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Disney Princesses, ranked by how well they’d survive the real world

Would Frozen’s Elsa and Anna find careers in a capitalist society? Could Ariel be part of our world? We investigate.

A six-panel grid collage of Disney Princesses, featuring Tiana singing in an empty warehouse, Mulan climbing the pole, Moana on her boat, Pocahontas on her canoe, Elsa wielding her ice powers, and Rapunzel holding Flynn captive. Image: Disney/Polygon via Petrana Radulovic

While princesses only feature in 14 of Disney’s 61 theatrical animated films (and just one of Pixar’s 22), the Disney Princess label has become a worldwide marketing phenomenon, and princess movies often dominate the cultural conversation about Disney animation. That conversation is usually critical — historically, Disney princesses have been derided for everything from setting unrealistic body standards to highlighting uncreative facial design to having a total lack of agency. They’re often dismissed for being held up as a feminine ideal, while still being completely unsatisfying portrayals of women.

All of which makes us wonder: How well would Disney princesses survive if they got yanked into the real world, the way Princess Giselle does in Enchanted? The last 40 years of Disney movies have shifted us from helpless damsels in distress to princeless heroes who fight their own fights, but does that mean these princesses could thrive in contemporary society? The results are all over the map: Some Disney princesses might immediately become successful business magnates, while others would be dead on arrival. So without further ado, let’s find out how every Disney Princess would survive if they got yanked into our world.

(Officially, there are 13 characters in the Disney Princess franchise. But we’d be remiss not to include Frozen’s Anna and Elsa, who only got left off that label because they’re so incredibly popular that Frozen merchandise is its own separate world.)

15) Aurora

Aurora skips through the woods in stocking feet, alongside fluttering birds and scampering rabbits and squirrels, in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Of all the princesses, we get to know Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora the least — no Disney princess has less screen time. She also has a mere sprinkling of dialogue in the film, which doesn’t exactly let us know what she’s capable of. Mostly, we see that she’s easy to manipulate, and is really good at sleeping. That isn’t exactly a peerless resume, and if it wasn’t for Prince Phillip (and far more significantly, the movie’s real heroes, the fairy godmothers), Aurora might have slept forever. The only promising career route I could see for her is to write her own version of My Year of Rest and Relaxation.

14) Ariel

Human-Ariel in The Little Mermaid enthusiastically combs her hair with a fork while sitting at a table with Prince Eric Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Look, I love The Little Mermaid. I also adore Ariel, even though she’s periodically annoying about her obsessions. (It’s part of her charm.) But when it comes to surviving harsh realities, she doesn’t stand a chance. The poor thing doesn’t even know what a fork is! In the real world, there wouldn’t be any magic, or any talking crustaceans to save her from certain doom. She seems driven at the beginning of her movie, but it’s hard to trust someone who takes roughly 0.2 seconds of convincing to give up her voice for some guy she’s seen for even less time. That might be manageable if she could read or write, but she can’t do those, either.

13) Anna

Oh, Anna. The energetic, spunky star of Frozen tugs at the heartstrings the moment she asks her sister if she wants to build a snowman. Anna does a lot on her adventures, but being isolated from the world most of her life has done her absolutely no favors. Her biggest flaw in Frozen is her staggering gullibility: Tell her something, and she’ll believe it. This nearly gets her sister and her entire kingdom destroyed. It’s easy to imagine Anna as a real queen, inadvertently selling her kingdom into slavery and winding up on the guillotine.

If it wasn’t for Frozen II, where Anna seems to finally figure out how she can be more independent and take matters into her own hands, she would be at the very bottom of this list. But the sequel suggests that Anna’s more capable than it seems, and getting steadily more capable of rising to a challenge on her own.

12) Snow White

Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs looks horrified as she retreats from the huntsman who nearly stabbed her and cut out her heart, which is a pretty normal way to respond to someone who does that Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Snow White seems too sheltered to do especially well in the real world — especially if someone gets jealous of her beauty and tries to off her, because she seems to fall hook, line, and sinker for any imaginable ploy. She’s quite good at getting people (and animals) to do her bidding, though, which is a plus. But most of that comes from her beauty and innocence, and both of those fade over time. I could see Snow White managing a successful cleaning business, but her complete obsession with finding a prince means she’d throw it all away for just about any chance at love. But at least she’d have a run-in with success, which is more than I could say for some of these princesses.

11) Jasmine

Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin performs a salaam to a nervous-looking Abu the monkey, while pretending she thinks he’s the Sultan Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Sure, Jasmine’s “I don’t want to be a princess” attitude is an encouraging sign of rebellion, but sentiment seems to be as far as it goes. She’s a victim of overwhelming privilege: When she tries to blend in with her people, she has no idea how money works, and just takes whatever she wants. While her apparent passion for trickle-down economics would likely serve her on her quest for power, she doesn’t have the scruples to get to the top, or even the middle. Jasmine even admits she’s never done anything on her own, which isn’t exactly a promising sign. Without Aladdin, she would have lost her hand a few minutes into her movie.

10) Elsa

Queen Elsa stands looking worried on the frozen balcony of her frozen palace, surrounded by frozen walls and frozen bannisters, in… what was that movie called again? Chilly, or something like that? Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

It might seem like Elsa would have no trouble in the real world — but who is she without her ice powers and water horses? Still, she seems to be beloved while ruling as the queen of Arendelle, thanks to her poise and a knack for diplomacy that means she’d probably be better off than most of her royal sisters. She comes even further into her own in Frozen II, learning to embrace every part of herself and leave fear behind. That said, it seems like leadership is a natural fit for Elsa, so hopefully even in the real world, she could meet her dream prince (or, let’s be real, princess) and ascend the throne.

9) Belle

Belle in Beauty and the Beast looks pensive over dandelions gone to seed, though not because they’ve infected her lawn, just because she wants much more than her provincial life Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Belle was born from the era of princesses who yearn for independence, yet found the polar opposite. I don’t doubt that Belle has the skill set to be an award-winning author or a marketing whiz, but she has a fatal flaw: her kindness. Being kind is absolutely a noble virtue, but Belle is far too willing to completely sacrifice her own life for her father’s — and in a dog-eat-dog, capitalist world, that attitude would leave her destitute. The whole “falling in love with your captor” thing doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in her survival skills either.

8) Cinderella

Multiple images of Cinderella are reflected in shiny, colorful soap bubbles as she scrubs the floor in Cinderella Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

There’s no doubt about it: Cinderella is the most underappreciated princess. She’s frequently thought of as a total pushover, but there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye. Granted, she might have never escaped a life of servitude without her literal fairy godmother, but even as a drudge, Cinderella has an impressive skill set. She can cook, clean, and sew, often all at once. And she’s so incredibly charming that animals are willing to go out of their way to help her. In the real world, the animal assistance would be irrelevant, but Cinderella would still have the charm and the vision to imagine a better life for herself. Even living under the ruthless heel of Lady Tremaine and her wicked stepsisters, she says, “They can’t order me to stop dreaming.” Her ability to soldier on under a constant wave of nagging and cruelty has her perfectly posed for a successful retail career.

7) Pocahontas

Pocahontas sings as she navigates a white-water rapid with her raccoon and hummingbird friends in Pocahontas Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

On the surface, Pocahontas has everything necessary to be a self-sufficient, hard-working member of modern society. Her resourcefulness and understanding of nature could find her thriving as an environmental scientist. She isn’t a pushover either — she holds to her convictions when pressured by her society, a promising sign of success. Her one terrible flaw is her focus on fixing unworthy men. Some choices can be called honest mistakes, but the amount of effort she puts into perpetual snoozefest John Smith puts her judgment under serious scrutiny.

6) Rapunzel

Rapunzel in Tangled leans out of a boat, looking with delight at the colored floating lanterns all around her Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Anybody who can turn a kitchen appliance into a bonafide weapon is someone with boundless potential. Rapunzel survived a passive-aggressive, psychologically abusive, gaslighting mother, and became a confident and highly skilled woman. Though she may be a bit too gullible for her own good, Rapunzel emerged from her tower with surprising aptitude. Her readiness to try new things and face her fears with gusto is incredibly promising. Tangled even showed us what Rapunzel’s life would be like without her magical hair, and it was impressive to behold. If she can handle herself in a seedy pub (a real-world test if there ever was one), I have no doubt she’d be just fine in reality.

5) Merida

Merida from Brave huddles between a series of standing stones at night, bow and arrow nocked and ready to fire, as the giant, heavily clawed paw of a giant bear dominates the right corner of the image Image: Pixar Animation Studios

Merida stands out for a number of reasons: Not only is she the only Pixar character in the Disney Princess lineup, she’s crystal-clear about having no interest whatsoever in romance. Thankfully, Merida has a career set out for her, as an Olympic archer. She’d be thrilled to learn that her greatest talent is still relevant in contemporary society (albeit in a particularly niche way), and she could spend her years training at the things she’d love the most. Without any parental pressure trying to force a husband upon her, who knows what heights she could soar to? Merida would all but certainly win Olympic gold for her country — even if nobody could understand anything she was saying.

4) Moana

Moana from the Disney animated movie Moana stands on a beautiful tropical white-sand beach, wielding an oar like a weapon, and staring into the camera with a smug, determined smirk Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Like many of us, Moana battles demons of self-doubt, but her panache and determination more than makes up for that. She’s an adventurer at heart, capable of doing the one thing nobody else in her village dared to do: actually leave her island in search of something bigger. That attitude has Moana destined for success. She doesn’t have to sacrifice any part of who she is to follow her dream, either. Descended from voyagers, Moana harbors a deep connection to oceans, is an extremely capable sailor, and would be a valiant navigator and explorer. Failing that, she’s a natural-born athlete, and would join Merida in dominating at the Olympics, likely as a swimmer.

3) Raya

Raya from Raya and the Last Dragon, in a woven brown sun-hat and brown cloak, looks toward the horizon with a worried face Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Raya and the Last Dragon’s namesake star has plenty of wisdom beyond her years. She’s headstrong and determined to perform a nearly impossible task, finding the mythical last dragon to bring her father back from death, and to bring harmony to the land of Kumandra. In the real world, Raya won’t have the assistance of a super-powerful dragon — but to be fair, she probably wouldn’t have to deal with Druun overrunning her land, either.

Raya is able to assemble and lead a group of very different people from different ways of life, bringing them together to achieve greatness. She’s also a capable fighter. I can easily see Raya adapting to the MMA scene, but her managerial and teamworking talents could also place her in positions of impressive power. If Raya can unite a kingdom, why not a boardroom?

2) Mulan

Mulan in her army uniform does a high kick with a staff strike, in unison with other members of her training unit, during the “Be A Man” number in the Disney animated movie Mulan Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Mulan is incredibly impressive. She infiltrated an army, disguising herself as a man, and eliminated the leader of the Huns, earning the praise of the Emperor of China himself. She’s a woman of unparalleled courage, and she earns the adoration of an entire nation, not by marrying a prince, but by kicking a whole lot of ass. Plus, Mulan doesn’t get much help from her sidekick — she has to physically force a fire-breathing dragon to ignite a cannon. What makes her real-world ready is how hard she’s willing to work for all her gifts, courtesy of an epic training montage and one of Disney’s best songs. Mulan is tough as nails, an impressive strategist, and has a robust moral code. Her powers of disguise, secrecy, and leadership make her an ideal fit to be director of the CIA.

1) Tiana

Tiana from The Princess and the Frog, in a short-sleeved yellow dress, dances and sings under the broken roof of a building she plans to remake as her own café, with bright beams of sunlight falling on her from above Image: Walt Disney Animation Studios

The sky’s the limit for Tiana. She admittedly has an advantage over her fellow princesses — her life in The Princess and the Frog comes closest to a real-world setting of anything we’ve seen in a Disney princess movie. Tiana is the ultimate embodiment of the American dream, the mindset that with enough grit, hard work, and determination, you can overcome any circumstance on the pathway to success.

Most princesses sing of their hopes and dreams, but Tiana’s “Almost There” operates in a different register: It isn’t just a wish aimed at a generous higher power, or a hopeful manifestation for her future — it’s a guarantee that she’s going to get what she’s after. When Tiana sings “There ain’t nothing gonna stop me now,” I believe her. We already see her succeed in The Princess and the Frog, opening the restaurant of her dreams. After mastering being transformed into a frog, I can’t even fathom the heights she can climb to in a world where she’ll make her own magic.


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