A large part of Disney’s reputation is based primarily on its princess line. The princesses are the most recognisable of the characters and they’re the ones that are used on pretty much all of the merchandise. However, the princesses are only a small proportion of the Disney heroines and a lot of their leading ladies have no connection to royalty (Some of them even end up in the princess line up despite this. I’m looking at you Mulan.)
In a lot of cases, the non-princess heroines are actually a lot more interesting and much more well-rounded than the royals. So this post is going to analyse some of the non-princess Disney heroines. There’s not really a ranking system, this was just the order that I remembered them in.
To narrow the field a bit, I’ll be solely looking at the Disney ladies and not the collaborations with Pixar (such as Jessie from Toy Story or Violet from the Incredibles).
1. Fa Mulan
Like I said before, Mulan is not a Disney Princess despite frequently occurring in the line-up. The only princesses in the Mulan movies are the emperor’s daughters; Mei, Su and Ting Ting. Mulan isn’t a princess, nor does she marry into royalty; Shang is a general. This closest we get is when she almost marries that little jerk in the second movie.
So, Mulan isn’t a princesses but she is definitely one of the most bad-ass of all the Disney heroines. The film teaches girls that they are fully capable of fighting and defending themselves just as well as the boys. And this ideal is probably best embodied at the beginning of the second film where Mulan sings Lesson Number One and teaches the village girls the basics of fighting.
I only have one problem with Mulan; what they did to her after the films.
In all of the Disney parks and in all of the merchandise, Mulan is dressed like all of the other princesses; glammed up and wearing pretty dresses. This pretty much goes against what the entire movie was about. They often put Mulan in her match-making dress which is pretty much a symbol of her discomfort when it comes to anything overtly feminine.There have been adaptions in the parks where Mulan is shown in her battle armour, which is a much better representation of her character, but unfortunately, this is still a rare sight.
And besides, this is the outfit we should have seen her in;
She’s not pretending to be overly feminine in order to gain a husband, nor is she pretending to be male. She’s just being herself. And this is how she should be represented.
I hated how Shanti was represented in the first Jungle Book film. She’s essentially a temptress, and the only reason Mowgli decides to live in the village is because the pretty girl fluttered her eyelashes at him. She’s pretty much just an object of lust for Mowgli and a convenient excuse for the writers to have Mowgli stay with his own kind.
I looked on the Disney wiki page for Shanti and I found this:
Children should not be capable of seduction.
But then the sequel came out, and she suddenly became pretty awesome. She has a lot of responsibility placed upon her and she feels responsible for both Mowgli and his adoptive brother Ranjan. She’s been taught to fear the jungle and stops Mowgli leading the other children there during the song Jungle Rhythm. Mowgli leaves the village with Baloo and, thinking that her friend has been kidnapped, Shanti braves the jungle in order to find him. Shanti handles the situation pretty damn well. She has the responsibility of looking after Ranjan who followed her and is able to keep the both of them safe (at one point she even punches Baloo who is pretending to attack in order to scare her away).
So, the initial introduction of Shanti was pretty poor. Luckily this was fixed in the sequel where she was given actual characterisation instead of just being a child siren.
I loved Roxanne. If you don’t remember her, she’s Max’s love interest in the Goofy Movie who, for some dumb-ass reason, was left out of the sequel.
Roxanne is presented as being the typical high school popular girl, she’s beautiful, charming and Max fully believes that she would never be interested in him.
But Roxanne is actually pretty endearing and very clearly has a crush on Max.
They’re a really sweet couple and I’m upset that she didn’t get more screen time although I do understand why given the father/son road-trip plot of the film.
Like I said, Roxanne didn’t feature in the sequel and it’s never really explained if they broke up or if they’re trying long-distance. Hell, for all we know, she could have died in the meantime.
I refuse to count the new movies in the characterisation of Tinkerbell. She’s just far too cutesy to be considered the same person as the original Tink. They also changed her name (she’s a Tinker fairy named Bell) so I’m going to count her as a totally different character, just for peace of mind.
The Tinkerbell that was presented in Peter Pan was pretty awesome though. Unlike the new adaptions, Tinkerbell was non-verbal, so a lot of her emotions are displayed through her movements and it works really well. You don’t need to know what she’s saying to understand exactly how she feels about any given situation. Unlike most Disney heroines, Tinkerbell can be fiercely jealous to the point of trying to kill Wendy. The explanation for this is that Tink is so small that she can only feel one emotion at once, and this emotion will consume her. And despite the murder attempts, most people can’t help but love her.
5. Vanellope von Schweetz
I wasn’t quite sure where to place Vanellope, because she is revealed to be the games princess towards the end of the film. However, she rejects this title and instead prefers to be known as the president, so I suppose she can’t be counted as an official princess.
Vanellope is a brilliant demonstration of how disabilities or other limitations can be overcome. She’s similar to a paralympian, there’s a lot of stigma against her and people don’t believe her to be capable of fulfilling her dream. But she soon learns that her glitch can be used to her advantage and even help her win the race.
She’s a sweet kid whose outlook on life has been dampened by persistent bullying from her peers but she’s still determined to follow her dream and it’s a pretty good message for Disney to be spreading.
I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post (A guide to the mistakes of Disneys Hercules) that I have some issues with the way that Disney represent Greek mythology but I’m going to leave that to one side for now and just focus on Meg. Although I will say that in the mythology, Megara was the daughter of the King of Thebes, so she could have been a princess if Disney had of developed her back story more.
Meg is a pretty cynical character but given her back story, this is pretty justified. She sells her soul to save her boyfriend (Prince Adonis) and he repays her by running off with another woman, leaving her in the service of Hades. I think that put in that situation, we’d all be pretty cynical.
One of my favourite things about Meg is that she sums up the plight of women pretty well and calls Phil out on his borderline stalkerish ways.
“Well, you know how men are. They think “No” means “Yes” and “Get lost” means “Take me, I’m yours…. Don’t worry, maybe Shorty here can explain it to ya.”
Pretty progressive for a Disney film and a great role model for budding feminists.
Esmeralda featured in the Disney line for a while but was cut in 2004. The Disney wiki page lists a number of reasons for this:
• Her appearance is similar to Jasmine, which made girls confuse the two characters.
• Her sultry pose in the film may have influenced the decision.
• The fact of not having connections with royalty.
• Her clothes deemed inappropriate for a princess.
• The unpopularity of her film.
• The fact of living on the streets, and not in a respectable family, like all the other princesses.
• Not generating enough profits.
Now, I’m pretty sure that the only thing that deems whether or not a girl is a princess is their connections to royalty. Her clothing and the fact that Frollo casts her as the seductress should have nothing to do with it. The similarity to Jasmine thing is borderline racist. And if we’re cutting people who used to live on the streets then Aladdin shouldn’t count as a prince.
Esmeralda is a pretty good depiction of the Madonna-Whore complex. Frollo views her as an evil seductress, while Quasimodo sees her as a pure, angelic being. So although I was routing for Quasimodo to get a love interest, I can see why she ended up with Phoebus who just views her as a feisty, strong willed woman.
This aside, Esmeralda is a fantastic role-model and speaks out against injustice despite it being incredibly dangerous for her to do so.
8. Jane Porter
Jane is pretty much an animated version of Evy from the Mummy. She’s a well education, proper young women who is having a fantastic adventure and its just great to watch her having a good time.
Like Esmeralda, Jane was originally included in the princess line up. Let’s see wikis reasons for why she was cut:
• Her dress could be confused with Belle’s dress.
• She is not an actual princess.
• She was in the jungle.
• She was, perhaps, a queen because Tarzan is the King of the Jungle.
• She does not sing.
I agree that she shouldn’t be a princess, but her living in the jungle is a lame reason. As is her inability to sing.
9. Alice Liddel
I don’t really have any strong feelings for or against Alice, and I think that’s because I’ve seen so many different adaptions of her story that the character has just become pretty bland to me. So in both of the Disneys adaptions I don’t really care for the heroine. I think that I prefer her more in the Tim Burton version because she’s grown up and able to really fight her own battles, but she’s still pretty apathetic about the whole thing which makes it hard to be emotionally involved in her plight.
10. Wendy Darling
Wendy is a 12 year old who travels to a land where she is surrounded by boys and she is pretty instantly cast in the role of mother. She pretty much lands straight into the gendered role and when I watched it I was pretty disappointed that the girl character couldn’t be a lost boy. So I think I do much prefer the character of Jane, Wendy’s daughter. Jane initially has a motherly role and takes care of her younger brother Danny. But when she travels to Neverland, she becomes the first Lost Girl, and for a while she acts just like one of the boys. So all in all, I much prefer Jane’s depiction and role compared to her mothers.
11. Lilo Pelekai
Lilo is unlike any six year old that I know. She has a lot to deal with, the recent death of her parents, her sister becoming her primary care-giver and her peers constant taunting. Lilo is incredibly resilient and like a lot of children uses fantasies to help her cope. A lot of responsibility gets placed on Lilo. She and Stitch are placed in charge of finding the other 625 escaped experiments and have the responsibility of re-homing these incredibly dangerous alien experiments. By the age of ten (in the film Leroy and Stitch) she appears before the Galactic Federation and is given named as the caretaker for all the experiments. All in all, Lilo is a pretty impressive child and is incredibly underrated.
12. Nani Pelekai
As exceptional as Lilo is, her older sister is equally impressive. Whilst coping with the death of both of her parents, Nani was suddenly cast in the maternal role and became solely responsible for raising her younger sister. Nani rearranges her entire life to accommodate this role change, it’s suggested that Nani was a surf champion, something which she only does recreationally now. She also has no time for dating and has to devote her time to raising Lilo and finding a stable job. Despite all of the hardships that come her way, Nani does an excellent job of raising her little sister and the Pelekai family is one of the best that Disney has to offer because of this.
13. Captain Amelia
Amelia is an adaption of Captain Alexander Smollet from Treasure Island, and she was pretty much designed to defy gender norms. When first boarding the ship, Jim Hawkins and Dr Dobbler assume that Mr Arrow is the captain, possibly because of his large and intimidating demeanor. He informs them that the captain is inspecting the ship and Amelia is shown running along the mast and flipping down in the most refined manner possible. She’s described as being the finest captain in “this or any other galaxy”. And as the film progresses, it’s incredibly clear that she deserves such a title.
If Pocahontas gets to be a princess, then so should Nita. Both of them are the daughter of a chief, so the only thing holding her back is the fact that Nita was introduced in a sequel.
Nita basically embodies the girl next door trope. She was Kenai’s childhood friend who is apparently bonded to him as his soul mate. An amulet which Kenai gave her is representative of this bond and she needs to burn it before she marries her fiancé. The film basically ends the same way as Shrek, with Nita becoming a bear so that she can live with her soul mate.
It’s a bit of a flimsy plot, and Nita is basically what happens when you mix Pocahontas and Mulan together. But as female protagonists go, she’s not the worst.
15. Anita Radcliffe
Anita isn’t very well developed, which is understandable given the movies focus on the Dalmatians. All we really know is that she loves Roger and that at one point, for some unknown reason, she was childhood friends with Cruella. So unfortunately, I don’t really have much to say about Anita, I would have loved to have seen more scenes which focus on her and her relationship with Roger, they just seem adorable.
16. Penny, Jenny Foxworth and Olivia Flaversham
I’m pretty sure these three girls are just different versions of the same character. Jenny and Penny both live in New York, get kidnapped by the main antagonist and then get rescued by animals. Penny is an orphan whilst Jenny’s parents are never home. Olivia also looses her only parent and is then kidnapped by the antagonist and subsequently rescued by the mice heroes. I don’t really have a lot to say about these characters because they’re pretty plain and just cutesy damsels in distress.
So those are the most memorable non-princess Disney princess. What do you think of these leading ladies? Should they have just as much attention as the princesses? Let me know what you think in the comments below.