Now that Walt Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox is complete, a load of movies, TV shows, and characters officially belong to Disney. This includes the Fox-owned Marvel superheroes like the X-Men and Deadpool. It also means Fox’s animated princess, Anastasia now falls under the Disney banner.
Released in 1997, Anastasia arrived at the tail end of the Disney Renaissance, amidst other coming-of-age movies involving sweeping ballgowns and catchy musical sequences, so Meg Ryan’s plucky, animated heroine is often assumed to be a Disney Princess. Now that she belongs to Disney, many are celebrating the fact that Anastasia can be annointed with the title.
Not to be a Disney purist and a spoilsport, but I’m here to be a Disney purist and a spoilsport: just because Anastasia is a princess that belongs to Disney doesn’t mean she qualifies as a Disney Princess. There are objective reasons.
“Disney Princess” is not an arbitrary character title; it is a franchise and the line-up is prestigious. The franchise was created in the early 2000s, recounted Disney chairman Andy Mooney to the New York Times, mainly to sell merchandise. The official Disney Princesses included Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan, Pocahontas, as well as Esmeralda and Tinkerbell, who aren’t quite princesses, but earned the status anyway.
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These characters weren’t chosen based on whether they were royalty or not; they were chosen because they fit the criteria of the mysterious “Princess mythology” — a term coined by Disney executives. Case in point of how strict the logic is: In 2005, Esmeralda and Tinkerbell were removed for not fitting this criteria: Esmeralda likely because The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a pretty dark movie and Tinkerbell because she had to launch her own Disney Fairies franchise.
Princesses from films released subsequent to the original line-up, and made the Princess mythology cut, all had “coronations” at Walt Disney World, an in-park celebration that introduced their living counterparts, or “face character,” to the attractions and officially inducted them into the franchise. As of writing this, only three princesses have joined the original line-up: Tiana, Rapunzel, and Merida.
Notice a few popular names missing? Frozen’s Elsa and Anna are not considered Disney Princesses.
Neither is Moana. All three had face-character welcomings, but were never coronated, and are still not considered part of the official Disney Princess line-up, despite what Ralph Breaks the Internet will have you think. Disney theorists assume the reason why is marketability; because Frozen was such a smashing success, Disney considers Elsa and Anna keystones of a separate, parallel Frozen franchise. There is no given reason to why Moana isn’t included; my working theory that by the time Moana came out, people were getting a little critical about the concept of Disney Princess.
These aren’t the only princess characters excluded, or even the only ones who were considered. Jane Porter from Tarzan was announced in the Disney Princess magazine as the newest member, but never actually made it in. Giselle from Enchanted had also been in the talks to be added, but Disney backed out when they realized they’d have to pay Amy Adams to use her face.
Additionally, there are plenty of Disney characters who could possibly be Disney Princesses, but don’t meet the criteria. Kida from Atlantis is a princess, but her movie bombed. Alice is very popular, but belongs staunchly to the darker Alice in Wonderland brand.
So what does this mean for Anastasia? Or for Ferngully’s Crysta and Avatar’s Neytiri and every other princess who now belongs to Disney? For now, they’re just Disney-owned history. Considering how picky Disney is about adding its own characters to the sacred line-up, the pomp and circumstance of an in-park ritual, and how the line-up itself is fading in favor of individual movie-specific franchises like Frozen, it’s very unlikely all these potential princesses will ever become Princesses.