Disney princesses have been beloved by children and adults alike since Snow White first graced the silver screen in 1937. Over the past eight decades, Walt Disney Animation Studios has brought to life stories of courage, kindness, and finding one’s place in the world through 12 official princesses from various cultures and time periods. While the earlier princesses conformed more to traditional gender roles of the time, the newer generations have shown increasing independence, determination, and strength.
From Snow White’s kindness to Moana’s fearless sense of adventure, the evolution of the Disney princess reflects society’s changing values regarding femininity and female empowerment. At the core, the Disney princesses teach viewers lessons about standing up for what’s right in the face of adversity, being true to oneself, and bravery in the great unknown. As some of Disney’s most iconic characters, the princesses inspire those who watch their stories unfold to have courage and chase their dreams.
Official Disney Princesses
1. Snow White
Featured in:Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) Age: 14 Attributes: Innocent, optimistic, kind, trusting, caring, maternal
The first Disney princess, Snow White, is known for her kindness, optimism, and innocence. After her jealous stepmother the Evil Queen orders the huntsman to kill her, Snow White flees into the forest, where she befriends the seven dwarfs. Her animal friends and her new dwarf companions love her for her nurturing spirit. She ultimately prevails over the Queen through the power of true love’s kiss from Prince Ferdinand.
Cinderella retains her hope and kindness even when forced into servitude by her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine. She befriends mice and other animals in her attic bedroom, who become instrumental in getting Cinderella to the royal ball. At the ball, she dances with and falls in love with Prince Charming, but must flee at midnight before the spell breaks. The glass slipper left behind allows the prince to find Cinderella, even after Lady Tremaine tries to sabotage their meeting.
Princess Aurora is lovingly raised by three fairies while in hiding from the curse of the evil fairy Maleficent that she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die on her 16th birthday. Enchanting all who meet her with her gentle and kind nature, Aurora falls in love with Prince Phillip in the forest before returning home to her “aunts” and pricking her finger on a spinning wheel. Rather than dying, she falls into a deep sleep that can only be broken by true love’s kiss.
Featured in:The Little Mermaid (1989) Age: 16 Attributes: Adventurous, curious, headstrong, determined, defiant
Ariel is the little mermaid who longs to walk on land and live among humans, despite her father King Triton’s hatred of humans. Her vast collection of human artifacts drives her curiosity about life above the ocean. After saving Prince Eric from drowning, Ariel makes a deal with the sea witch Ursula to become human in exchange for her voice. Though she gets to experience dancing, dining, and falling in love with Eric, she learns that there are great sacrifices to be made in the name of love and her dream of living on land.
Featured in:Beauty and the Beast (1991) Age: 17 Attributes: Intelligent, open-minded, courageous, kind, loyal
An avid reader and inventor, Belle longs for adventure outside her “poor provincial town.” When her father is imprisoned by the Beast in his castle, Belle takes his place and befriends the castle staff enchanted as household objects. She sees the humanity in the Beast despite his monstrous exterior, and nurses him back to health after he saves her from wolves. Over time, she falls in love with the kind heart and soul she knows exists within.
Featured in:Aladdin (1992) Age: 15 Attributes: Strong-willed, courageous, kind, caring
Jasmine is the Sultan’s daughter who must wed a prince but feels stifled by the obligation and her confinement to the palace. Independent and unwilling to be silenced, Jasmine runs away disguised as a peasant and meets the street urchin Aladdin in the marketplace. After he is imprisoned by Jafar, she helps Aladdin defeat Jafar and the two find strength in each other’s courage and determination to write their own destinies.
As the daughter of the Native American chief Powhatan, Pocahontas struggles to find her own path as she is destined to be married for the good of her people. More interested in adventure and exploration than settling down, she befriends English settler John Smith and comes to understand his people better while teaching Smith about nature’s gifts. Her wisdom and bravery led her to single-handedly stop a war between the Native Americans and English settlers.
Mulan disguises herself as a man to take her elderly father’s place in the Chinese imperial army. With the help of her protector dragon Mushu, Mulan uses her courage, wit, and athleticism to become a skilled soldier. After saving her fellow soldiers and defeating the Hun army by starting an avalanche, her true identity as a woman is revealed. The Emperor honors Mulan’s bravery in battle and her heroism in saving China.
Featured in:The Princess and the Frog (2009) Age: 19 Attributes: Hardworking, ambitious, kind, resourceful
Tiana dreams of opening her own restaurant to carry on her father’s dream. She works tirelessly as a waitress to raise money for her goal, refusing to let anything stop her from making it come true. After kissing Prince Naveen turned into a frog, Tiana becomes a frog herself and embarks on an adventure in the Louisiana bayou. By remaining hardworking and ambitious even as a frog, she finds love with Naveen and gets her restaurant in the end.
Featured in:Tangled (2010) Age: 18 Attributes: Curious, artistic, kind, trusting
Taken from her kingdom as a baby for her magical golden hair, Rapunzel grows up isolated in a tower with only her ‘mother’ Gothel for company. Her hair holds the power to heal and keep Gothel young, so Rapunzel must remain hidden away. Still, her curious and artistic spirit allows her to find joy in her confined life. After meeting and falling in love with thief Flynn Ryder, Rapunzel gets to explore the world beyond her tower and discover her true royal identity.
Princess Merida is far more interested in archery and horseback riding than behaving like a proper princess in the Scottish kingdom. After a fight with her mother about marrying one of the lords’ sons, Merida seeks help from a witch, who gives her a potion. The potion accidentally transforms her mother and little brothers into bears, and Merida must find a way to undo the spell. In the process, she repairs her relationship with her mother while still retaining her bold spirit and independence.
Featured in:Moana (2016) Age: 16 Attributes: Adventurous, courageous, determined, strong-willed
As the daughter and future chief of the Polynesian village Motunui, Moana is chosen by the ocean to return the heart of goddess Te Fiti from demigod Maui to defeat a life-killing darkness. Though her father wants her to remain safely on their island, Moana’s longing to explore the ocean compels her to learn how to wayfind and sail across the sea. With Maui as her reluctant companion, Moana shows immense courage and determination in the face of monsters and storms alike to save her people.
Featured in:Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) Age: 16 Attributes: Headstrong, mature, adaptable, capable warrior
As the daughter of the chief of the Heart tribe, Raya is appointed guardian of the Dragon Gem that maintains peace in the fantasy world of Kumandra. When it shatters, she embarks on a quest to track down Sisu, the last dragon, to restore the gem and defeat the Druun monsters. Along with the street urchin Boun and former nemesis Namaari, Raya shows resilience and learns to trust others to save her fractured world.
For over 80 years, Disney princesses have enchanted viewers with stories of love, courage, and triumph over adversity. While the early princesses conformed to more traditional archetypes, recent decades have brought independent, diverse lead characters who forge their own paths. From Snow White’s eternal optimism that someday her dreams would come true to Moana’s fierce yet compassionate spirit as she saves her island, the princesses reflect both the values of their times and timeless attributes like hope, perseverance, and sacrifice.
Their stories continue to inspire new generations to have faith in happy endings and chase their dreams no matter the obstacles they face. Though coming from places and eras far removed from modern society, at their hearts, the Disney princesses exemplify that when compassion and courage come together, the future remains bright with possibility. By both embracing the magic that makes them unique and valuing their bonds with others, the princesses show girls and boys alike that inner strength and belief in oneself will carry them far.