Disney stories put a big emphasis on “happily ever after” endings, especially in movies with romantic arcs. In early animated movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Sleeping Beauty, wedding bells ring at the end of the film, and the happy white-clad couple rides off in a carriage or dances in a ballroom full of floating clouds. But the “marriage is the perfect ending” trend isn’t isolated to the old films: Disney made a six-minute Tangled special centered around Flynn and Rapunzel’s wedding that premiered before the theatrical rerelease of Beauty and the Beast in 2012.
But what about after the happily ever after? What about the hard work that goes into maintaining a relationship — especially a relationship where one of the parties is part fish and the other is a human prince?
Out of my twin loves for Disney and for Valentine’s Day, I decided to evaluate the relationships of 17 Disney couples to determine whether they’re capable of surviving their story’s big, joyful climax. There are a lot of Disney couples out there, so here’s how we narrowed down the scope to make this list manageable:
- I only ranked human couples. Since I’m not an animal, anthropomorphic or otherwise, I can’t accurately evaluate the deeper ramifications of animal relationships. Many condolences to Robin Hood and Maid Marian, Simba and Nala, and Lady and Tramp.
- On a similar note, I skipped Calhoun and Felix from Wreck-It Ralph, because they’re video game characters.
- At least part of the story has to involve the lovers getting together. No previously established couples here.
- While I took some of the sequel material into consideration to evaluate the strength of these relationships, I’m not ranking sequel-only couples — sorry, Anastasia (Cinderella’s stepsister) and the cute Baker!
- Disney acquired 1997’s Anastasia in the merger with 20th Century Fox, but it still isn’t really a Disney movie. So as much as I adore Anya and Dimitri, they aren’t included. Fight me.
So with all that said and done, which Disney couples would fare the best after the storybook closes?
Disqualified: Pocahontas and John Smith
These characters are based on real-life people who didn’t end up together! And I don’t like the implications of their Disney movie romance, especially since in real life, Pocahontas was 10 when she met John Smith, who was a grown adult man. Nope. Disqualified. If you want a story where a colonizer falls in love with someone he’s trying to colonize and then switches sides, just watch Avatar.
17. Snow White and Florian from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
One small thing to note — Snow White and Florian aren’t total strangers when he wakes her up with a kiss. They meet early in the movie when she’s sitting by the wishing well, singing about the prince she hopes will find her someday. Still, Florian is the kinda guy to find a glass coffin that has been sitting in the woods for a few months and bestow a kiss on the dead lady inside it. OK, maybe it’s kinda sweet that he was paying his respects to the beautiful woman he met once, but I dunno, mate, it’s not like she was properly embalmed. Anyway, corpse-kissing aside, this is a relationship built solely on physical attraction (and one duet), which doesn’t bode well for their future.
16. Aurora and Phillip from Sleeping Beauty
This one gets a slight leg up over the Snow White pairing for two big reasons. One, Aurora and Phillip’s parents are all friends, so at the very least, the young couple has something to talk about, and relationship examples to look toward. Two, Phillip breaks out of a dungeon and fights a freaking dragon for Aurora — that’s definitely more romantic than stumbling upon a glass coffin and giving a dead body a smooch. Also, because the evil fairy Maleficent outright explains Aurora’s situation to Phillip, he knows she’s asleep and not dead, and that kissing her will break her curse. But they’ve still only had one conversation and a brief dance in the woods, so we can’t even determine whether their sleeping habits are compatible. Maybe Phillip snores really badly!
15. Dolores and Mariano from Encanto
This one just seems built to fail. Mariano only notices Dolores after her glamorous cousin Isabela rejects him. He also immediately wants to get married. He seems like the sort of guy who just needs to be in a relationship for external validation, and to check off life benchmarks. Dolores inevitably knows a lot more about him than he knows about her, thanks in part to her super-hearing. The fact that he thought he was in love with her cousin less than a week before he announces to Dolores that they should get married is a big hurdle, and it’s going to take real work to get over it. (Admittedly, she tells him to slow down, so at least one of them is ready to put in the effort to make it work.)
14. Ariel and Eric from The Little Mermaid
Ariel wanted to be part of the human world long before she caught a glimpse of Eric on his ship — but then she saw a dark-haired, blue-eyed cutie who’s willing to jump off his boat to save his dog, and decided she was going to take matters into her own hands. She risks her entire life for him. But the risks go both ways: Eric is willing to commandeer a ship into a storm to help Ariel defeat Ursula the Sea Witch, so they’re both doing some pretty intense things for one another. That said, their entire relationship happens in the span of three days, during which Ariel can’t talk and Eric spends a lot of time showing her how the world works, when he isn’t planning to marry Ursula-in-disguise. There are a lot of fundamental cultural differences these two need to work on in order to build up a healthy relationship. It seems like the type of relationship that burns bright and fast at the beginning, but without some hard work, it’ll fizzle out quickly when they actually get to know each other.
13. Cinderella and Prince Charming from Cinderella
Cinderella gets a lot of undeserved crap for waiting around for a man! But I want to point out that she doesn’t go to the prince’s ball to look for true love — she’s just taking a night off from chores. She just wants to wear a pretty dress and party! And then she just so happens to meet a dreamy guy who pays attention to her all night. Now, this is also a marriage based on one meeting, but there are a couple of things to consider. No one was unconscious at any point! Also, in the wacky direct-to-home-video sequels (Cinderella 2: Dreams Come True and Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time), Charming’s character is developed in a way that Florian and Phillip never get, and he’s revealed as a good match for his new wife. Cinderella ushers in a new age for their kingdom, opening the doors of Charming’s castle to the common folk, while he fully supports her. A fantastic girlboss and malewife combo! That’s what gives them an edge over Ariel and Eric, whose sequel is about the mistakes they made raising their daughter.
12. Anna and Kristoff from Frozen
The sad thing about Anna and Kristoff being this low on the list is that if Frozen hadn’t gotten a sequel, they would have ranked higher. But Frozen 2 highlighted so many insecurities in their relationship, all of which could be resolved with one good honest conversation. Instead of talking it out, they jump to ridiculous conclusions and devolve into petty arguments. I think both of them need some time to mature and gain some self-confidence before they actually tie the knot. Admittedly, by the end of the sequel, Kristoff has gotten over a lot of his own shit and seems to be more secure in their relationship. Anna still has some maturing to do, however. Ultimately, I think this is a case of them both being too early in their lives for any big commitments, since unlike in previous Disney movies that also star fairly young protagonists, these two actually feel their age. They have potential, though! They just need to be patient and grow together. <3
11. Megara and Hercules from Hercules
Sure, Meg was used as a tool to seduce Hercules, but he melts her jaded heart with his earnest do-gooder attitude. But has Meg really changed with the power of love? Would Hercules start to question his decision to give up potential godhood for her? We can hope not, but it was a pretty big decision to make after one date. Meg was manipulating him for basically the entirety of their relationship, even if her ways changed. I just think Hercules shouldn’t have made a life-altering decision based on his attraction to a sexy woman he barely knew.
10. Jane and Tarzan from Tarzan
Jane is the first human woman Tarzan has ever met. This does not necessarily point to a lasting relationship, since it seems to be a relationship of convenience more than anything else. That said, they’re both well into adulthood when they meet (even if Tarzan’s adulthood was strongly shaped by gorillas), so they have a sure sense of themselves and what they want. Is it likely that Jane might back out of the whole “living in the jungle” thing? Yes. Yes it is. But if someone looked at me like Tarzan looks at her in the “Strangers Like Me” sequence, I might just leave the comfort of civilization as well.
9. Kida and Milo from Atlantis: The Lost Empire
Milo and Kida’s story is almost like Jane and Tarzan’s, with Milo giving up everything he knows to stay with Kida. However, staying in the technologically advanced utopia of Atlantis definitely seems a lot cushier than staying in the jungle. Also, Milo is not the first man Kida has ever seen. Milo, however, does have a deep fascination with Atlantean culture that might bring up some tension down the line — did he marry Kida just to marry into Atlantis? Does he only like her because she’s Atlantean? Yeowch. Talk about an awkward conversation to have.
8. Rapunzel and Flynn from Tangled
This couple has a lot of cute chemistry, but Rapunzel needs a chance to figure out who she is outside of the tower she was locked up in her entire life. More so than Anna and Kristoff, they seem to be in very different stages of their lives. However, they aren’t as bogged down by superficial insecurities, and they’re actually remarkably honest with each other. Flynn confides his sad backstory to Rapunzel, and she’s entirely upfront with him about what she wants. If they rush into things, this relationship is probably not going to last. But give it some time, and they could build up to something — provided Flynn doesn’t mind waiting around. They have a whole three-season series that takes place in between the movie and the wedding, so they do canonically give it some time.
7. Jasmine and Aladdin from Aladdin
Aladdin holding a hand out to Jasmine and asking, “Do you trust me?” is just *chef’s kiss*. I love a class-difference romance centered around a charming-yet-scrappy urchin and a resilient-yet-sheltered socialite. (Yes, I watched Titanic at an impressionable age.) However, he did lie to her about his identity — which, while addressed and forgiven in the movie, points to the fact that he’s insecure about their relationship. They do admittedly have two more movies together (Aladdin: The Return of Jafar and Aladdin and the King of Thieves) before they actually get married. But still, the pressures of being royalty might get to Aladdin more than they affect some of the other married-into-nobility couples on this list, simply because of how their relationship started.
6. Belle and Adam from Beauty and the Beast
I do not want to wade into the “Is this STOCKHOLM SYNDROME?!” debate around Beauty and the Beast. (It’s not.) Instead, I will focus on the fact that Adam and Belle spend much more time getting to know each other than most Disney couples. Adam in particular goes through a lot of growth in order to be a man worthy of Belle. (Which was the whole point of his curse, so that enchantress is really out there having the last laugh.) That being said, I could foresee them getting a bit bored down the line, if only because Belle’s restless spirit and thirst for adventure might leave her singing about how there must be more than just a big castle and fancy dresses. But if Adam is willing to help her with her dreams, then they could go far.
5. Tiana and Naveen from The Princess and the Frog
Tiana looked at Naveen and decided she wasn’t gonna put any effort into fixing him, because he could do that himself. And he did! Naveen’s arc in the movie revolves around him realizing his cushy playboy lifestyle isn’t fulfilling and that he needs to put in hard work if he actually wants to cultivate meaningful relationships. Meanwhile, Tiana’s arc is about how she needs to let herself relax once in a while. They’re perfect complements! He supports her ambitions, but also reminds her to let loose. She pushes him to be better, but also doesn’t coddle him. They’re only getting points off their relationship because of the whole royals question: Who’s taking up the throne if Naveen is in New Orleans helping Tiana with her restaurant? Will they have to make a big choice about going against Naveen’s family or Tiana giving up her dreams? The long-promised Disney Plus series might answer that, but it does indicate some big questions down the line for them.
4. Mulan and Shang from Mulan
This relationship is so powerful, it made Shang question his sexuality.
But it is not the only thing that makes Mulan and Shang a formidable duo. The two of them work well together. Shang spares Mulan’s life after learning she’s a woman who illegally entered the army, since he’s so impressed with her (and also definitely smitten). Even though they clashed a bit when Mulan came to warn him about the Huns, he eventually puts aside his ego to help her. By the end of the movie, his worldview has shifted and he respects her for who she is. Mulan, meanwhile, has grown more confident in herself and has no problem communicating with him. Their relationship is so strong that Mulan 2 centers around Mushu trying to break them up for selfish reasons and having a hell of a hard time doing so, because they work so well together.
3. Esmeralda and Phoebus from The Hunchback of Notre Dame
This is the closest thing to a proper, satisfying enemies-to-lovers arc that Disney has ever done, even though the “enemies” interaction is incredibly brief. Esmeralda and Phoebus fight when they first meet, but then he lies to his superior to save her from arrest. But he understands she isn’t a damsel in distress — he’s just using his own privilege to help out a Romani woman in a prejudiced country. In fact, he spends the whole movie using his position as a white man to stand up for what’s right, until he’s eventually injured and Esmeralda then saves him. Is this a dramatic departure from the Victor Hugo novel, where he’s a sleazy guy who just wants to get in Esmeralda’s skirts? Yup! But most Disney stories are dramatic departures from the source material anyway. Esmeralda and Phoebus have a relationship built on shared values, and they have a clear sense of who they are and what they want. They’ve overcome petty differences to work together before, and they can do it again.
2. Roger and Anita from 101 Dalmatians
Do they count? Barely! But they have an adorable meet-cute, and the beginning part of the movie is about them getting together. I’m really pushing the limit here, since a lot of the movie does follow them in their post-marriage life, and they seem pretty happy! Even when disaster strikes, they work together (though he could stand to be a little less annoying when teasing her about Cruella). And they have moments where they can be goofy together as well. Raising 101 dalmatians is sure to be a challenge, but if anyone can do it, it’s Roger and Anita.
1. David and Nani from Lilo and Stitch
David knows Nani is too busy to date him, given how overwhelmed she is with raising her little sister after their parents’ death. But he still offers her support and friendship without expecting anything in return. Nani knows she can rely on him, and the only reason that she isn’t dating him already is because she’s more focused on passing a social services inspection so she and Lilo can stay together. More so than most of these other couples — if not all of them! — they’re friends first and potential love interests second. That already gives them the strongest foundation to build a relationship on, even without banding together through hardships. And they go through a lot, but at the same time, their crisis situations are a little more grounded than saving China from invasion or standing up to a bigot fanatic who’s burning down Paris. Even if they do involve aliens.