A Parent's Guide and Definitive Ranking of Disney Heroines
Feel like skipping the explanation? Just want to find out where your favorite lady lands on the countdown? Click the name of the character you're looking for to be taken directly to their rank page. [LISTED ALPHABETICALLY]
My parents are only half joking when they say I could operate a VCR before I could walk. Like most kids, I didn't just watch a movie once. In my day (oh god, I sound old already) you watched your Disney movies (ad nauseum), maybe you had a stuffed animal or a doll, and the occasional t-shirt bearing a character's face. I was as likely at the age of four to be caught singing along to Oklahoma or South Pacific as I was to Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I played some dress up, and I had plenty of Barbies that got visited by a fairy godmother, but really that was the extent of my Disney Movie immersion. (My parents, I'm sure, will chime in and correct me with more specifics, but that's how I remember it).
Today's daughter is a whoooooole other can of tomatoes.
At six months pregnant, I was waddling around the Magic Kingdom with my husband for the first time in twenty years. There were Disney Princesses EVERYWHERE. I was not prepared for girls from around 3 months to 12 years to be bedecked from head to toe in full-on princess gear, the luckiest freshly sprung from the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique with fresh manicures, hair Aqua-netted into submission, and glitter from head to toe. My gut reaction, particularly to the BBB girls, was horror. Though certainly not a tomboy, I'm not particularly girly either, especially as an adult. A daughter who wants a $200 BBB makeover so she can be the Fairest of them all, prancing around MK in a $150 polyester and plastic ensemble too hot and itchy for 11 of the 12 months that is Florida outdoors? The mind recoils. The stomach revolts. No, just no. Absolutely not.
As you can imagine on this, like other aspects of parenting, I have.... evolved my opinions. I'm not sure precisely how many trips it took to MK before, rather than horror, I started actively "Awwwww"ing at the Princesses. Maybe it was seeing how the staff all curtsied to them? Maybe it was when I started having a lot of fun dressing D up in all kinds of outfits, even the hated pink? Around the same time my friend MomJovi showed me there was a lot more to Disney Princesses than I'd been considering. Jackie was ragging on Ariel. Ariel? Really? The Little Mermaid was a big movie for me as a kid; it came out when I was at the MOST Disney-targeted age and I about wore that VHS out. What's so wrong with Ariel? I had never before considered Disney Princesses from the position of a parent, particularly in this day and age of merchandising blitz. When your daughter chooses a princess? She wants to become them, and Disney is going to do absolutely everything they can to make sure it's possible for your kid to do that (you know, if you're willing to spend enough money).
Ever since that revelation from Jackie I've started to look at every Disney Princess in a whole new light: what sort of role model is this for my kid? If my daughter is going to watch this film so many times I have to take advantage of Disney's DVD replacement program, am I OK with the messages getting embedded into my highly impressionable young lady? Am I OK with watching this movie over and over again? How am I going to feel about a Princess Magic Wand and Tiara when they are embedded into my foot as I try to traverse a dark living room?
Many of you out there are probably shaking your head, thinking I'm taking this way too far and thinking about this too much. I assure you, 2 years ago?
I WAS YOU. And you know what else? Go to Magic Kingdom. Look at how some of those little girls BREATHE Disney Princess and tell me it's not worth putting a bit more thought into how those Heroines are influencing your kid long term.
For weeks now I've been wanting to do a definitive ranking of Disney Heroines; I say heroines because any female lead, particularly of the human(ish) variety, in a Disney film has the potential for little girl obsession and is worth some critical analysis. I had an idea of who'd be near the bottom and who'd be near the top, but I wanted to find a way to rank these ladies that, though inevitably subjective, would be as non-arbitrary and thoughtful as possible. Have I mentioned I'm a little OCD?
I made a scoring rubric. I decided on different categories that would help or hinder a Heroine from being admirable, then weighted those categories. I created an excel spreadsheet (I'M SERIOUS. STOP LAUGHING.) and formulas. After an initial "from the gut" grading I went back and revised scores several times, broke up ties, re-evaluated individual scores based on direct comparison with the other ladies, and in the end I came up with 24 ranked heroines, several in positions that surprised me, that I'm about to share with you.
How did I come up with the scores?
35 % of a DH score is determined by the "Quality of Character" category.
Quality of Character score is based on what sort of role model the DH represents. If they have negative qualities, do they show growth over the course of the film? Does the film as a whole deliver an admirable message to your child? If my child starts reciting this character's lines back to me in answer to a question, am I going to want to muzzle her and lock her in a closet until she learns some manners? (Kidding... kidding... I swear...)
15 % of a DH score is determined by the "Overall Film Quality" category.
This category is less about the messages and more based on the fact that, as a parent, your child is going to make you watch this movie so many times you'll want to give yourself an ice pick lobotomy; a highly scoring film reflects you might hold out on grabbing the pick for a bit longer.
10 % of a DH score is determined by the "Love Interest" Category.
It says something about a DH if she seems to be a totally awesome human being, but she's in love with a turd. That is not the sort of message you want to send to your kids, to seek out unworthy partners. A few DHs don't have Love Interests, so in the interest of fairness they were awarded the default median score.
10 % of a DH score is determined by the "Supporting Characters" Category.
This was originally going to be a subset of the OFQ category, but there are some not-so-great movies that have some great supporting characters, and vice-versa. Remember that this list is intended for parents, and how a DH interacts with a villain (and the quality of that villain!) can also be a powerful learning tool. Also, as a parent, you might find yourself having to buy these character's action figures.
15 % of a DH score is determined by the "Music" Category.
If your child falls in love with a movie you are going to be hearing the music. A LOT. (I'm there now. Let it go... Let it gooooo) If the music is awful you might find yourself reaching for that ice pick while you're in the car, and nobody wants that. A few DHs don't have Music, so in the interest of fairness they were awarded the default median score (though I'm sure there are plenty of parents that would consider the lack of music a blessing).
15 % of a DH score is determined by the "Ensemble" Category.
Your kid is going to want to wear the dress, the shoes, the crown, the purse, the magic wand... Some of the DH's have clothing that SHOULD NOT BE WORN BY CHILDREN. Also if you're shelling out all that money for the outfit, it had better look pretty badass, right? Especially if you end up having to invest in it in multiple sizes over the years.
I was so excited when I finally nailed down this formula. I was talking to my friend Katy (who's also familiar with Jackie's Ariel rant) and her first comment was "So it's subjective." Well, yes. My personal feelings are going to be reflected by this list. However as a teacher I find that having a rubric 1) helps you to organize your thoughts into something logical rather than strictly arbitrary and 2) people have a lot harder time arguing with rubrics than arbitrary opinions.
Did I miss somebody? Let me know. I pretty much narrowed it down to characters that were Female, Humanoid, and had the potential for my daughter to one day come up to me and tell me she wanted to dress up like her. Am I DEAD WRONG? I'm always interested in engaging in thoughtful debates about any topic, and I'm also totally capable of changing my mind if a convincing argument is presented; I'm hoping you'll award me the same favor. Don't worry, I've kept the spreadsheet unlocked, and I'm willing to bet that even as I'm writing this some scores will change.
It is not my intention with this list to warn you away from or push you toward only watching certain Disney films. Rather, I hope to prepare you for the particularly awkward discussions you might be obligated to have with your offspring in hopes that they only emulate a character's finer points.
With no further ado, starting from the bottom up, let's get started...
**DISCLAIMER** I do not own any of the likenesses of these heroines. All characters/likenesses are the property of Disney, and are not being used here for financial gain ****