Disney has secured itself throughout animation history as being at the forefront of princess and princess-related stories, with some of the most impactful and memorable stories of a generation being those of Disney princesses. From all-time animated classics like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to more modern stories such as Frozen and Moana, Disney has always been at the forefront regarding princesses.
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However, for as long as Disney has been the undisputed master of the genre, a variety of other films have attempted to rival the Disney legacy, with a number of them managing to be just as engaging or successful. While not nearly as recognizable as the iconic Disney princesses, animation has had its fair share of other princesses that have proven to be just as majestic and iconic as Disney’s flagship princesses.
10 ‘Trolls’ (2016)
Trolls follows the story of a bustling city of trolls who love to spend their days singing and playing around before their fun is eventually threatened by a dangerous and mysterious giant. It soon becomes up to Princess Poppy, the leader of the trolls, joined by her much less optimistic friend, Branch, in order to travel to the giant’s domain and save the trolls from demise.
While far from the typical vision of what one would expect from a princess, Trolls proves itself to be a surprisingly effective and engaging princess story, with a highly capable and adaptable princess at its center. More than many other princesses, Poppy constantly places herself in the depths of danger for the sake of her people, while still being able to keep her peppy and cheery princess attitude throughout.
9 ‘Thumbelina’ (1994)
Thumbelina follows the story of the titular Thumbelina, a tiny girl no bigger than a thumb who emerges from a flower, and is soon raised by the old woman that finds her as her own. She soon finds companionship when the fairy prince Cornelius visits her, and the two fall in love, but after Thumbelina is captured, the two must battle against the creatures of the woods to find each other once again.
While the mystical and magical world and creatures that inhabit the world of Thumbelina are exciting and engaging to watch on screen, what makes the film work so well is how Thumbelina as a protagonist grounds the entire story. Her humble beginnings and determination make for a highly relatable and comforting protagonist, which makes it all the more enthralling when she achieves princess status by the end of the film.
8 ‘Quest for Camelot’ (1998)
Quest for Camelot follows the story of Kayley, a brave girl who dreams of following in the footsteps of her late father and becoming a Knight of the Round Table. It soon becomes up to both Kayley and her new friend, the blind warrior Garrett, in order to save all of Camelot from the evil Ruber, who plans to invade Camelot and take the throne for himself.
While the film may not have succeeded at beating Disney at its own game, Quest for Camelot still has its high points thanks to its highly engaging duo of Kayley and Garrett, who work off of each other tremendously. The medieval time period of King Arthur also makes for a perfect unexplored time period for a 90s-style princess story, and Quest for Camelot is able to deliver on its premise with a slew of creativity.
7 ‘The Swan Princess’ (1994)
The Swan Princess follows the story of childhood enemies turned lovers Princess Odette and Prince Derek, who for their entire lives have been matched by their parents to eventually wed one another. However, now that they’ve finally fallen for one another, Odette is soon kidnapped and transformed into a swan by an evil sorcerer, a spell that can only be broken by a vow of everlasting love.
While The Swan Princess from a premise perspective seems like nothing more than a run-of-the-mill princess story, its execution and perspective make all the difference for the film. There’s a notable conceited effort by the film to go against the grain and defy the trends of princess films before, whether it be calling out the clichés of the genre or giving more prowess and motivation to the actual princess at its center. It accomplishes this while still providing all the great customs and staples of the genre, feeling at times like a genuine evolution of the genre.
6 ‘The Tale of Despereaux’ (2008)
The Tale of Despereaux tells the story of a once vibrant and colorful kingdom, which has sadly fallen upon dark and dreary times after the sudden death of their queen. It soon falls upon an unlikely small hero in Despereaux, in combination with his rat friend Roscuro, in order to prove themselves as knights in shining armor to the still shining beacon of hope of the kingdom, Princess Pea.
More than just a story of a princess, The Tale of Despereaux tells the story of the impact and strength a princess and her optimism can have upon her entire kingdom and the darkness that spreads in its absence. The film also sports a spectacular voice cast featuring the likes of Emma Watson as Princess Pea and Matthew Broderick and Dustin Hoffman as Despereaux and Roscuro.
5 ‘Shrek’ (2001)
Shrek tells the story of a ferocious yet lovable ogre who, after a sequence of unforeseen circumstances places danger upon his simple life in the swamp, finds himself in an adventure to save a princess from a treacherous castle. While he’s initially only in it for his own gain, his tone begins to shift as he begins to fall for the princess, yet believes that a future with her isn’t possible, as a princess wouldn’t ever love an ogre.
Despite its everlasting legacy in pop culture and media, many people look over the fact that the first Shrek could very easily be considered a princess movie, as it is a princess love story of acceptance at its core. Princess Fiona herself is also no princess to slouch at, as the film holds nothing back in showing just how capable she is, proving to be much more than the “damsel in distress” most princesses end up being.
4 ‘The Thief and the Cobbler’ (1993)
The Thief and the Cobbler tells the story of a prosperous and legendary Golden City, made famous for its protection thanks to a trio of golden balls that sit atop the city’s tallest tower. Following the disappearance of the balls, the city is seemingly destined for the destruction of death, and it soon falls upon a local cobbler, Tack, and Princess Yum-Yum in order to retrieve the balls and save the city.
The Thief and the Cobbler is a visual feast for the eyes, that mesmerizes with beautiful backgrounds and character animation while telling a simple yet highly engaging story. While the true final version of the film may have never been finished, there are still plenty of masterful visuals and storytelling to be found within the version that ended up getting released.
3 ‘Anastasia’ (1997)
Anastasia tells the story of the mysterious lost daughter of Russia’s last royal family, Anastasia Romanov, who was separated from her family after an invasion and curse inflicted upon her by the evil Rasputin. Over a decade later and having no memory of her royal origins, the now-adult Anastasia miraculously finds herself traveling in a rambunctious trio to Paris to see the last surviving Romanov, her grandmother Empress Maria.
The core love story between Anastasia and her adventure companion Dimitri helps set Anastasia apart as a princess love story that easily rivals that of a Disney love story. There’s an infectious amount of care and heart that can be felt throughout the film, whether it be from high-stakes action sequences on a train or the heartfelt moment-to-moment reconnection between long-lost family members. Anastasia is proof that it’s possible to recapture and recreate the magic of a Disney princess film, as Anastasia easily holds its own among some of the Disney greats of the time period.
2 ‘The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’ (2013)
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya tells the story of a tiny girl who is found inside a shining stalk of bamboo by and old bamboo cutter and his wife. They soon take it upon themselves to raise the young girl, soon realizing that the is growing up as rapidly as a stalk of bamboo. As the young girl grows up into a true princess, she enthralls and enchants all that she encounters in her life, yet soon realizes and comes to terms with her past, and must confront said truth.
While Studio Ghibli’s movies have always been visual masterpieces, the watercolor aesthetic truly makes The Tale of Princess Kaguya a visual experience that is nearly impossible to replicate. The film mixes together these beautiful visuals to tell a moving story of heartbreak, acceptance, and knowing when to say goodbye. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya is one of the rare movies that everyone should experience in their lifetime, and will only continue to go down as a modern-day princess masterpiece for years to come.
1 ‘Princess Mononoke’ (1997)
Princess Mononoke tells the story of Ashitaka, a prince who after a fated battle with a demon, finds himself afflicted with a curse seemingly destined to die. In order to find a possible cure, Ashitaka travels west, where he discovers an ongoing battle between Lady Eboshi, a clan leader running an ironworks factory, and San, a young woman raised by wolves and determined to protect the forest.
Princess Mononoke is one of many masterpieces to come from director Hayao Miyazaki, featuring animation and action setpieces that still marvel and mesmerize to this day. The film’s powerful character dynamics and man vs. nature themes have also cemented the film’s status as a timeless icon of the genre of animation as a whole. There are few films that will hold the everlasting worldwide legacy that Princess Mononoke has held and will continue to hold for years to come, as it rivals even the best of Disney as one of the best princess movies of all time.
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