Her moment lying on top of Flynn sobbing after he is killed by Mother Gothel is heartbreaking but her joy at his "rebirth" is equally as heartwarming. Furthermore, as a dad, albeit a pretty sappy one, the scene at the end where she is reunited with her parents also consistently turns me into a blubbering fool. We follow her on this journey and the payoff is well worth it.
Belle is the anti-princess. She's not interested in the regal world. She wants more than just her provincial life, but to her that means a life of adventure; she longs for the very adventures that she reads about in her beloved books. She's one of the few Disney Princesses not looking for a true love, not looking for a prince. Beauty and the Beast's opening scene, the musical number "Belle," is one of my favorite openings to any film, animated or not. It's brilliant storytelling and completely invests the viewer in this lead character. I was ready to follow Belle anywhere after that opening number, and she manages to live up to that opening scene throughout the remainder of the film.
Belle is strong-willed and loyal. She puts her father's life and safety above her own when she volunteers to stay in the castle in his place. She wonders in amazement at the magic that exists in the castle, but doesn't show the Beast pity when confronted by what that same magic has done to him. She stands up to him. She makes him see the former person that still exists underneath his harsh exterior. Belle finds her adventure in the most unexpected of places and is able to see through what's on the outside deep down to the beauty that exists within; perhaps that is what earns her a spot so high on my list. Once again, Belle's wonderful songs and Paige O'Hara's tremendous singing voice instantly endear her to me each time I view this classic film. I'll never forget seeing this modern Disney masterpiece in the theater for the first time, and it's always been my favorite.
1 – Mulan
Mulan is perhaps the strongest and most heroic of the Disney Princesses, and that's really why she lands at the number one slot—despite the fact that as I mentioned above, she isn't technically a princess. That's neither here nor there. Her independence and bravery make her a legitimate role model for young girls. Mulan defies the old world way of thinking and rejects the very notions of womanhood that her society thrusts upon her. Indeed the easy way out would be to honor her family and the old way of doing things and become the stereotype example of what her culture believes a woman should be. This would make things much easier on herself and her family. But Mulan knows that this isn't what's inside of her and she can't be something that she's not. Her integrity shines in this moment and only skyrockets when she then decides to save the life of her father. It's a true moment of clarity. She has no thoughts of herself. She becomes truly selfless.
Not only does she prove her love for her father and her selflessness but she goes on to prove that her intellect and her cunning is stronger than anyone could ever believe, especially the men that surround her. Mulan is intelligent, strong, passionate, selfless, caring, and ultimately proud of who she is and what she stands for. Who could ask for more out of a princess? Of course, as with all the princesses on my list, it's a song that also sells me on Mulan. Beneath Mulan's tough exterior is Lea Salonga's incredible voice on the beautiful song "Reflection." During this amazing song the character questions when she'll be able to truly be who she is inside and this shows her to be introspective, almost soul searching. It humanizes her to the audience and that's a trait we all want in someone that we admire. We appreciate that they're larger than life, but when we see that they're as fragile as we all are, we respect them even more.
We don't have princesses in America. We don't have those leaders that are so inherently loved by the populace that they seem almost not of this earth. Could we ever have someone like a Princess Diana in this country? Probably not. It's not how we do things. But I do think we envy them, which is one of the reasons that the Disney Princess thing was as successful as it was. And it was successful. We're talking billions and billions of dollars earned from the Disney Princess line of films and merchandise since their official introduction as a franchise in 2000. It's still one of the most successful things the Walt Disney Company ever embarked on, and only seems to grow as they find more and more princess characters to add to the list. One would imagine that Moana will soon be inaugurated into the group and I suppose the only reason that Anna and Elsa aren't enrolled is they're enough of a juggernaut all on their own.
I will say that the Disney Princess concept might have had one slight backfire. My sons grew up identifying many amazing films as "Princess" movies. Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, Pocahontas, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and all the others are incredible films, not incredible Princess films, but it was hard to convince my boys differently. When Beauty and the Beast was re-released into theaters, I had to beg them to come with me to experience this masterpiece on the big screen. In the end, only one of them accompanied me to the theater to see what they thought was primarily a "girl" movie. I couldn't interest the other. As they've gotten older, they've begun to see the light, but it was a tough sell for many years. In a way Disney inadvertently shut out half the audience out there. Perhaps that's why Roy Disney was reportedly not too enamored with the whole Princess idea in the first place. Most girls, however, were completely sold on the Disney Princesses as an entity.
The big criticism, however, of the original Disney Princess characters like Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty has always been that they essentially based their whole existence on a man. When I first become the father of a little girl, I read articles that said things like, "You should never show your daughter movies like Pretty Woman or Sleeping Beauty." I've never really bought into this criticism. My daughter loved the originals and their stories just as much as she loved the newer more "girl power" centric stories. She never viewed Aurora in Sleeping Beauty as weak because she needed a man to "wake her up." She simply loved the character and the story being told.
Looking back, I'm well aware that none of the classic Disney Princesses made the cut. It was also tough to leave out some of the more modern choices like Tiana and Merida. It was equally as hard to leave another favorite off of this list, Pocahontas, the only Disney princess modeled after an actual person. As always, I thought long and hard about my choices. I'd like to hear what you think of them and I'd love to hear which ones would make your own list.
Lots of little girls want to be princesses and, as parents, we will always want to view our little girls as such. I'll always think of Sam in that pink Aurora nightgown on the plane ride home from Disney; dressed up in that blue Cinderella dress at The World of Disney on Fifth Avenue for her birthday; or trick or treating around the neighborhood dressed as Ariel. Back then, when we went to Walt Disney World, as far as Samantha was concerned, Cinderella really lived in that castle. She believed in the Disney Princesses and everything they stood for, and as her mom and dad we felt that was a good thing. I think it helped instill some good values in her. We did our part but I think these characters helped. She's grown up to be an extraordinary young lady and if the Disney Princesses and their admirable traits and "tales as old as time" helped her even just a little bit on that journey then we're forever grateful.