The Best Lessons We Can Learn From the Disney Non-Princesses

The Disney Princesses are icons of cinema and staples in pop-culture, certainly more so then the Disney Princes. For years the Disney Princesses have delighted young girls with their animated films, signature songs, appearances in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and official toys. The official Disney Princess list is, of course; Snow White, Cinderella, Princess Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), Ariel (The Little Mermaid), Belle (Beauty and the Beast), Jasmine (Aladdin), Pocahontas, Mulan, Tiana (The Princess and the Frog), Rapunzel (Tangled), Merida (Brave), and Moana. Each of the princesses not only has their own film, song, and dress, but a unique lesson they learn that young girls can also learn from. However there is another type of heroine, the unofficial Disney Princess, that plays lead roles in their films and offer a positive lesson for young girls. These are those heroines, the ones that are not in the Disney Princess lineup, but still teach valuable lessons.

Sometimes the World Doesn’t Make Sense

Alice, voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1959)

Alice, Alice in Wonderland

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Alice is the heroine who leads us down the rabbit hole into Wonderland after wishing to find, “A World of My Own”. First and foremost, her character demonstrates the natural curiosity and propensity for the nonsense that encompasses childhood. As Alice journeys through Wonderland, serving as our proxy in a magical land, we see things through her eyes. We are confused when she is, frustrated as she is, and angry when she is. These emotions culminate in the moment when Alice snaps at the Queen of Hearts during her sham of a trial, yelling at the tyrant when no one else will. As a child, and when growing up, the world around us is often out of our control and seemingly irrational. Alice teaches young girls empathy through her adventure, as well as when one can and should stand up for oneself.

Growing Up Doesn’t Mean Letting Go of Childhood

Wendy Moira Angela Darling, voiced by Kathryn Beaumont, Disney’s Peter Pan (1953)

Wendy Darling, Peter Pan

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Wendy is flown off to Neverland by the boy who never grew up the night before she is meant to move out of the nursery in her home. Wendy is a young girl who is aging out of childhood, ready to be in a room of her own away from her two younger brothers. She is not yet ready however, to put away the stories of adventure of Peter Pan that her and her brothers delight so much in. At first never growing up seems like it is perfect, as does Neverland, and she plays mother to the Lost Boys and wife to their leader Peter. Wendy, however, soon reminds her brothers as well as the Lost Boys that a mother is someone special and irreplaceable in a child’s life. In doing so, she reminds us all the important role that growing up plays in our lives. A mother, a grown woman caring for others, is what Wendy will grow to become, and that is a good thing. But growing up does not mean we must let go of our imagination. Wendy becomes a grown woman, but she never stops believing in Peter Pan, passing on the stories to her own children as they grow.

No One Can Own You, You Give Yourself to Who You Love

Sally, voiced by Catherine O’Hara, Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Sally, The Nightmare Before Christmas

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Sally is the ragdoll heroine of Halloweentown and dear friend of The Pumpkin King Jack Skellington. Sally is a creation, treated as an object by her creator Dr. Finklestein who constantly reminds her she is “his” every time she demonstrates her independence. But Sally is fiendishly clever, often finding ways of outsmarting the doctor while being his caregiver. All the while, she harbors secret feelings for Jack, who is too distracted by his identity crisis and newfound love of Christmas to notice her true feelings. Jack trusts and cares for Sally, even giving her the important job of making his official “Sandy Claws” suit. But Sally knows that Jack’s takeover of Christmas can only end in disaster. When Jack accepts who he is and remembers his love for Halloween, he is also able to confess his feelings for his friend. Sally reminds us to have faith in love that is “simply meant to be”.

Always Stand Up For What is Right

Esmerelda, voiced by Demi Moore, Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

Esmerelda, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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Very few moments of my childhood stand out as vividly in my mind as Esmerelda first defiantly standing before Judge Claude Frollo and crying out, “Justice!” It is as clear as the image of Quasimodo holding her above his head for all to see on the roof of Notre Dame cathedral and crying out, “Sanctuary!” Esmerelda is many things, one of her primary traits being her unapologetic sensuality. She is beautiful, captivating the attention of all men who see her. But she uses her beauty to stand up for the oppressed. She passionately stands up for her people, and upon meeting Quasimodo she treats him with a kindness he has never known. When men of power seek to take advantage of her, she does not cower before them and reminds them outright that her body and her life are both her own. Esmerelda reminds us that a woman’s mystique is a great power, and so is her voice, she must therefore use both.

Don’t Become Jaded When the World Isn’t Fair

Megara (but her friends call her “Meg”), voiced by Susan Egan, Disney’s Hercules (1997)

Susan Egan, Megera, Meg, Hercules

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Megara’s character is perfectly summarized in her signature song, “I Won’t Say I’m In Love”. She thought her heart had learned its lesson because she is well-aware love always feels good until it goes wrong. She sold her very soul to the Lord of the Underworld in order to save the man she loved, only to have him leave her for another woman. She then became Hades’ tool, using her charms as he wished her to, and hardening her heart to the idea of love. When she meets Hercules, a true hero, she begins to see that he may be different. She begins to see that just because people may hurt us, does not mean that we should believe everyone will. She sacrifices her life to save the man she loves once more, but this time it is true love, and he rescues her right back. In the end, he gives up living eternally as a god all for her because, “People do crazy things when they’re in love.”

The Sins of the Past Don’t Define The Future

Kiara, voiced by Neve Campbell, Disney’s Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride (1998)

Kiara, The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride

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Though The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride was released straight to video, it is a fan favorite to this day. While the first Lion King was partially inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, addressing themes of betrayal and kingship; the Lion King 2 is inspired by Romeo and Juliet, addressing themes of love and prejudice. The pride is no longer one, but fractured in two, with a small faction of lions that supported Scar as King of Pride Rock being outcast by Simba. Kiara, Simba’s daughter advocates for her father to forgive the wounds of the past and move forward for a better future. In doing so she begins to fall for the lion who Scar named as his heir before he died, Kovu. This culminates in the love theme of Kovu and Kiara, “Love Will Find a Way” in which the two sing of their faith that their love will endure though the world is against them. Kiara shows a strong example of healing societal divisions through understanding.

Embrace the Wild Part of You

Jane Porter, voiced by Minnie Driver, Disney’s Tarzan (1999)

Minnie Driver, Jane Porter, Tarzan

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Jane Porter is one of my personal favorite Disney heroines of all time and is in my heart a Disney Princess in her own right. But she is certainly unique among the Disney princesses. Jane is smart- a lover of science and discovery. She is strong- not intimidated by trigger-happy guide and secret villain Clayton. She is empathetic- fascinated by Tarzan the ape-man and wanting to teach him everything she can about her world as she learns about this. But most uniquely she is distinctly ungraceful, comically moving about the jungle in her original hoop skirt before she is set upon by angry baboons. As the film progresses, her hair gradually comes down, and her clothes become more comfortable. By the end of the film, when she chooses to leave behind the world she once knew due to her love of Tarzan, she jumps from her rowboat, once again struggling with her hoop skirt. She casts it off the symbol of her life in England once and for all, and becomes Queen of the Jungle, confident and graceful.

A Strong Person Can Have a Softer Side

Kida, voiced by Cree Summer Francks, Disney’s Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

KIda, Atlantis: The Lost Empire

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Kidagakash “Kida” is the Princess of the Lost Empire of Atlantis. Kida is a fierce warrior, lover of her people, intelligent diplomat, and stoic leader. She is capable of killing outsiders on sight, and might have a few thousand years ago. But when Milo Thatch and his expedition team arrive to the ancient empire she is anxious to unlock the secrets of Atlantis’ past and knows that the mild-mannered Thatch is the key to doing so. She is not only an inherently strong and capable female character, but she has a softer and more humorous side to her that is revealed over the course of her romance with Thatch. Kida is a self-sacrificing selfless heroine who shows how even someone who is burdened with great responsibility and purpose is able to come out of their shell when they find someone who understands them.

A Real Princess is a Real Friend

Charlotte La Bouff, voiced by Jennifer Cody, Disney’s The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Charlotte, The Princess and the Frog

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Charlotte is in a Disney Princess film, but she is not a princess herself though that is all she has ever wanted to be. Charlotte has spent her whole life reading fairytales, wearing princess dresses, and dreaming about her Prince Charming. When Prince Naveen of Maldonia comes to visit New Orleans Charlotte dreams of dancing with him at the Mardi Gras Ball, and a proposal follows soon after. But through all of this there is something more important to Charlotte, being a good friend. She leaves her fairy-tale ball to help Tiana and try and make her feel like a princess, she is willing to kiss Prince Naveen so that he and Tiana can be human again even if it means sacrificing her happily-ever-after. Though they are from different races and classes, Charlotte only sees Tiana as her friend and never treats her as less-than like other people do. She is a fine example of a true princess at heart.

Trying Everything Might Not End Up How You Think

Judy Hopps, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, Disney’s Zootopia (2016)

Officer Judy Hopps, ZPD, Zootopia

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Judy Hopps is at first a force of pure determination and fierce tenacity. She is someone who wants to come to Zootopia where anyone can be anything, and try everything. She fights to become a police officer and believes she will be able to enforce justice for all. But reality soon catches up with the bunny, not only is the job harder and more disheartening than she realized but she is forced to deal with the prejudice of others while confronting her own. She soon learns that Zootopia is a great place, but it is not as simple as the utopia she imagined when she was young. Because life is not that simple. Judy encounters fierce prey, meek predators, fast sloths, and an unexpected friendship with a sly fox. She is an example of becoming a wiser person as one overcomes challenges and encounters things that challenge one’s worldview.

The Ability to Understand Others is a Gift

Mirabel Madrigal, voiced by Stephanie Beatriz, Disney’s Encanto (2021)

Encanto, Mirabel, Waiting on a Miracle

Credit: Disney Features, Disney, Disney Parks, Shop Disney

Credit: Disney Features, Walt Disney Studios, Disney Parks, Shop Disney

Mirabel loves her family, but she is burdened by years that she has spent waiting for her miracle, a gift that would make her feel as special as she sees the others in her family. But when her family’s casita is in danger and she is the only one who can see it, she begins to uncover that their are cracks in the family itself. Their gifts are not simply a miracle, they are also a burden. In beginning to uncover family secrets, unpack generational trauma, and personally repair what was broken, Mirabel helps her abuela realize the miracle was their family all along. They are able to build a stronger foundation for their new home because of that, and Mirabel is the one who made it happen.

About Maggie Koch

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