13 Disney Princesses That Were Groundbreaking

by Jordana Lipsitz
Walt Disney Pictures

Disney princesses have been inspiring and empowering young women for many generations and so many Disney princesses have been groundbreaking in their time. The women of Disney lore are no mere damsels in distress — they are strong women who fight the status quo and for what's right in the world. From Belle to Mulan, these women characters show that being a Disney princesses is more than just having a crown and ballgown.

Being a Disney princess doesn't just mean being of storybook royal blood — both Moana and Pocahontas are chief's daughters, Mulan is a warrior and not royal at all, and Tiana is an aspiring chef. The diversity in these princesses makes these characters all the more exciting. And even the princesses who are traditional wearers of crowns and gowns have tough situations they must overcome, like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Ariel in The Little Mermaid, and Snow White, along with Anna and Elsa in Frozen. I can't help but be very pleased with all the strong (and very different) ladies that young girls get to grow up and see as role models.

Check out the following Disney princesses who were totally groundbreaking in their time.


Snow White

Snow White was the first Disney princess. Snow White was the first fully animated feature film. That is pretty groundbreaking.



Cinderella braved a tough living situation with her mean stepmother and stepsisters — and showed that a good heart can conquer all.



Before Ariel came on the scene in 1989, there hadn't been a Disney movie since the 1959 Sleeping Beauty. Ariel's claim to fame, The Little Mermaid, ushered in the 90s "Disney Renaissance." She was the very first Disney princess with pluck who was searching for more than princess-hood, and created a template of self-discovery for all the later princesses to follow and improve upon.



Finally! A Disney princess gets some love for being smart, loving books, and recognzing that beauty is skin deep. Extra credit also goes to Belle for being the first brunette princess.



Can I get some cheers for the first Disney princess of color? This Agrabah royal doesn't just do what the status quo requires, i.e. marry a prince. She does what her heart and ethics tell her to do.



Maybe Nala isn't considered an official Disney princess, because she's a lion, but she's still a key part of the Disney experience. Nala gets in on the groundbreaking princess thing, because she shows that she is just as capable as her counterpart, Simba.



OK, so the Pocahontas story as told by Disney is not quite accurate except for the attempting-to-keep-peace-between-nations part. But hey, by showcasing the (not-at-all-factual) story of a real person, they led young girls to actually do research on the hero of their Disney tale.



First, Mulan is the first Chinese princess. Pretty cool. Second, she isn't considered a princess, because she marries a handsome prince or was born into royalty. She's technically not even a princess, but she gets respect from the Emperor for being a fighter and a hero.



It's pretty crazy to think that we didn't have our first African American princess until 2009, but Tiana stepped up to the plate valiantly. Her character proved that a girl doesn't need a man to succeed, but if you happen to fall in love with a prince, that's OK too.



What isn't groundbreaking about Moana? She's a groundbreaking young chieftain's daughter — the first Polynesian princess, the main hero of her tale, she doesn't have a love interest, and she has very realistic hair. Moana's a straight-up feminist.


Anna & Elsa

In Frozen, "an act of true love" isn't being kissed by some dude, it's loving and protecting your family. That's a groundbreaking idea and so necessary.



Brave does an A+ job of putting Princess Merida on a groundbreaking path. This very first Pixar princess also happens to be the first princess who doesn't sing and she also doesn't have a love interest.



The long-haired tower-dweller makes the list on a technical basis. Rapunzel was the first Disney princess to appear in a CGI movie, Tangled, which is pretty cool.