Movies

So This is Love: Ranking Disney’s Fairy Tale Romances

“You don’t find a girl like that every dynasty.”

If there are three things the general public associates with Disney animation, it’s princesses, musicals, and romance. I’d like to take a look at some famous Disney couples/pairings, starting with those involving Disney Princesses. This is an interesting topic for me because I often find the romance to be the worst part of a film, and I can rarely get into straightforward romances. However, Disney has almost always excelled in this aspect, whether it’s the film’s main focus or not. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be excluding characters like Kida and those from Pixar movies. Don’t worry, though; they may pop up at a later time.

Princess Romances

10.) Pocahontas and John Smith – Pocahontas (1995)

Oh, Pocahontas. This is not only one of Disney’s most frustrating films, but also one of the most boring in terms of character and story. Pocahontas herself is described as wild and free-spirited by the elders in her tribe, and I suppose this can be seen when she jumps off the cliff into the river early in the movie. The problem is, there’s not much more to her character, and what is there is told rather than shown to be true through her actions. She does display bravery in saving John Smith, but he also has a rather boring personality, and their relationship isn’t very well developed. Their scenes together consist of Pocahontas telling John he’s wrong about everything, and the two frolicking in the woodlands. One almost wonders if George Lucas found inspiration here for the love scenes in Episode II: Attack of the Clones. This is the only time I’ll ever say this about a Disney sequel, but Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World set up a better romance than the first film. The interactions between Pocahontas and John Rolfe display more character and more chemistry than anything in the first Pocahontas, and that makes it easier to believe two characters are really in love. You can have them kiss and say they’re in love all you want, but meaningful dialogue and actions showing the progression of the relationship throughout make all the difference in the audience’s investment. This is far from the worst couple I’ve seen on film, but Disney usually excels at characters’ interpersonal relationships, so “boring” automatically sinks to the bottom of the pile.

Princess Romances

9.) Cinderella and Prince Charming Cinderella (1950)

While Cinderella actually has a pretty well-developed, endearing personality as the film’s protagonist, Prince Charming doesn’t. In fact, he doesn’t even have a name in the animated film, simply being referred to by everybody as “the Prince.” The two do share a beautiful scene at the ball, but it doesn’t reveal anything about either character or their relationship. That’s okay, as Cinderella isn’t really about love and the Prince so much as it is about magic, belief, and Cinderella’s journey as a character. However, that also puts it near the bottom of this list; it only beats out Pocahontas because the romance is the central narrative point of that film, and as such should have gotten more focus. Pocahontas also does a slightly worse job because the titular character is more interested in educating Smith than in getting to know him as a person. I do think it’s worth mentioning that Cinderella’s relationship with the Prince is more fleshed out and frankly adorable in the 2015 live-action remake.

Princess Romances

8.) Princess Ariel and Prince Eric – The Little Mermaid (1989)

Ariel was Disney’s most complex and developed princess to date, and she’s still many people’s favorite. She’s bubbly, curious, friendly, and at times a bit self-absorbed. Prince Eric, however, isn’t the most interesting guy in the world. We know a little bit more about him than John Smith or Prince Charming; he plays the flute, has a dog named Max, and is drawn to Ariel’s beautiful voice. He’s shown to have a positive, friendly, playful personality, but we don’t learn much that differentiates him from many other Disney characters. Part of the hindrance comes in the form of Ariel’s inability to speak, meaning that for a large portion of the film they can only communicate in body language. But even then, I don’t think the animators used Eric’s mannerisms and expressions to reveal character like they could have. Ariel is extremely expressive, and you can always tell what she’s thinking and what she wants. He does get cool points for driving a boat right into Ursula’s side, killing her. Similarly to Cinderella, The Little Mermaid has a lot more going on than just a love story, and I’d argue that the focus of this movie is actually Ariel’s relationship with her father Triton, and his eventual growth as a character. So, while I don’t think this makes it a bad film, romance isn’t one of The Little Mermaid’s strong suits.

Princess Romances

7.) Princess Anna and Kristoff – Frozen (2013)

Anna and Kristoff definitely have personalities, that’s for sure. Anna is naïve, curious, brave, selfless, and quirky. Kristoff is introverted, sarcastic, persistent, and kind of a jerk at first. I do really like how their characters evolve, but I have a couple of issues with them as a pairing overall. Their early interactions are a little too reminiscent of those shared by Rapunzel and Eugene; they have an arrangement for mutual benefit (Anna finds her sister and Kristoff gets the supplies he needs), and through arguing, they eventually become friends, and then a couple in the end. There are a lot of comparisons to be drawn between various Disney movies, but this is a little too close for comfort, and Tangled was just three years old when Frozen hit theater screens. It also feels at times like the writers were more interested in making them modern (having Kristoff timidly ask if he may kiss Anna, for example) than making their relationship interesting, unique, or believable. However, they do have some cute interactions on the way to the North Mountain. Once they’re actually together, it also seems less forced. Honestly, I would have removed the Hans plot altogether and focused more on these two. That being said, Kristoff and Anna are only at the low-middle of the list, so it could be a lot worse.

Princess Romances

6.) Princess Aurora and Prince Philip – Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Princess Aurora has more personality than people often give her credit for having. She only appears in about 15-20 minutes of the film, and she’s even asleep for parts of that. However, we can see that she’s playful, adventurous, and curious, yet still cautious enough to tell Philip that she can’t talk to strangers. She also has an enormous sense of duty, demonstrated in her willingness to return to the castle and give up her chance at true love. Until her birthday, she had no idea she even was a Princess or had duties to perform, but nonetheless, she drops everything and does as instructed, no matter how much it hurts. Prince Philip, however, butts heads with his father, insisting upon marrying the girl he believes to be a humble peasant. He’s shown to be headstrong, modern (for his time, anyway), romantic, and extremely valiant. He also gets to kill the film’s villain, but I like this scene even more than the sequence in The Little Mermaid. Maleficent’s transformation is iconic, and it’s badass when Philip plunges his sword into the wicked fairy’s heart. That being said, Aurora and Philip’s relationship is still a bit more subtle than some of Disney’s future endeavors.

Princess Romances

5.) Princess Snow White and The Prince – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

As the first animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs became the template for a lot of things. It certainly exemplifies the childlike innocence that would define many (but not all) of the studio’s romances. Snow White and the Prince are very simple characters with simple goals and desires. That being said, the artistry with which their story is told is undeniable, and their shared scenes are just so sweet. They exist in a world of love at first sight and curse-breaking kisses; their story operates less on logic and more on emotion, and in that regard, it definitely succeeds.

Princess Romances

4.) Fa Mulan and Li Shang – Mulan (1998)

I’ve heard an argument before that Mulan and Shang were more interesting as comrades, and that having him pursue her once she’s revealed as a woman cheapens the narrative and their friendship. I’ve felt this way about movies before, but at least for me, it doesn’t really apply here. For one thing, this was at a time when every Disney movie was a romance, or at least had a romance among the central characters. I fail to see how anyone would have been surprised at this turn of events, let alone offended or disappointed. I also think that a good friendship developing into romantic love is one of the best ways to go about getting two characters together; Mulan and Shang go through a lot together, and he begins to trust and respect her as a capable member of his team. This trust is shattered when she’s revealed to be a woman, yet he still treats her better than many would, sparing her life and leaving her with her father’s sword. When she confronts him in the Imperial City, she asks him why her being a woman has any bearing on his trust in her abilities and character. I think Shang is actually an underappreciated character in general; everyone credits Mulan for bucking gender norms and saving China, but he had every opportunity to stop her in her tracks. Instead, he becomes one of the most dynamic, interesting characters in the movie, and arguably learns the most throughout. That being said, I also think people sell Mulan short when they think of her as some badass warrior goddess. Mulan’s journey isn’t about kicking butt and destroying the patriarchy. She leaves to save her father, and at first, everything is very hard for her. As a woman being groomed to become a beautiful bride, she’s never had to lift or kick or throw or fight before. In fact, she starts the film rather lazy, oversleeping and writing notes rather than memorizing her lessons as she should. Saying that she was always this warrior hero who joined the army to stick it to the men is not only factually incorrect, it’s boring. That sounds extremely dull, and it certainly wouldn’t be an interesting or relatable hero for a movie. Mulan and Shang learn a lot from one another and form a tremendous bond. But they’re in the middle of this list, as their friendship only blossoms into something more at the film’s conclusion. This isn’t bad, though, and I’d rather keep it that way than acknowledge the horrendous sequel that might or might not still be giving me nightmares.

Princess Romances

3.) Aladdin and Princess Jasmine – Aladdin (1992)

Even as a kid, I could tell that Aladdin and Jasmine connected in a way a lot of Disney couples didn’t. They discuss feeling trapped by their social classes despite being on opposite ends of the spectrum. Their interactions range from funny to endearing and everything in-between, and their eventual union is more satisfying because Jasmine was more difficult to win over than some other Princesses. I think it’s also a good relationship because they really get to know each other, and there’s a chemistry there that a lot of earlier films hadn’t emphasized as much. While Aladdin does initially lie to Jasmine about who he is, this is addressed, and that kind of thing is just part of the genre at this point. They’re not my very favorite Disney couple, but these are two great characters with an interesting relationship and that puts them near the top.

Princess Romances

2.) Tiana and Prince Naveen – The Princess and the Frog  (2009)

The Princess and the Frog is a film that’s really grown on me over time, and the central romance is one of the biggest reasons why. Tiana is one of the very best Disney Princesses because she has an interesting, unique personality and extremely relatable goals. Tiana’s smart, hardworking, creative, and talented. Naveen, meanwhile, is lazy, arrogant, entitled, and a womanizer. However, he’s not entirely wrong, and the two both learn something from the other. In this way The Princess and the Frog succeeds where Pocahontas failed; Tiana does sort of preach to Naveen in their early interactions, but she ends up learning how to loosen up and have fun, and that while hard work is important, there’s more to life. Tiana is intentionally preachy to lead into her own growth, rather than to teach the other person life lessons, although that happens too. There are a lot of sweet moments in this movie, such as Naveen making a frog-sized ring for Tiana, and his willingness to do anything to make her dream of owning a restaurant into a reality. However, my favorite part is at the end when they’re willing to get married and be happy as frogs, only to have their humanity restored and the curse broken. It’s also really cool when Tiana says her dream wouldn’t be complete without Naveen in it. Tiana and Naveen are fantastic characters, and the way their relationship develops throughout the film is exemplary.

Princess Romances

1.) Belle and the Beast – Beauty and the Beast (1991)/Princess Rapunzel and Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert – Tangled (2010)

That’s right; first place is a tie! This is a cheap cop-out, but I really couldn’t choose one over the other.

It’s hard to say anything to say about Belle and the Beast that hasn’t already been said. Beauty and the Beast allowed its characters time and space to develop in a way that no animated Disney film had before, and certainly none of their romances. Belle and the Beast know one another for a lot more than the usual three days, and in fact, the movie never makes clear just how long they’re together in the castle. It must be quite a while, as we see the seasons changing. The film even has two openings, one introducing the Beast’s story and the other one in Belle’s village. From the very beginning, it’s clear that this story belongs to both characters, and they each have individual journeys that intersect. The Beast is the more interesting character in the sense that he learns the most, but Belle is one of Disney’s most fleshed-out leading ladies, and she has a great personality. They’re both outsiders among the common people, albeit for entirely different reasons, and after initially being at odds with one another, they find kinship and, eventually, love. These characters have so many great scenes, but I love it when he gifts Belle with the library, and of course the entire ballroom sequence. My very favorite probably has to be the transformation scene after she finally says she loves him, and the ensuing finale back in the ballroom. It’s such a simple scene, just people dancing and talking, but there’s this genuine sense of joy that just emanates through the animation and music that can’t be denied. The facial expressions on both characters tell you a lot in a scene where they’re completely silent. I consider Belle and the Beast to be the quintessential Disney couple in that they changed the game and raised expectations substantially.

Princess Romances

Rapunzel and Eugene similarly don’t get along at first, but for a different reason. Rapunzel has basically been brainwashed by Gothel not to trust anyone her whole life. When Eugene climbs and sneaks into her tower, it’s not surprising that she doesn’t take it terribly well. As I mentioned earlier with Anna and Kristoff, Rapunzel essentially strikes a business deal with Flynn. She wants a chance to explore the outside world and find out what the “floating lights” are, and she knows he’ll do it if he stands to profit financially, being that he is a thief. Again, all of their shared scenes are terrific, but I really love it when they discuss dreams and what you do when you finally get what you’ve been wanting for years. It’s also amazing to see the way they connect in the “Kingdom Dance” sequence (also a fantastic piece of music, by the way). Again, this is a sequence with no dialogue from either character; you just get body language, facial expressions, and the two exploring new things together. Tangled is also free of the unsubtle pessimistic view Frozen takes. Sure, Anna and Kristoff decided to go out in the end, but the “message” with Hans and how you can’t trust people has left a bad taste in my mouth to this day. Tangled is the best recent Disney romance, and in my opinion, the only one that has lived up to Beauty and the Beast’s standards.

***

And that’s my ranking of Disney Princess couples. Who’s your favorite? Do you have a suggestion of a Disney topic to be discussed next? Let us know in the comments below!

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