Top 5: Disney Princess Films

This week marks the release of Disney Animation Studio's 53rd feature length animated film Frozen, and as the film features 2 new princesses to add to the growing list of Disney royalty, I thought it would be a good time to look back at my favorite Disney Princess films. To date there have been ten, if you don't count Brave-- which is technically a Pixar film, so I'm not including it here-- and I thought at first about potentially ranking the Princesses themselves, but have decided instead to rank the films in which they appear. Therefore, a princess like Mulan who I think is a phenomenal model of what a princess should be, doesn't quite crack the top five because I find the film around her to be lackluster. As a dad to two little girls, you can be sure that I've hashed out this argument a handful of times already. Hit the break for a quick rundown of 6-10 and then a more detailed countdown of my top five Disney Princess Films. 
10. Cinderella (1950)
9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
8. Aladdin (1992)
7. Mulan (1998)
6. Pocahontas (1995)
5. The Little Mermaid (1989)
little mermaid
Arguably the smartest and boldest move that Disney made when they redoubled their animation efforts just prior to the 1990s was hiring the songwriting team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The two had created the Off-Broadway smash Little Shop of Horrors, and were just what the studio needed to usher in this new era of the animated musical. Their first effort together was 1989's The Little Mermaid, a film that was just re-released on dvd and blu-ray in a gorgeous new high definition transfer. Incredibly loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale of the same name, The Little Mermaid gave us a different kind of Disney Princess in Ariel, one who longed for more from life than just going about her routine, and her insatiable curiosity pays off, only after she makes a bargain with the evil sea queen Ursula. While it's not as wholly satisfying as the best of Disney's output from that era, it's still got some fantastic songs, great comic relief and makes for a thoroughly entertaining film that succeeds for both kids and kids at heart.
4. Tangled (2010)
While it wasn't Disney's first foray into cg animation, Tangled certainly remains their best, combining classic Disney charm with an irreverently sardonic edge. Rapunzel is another princess in the vein of Ariel who at first longs for something more than the confinement of her tower, but then takes charge of her own destiny when she finds true love in the form of Flynn Ryder. The film's songs by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater are among the best in any Disney film, particularly Oscar nominated duet "I See The Light." The film's sense of spectacle is also second to none, featuring some of the sharpest, most gorgeously rendered animation that's ever been put on film, and the conceit of having the animals in the film be unable to talk works to the filmmakers advantage as it yields some of the best physical comedy in the history of the studio. Tangled showed that a Disney Princess film didn't mean it was exclusively made for little girls.
3. The Princess and the Frog (2009)
By far my favorite of the post-millennial Disney animated films is 2009's The Princess and the Frog. The film was a return to the hand drawn animation days of Disney's golden age, and proved that the spirit of the hand drawn musical spectaculars of the 90s wasn't dead and buried. Though they've only done one hand drawn film since (2011's fantastically underrated Winnie the PoohThe Princess and the Frog feels like it could have sprung out entirely in its current form back in the 90s. The film also gives us my second favorite Disney Princess in Tiana, a strong-willed, hard working woman who has a can-do attitude and doesn't rely on a prince to make her feel like a complete person. The film's soundtrack and songs by Randy Newman are probably my favorite of any Disney film, and the opulent New Orleans set animation is among the finest work ever done by the animators at Disney. This is the kind of film I wish they were making more of, and I hold out hope that The Princess and the Frog will one day be recognized as the masterpiece that it truly is.
2. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
The second Disney film done in an anamorphic widescreen ratio, and the first photographed in 70mm, remains among the greatest all-time animated films, 1959's Sleeping Beauty. The story of Princess Aurora and the curse placed on her at her birth by the evil Maleficent (still the greatest Disney villain ever) remains among the most beloved animated films for a reason. It's story is simple and effective, and the animation is eye-poppingly gorgeous. While Aurora herself amounts to nothing more than a spectator in her own eponymous story, the trio of good fairies that protect her provide enough pathos for the audience to latch on to, and the film's score is a delight for the ears. With the upcoming release of a live-action film based around Maleficent due next year, it's obvious where the story's true appeal lies, but there's no denying that this is the absolute height of what Walt Disney and his animators achieved in his lifetime.
1. Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The first animated film ever nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award still dazzles today, and it should come as no surprise that the film Beauty and the Beast also features my favorite Disney princess by a mile, Belle. Belle is the sort of literate, open-minded, good hearted person that any little girl can aspire to. She doesn't seek her validation from those around her or rush into a forced relationship with an overbearing bag of douche like Gaston. She seeks her own path, and keeps the well-being of her father foremost among her priorities. Arguments can, and probably should, be mounted about Belle's severe case of Stockholm Syndrome, but being an animated film, her arc can't run much longer than the ninety minute running time, so we can just assume that most of the "falling in love" happened off-camera. While the film itself is not my favorite telling of this tale (that would be Jean Cocteau's 1946 French version La Belle et la Bete) this one manages to score thanks to its beautiful hand drawn animation and winning score and songs, once again by Menken and Ashman. Beauty and the Beast remains the gold standard among the modern Disney classics, and it's a wonderful film worth revisiting again and again.
[Images via 123456]