Anastasia is currently available to stream on Disney Plus. Polygon first published a version of this story in 2019, right after the Disney-Fox acquisition.
After Walt Disney’s successful acquisition of 21st Century Fox, a good deal of movies, TV shows, and characters now exist under the Disney banner. This includes the Fox-owned Marvel superheroes like the X-Men and Deadpool. It also means Fox’s animated princess, Anastasia, is now part of the Disney collective.
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 anointed 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 lineup is prestigious. The franchise was created in the early 2000s by Andy Mooney, then the chairman of Disney Consumer Products, mainly to sell merchandise. The official Disney Princesses included Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and Mulan, Pocahontas, as well as Esmeralda and Tinker Bell, who aren’t quite princesses, but earned the status anyway.
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. Here’s how strict the logic is: In 2005, Esmeralda and Tinker Bell were removed for not fitting this criteria (Esmeralda likely because The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a pretty dark movie, and Tinker Bell because she had to launch her own Disney Fairies franchise).
Princesses from films released subsequent to the original lineup, who 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 four princesses have joined the original lineup: Tiana, Rapunzel, Merida, and, only in 2019, Moana.
Notice a few popular names missing? Frozen’s Elsa and Anna are not considered Disney Princesses. Both had face-character welcomings, but were never coronated, and are still not considered part of the official Disney Princess lineup, despite what Ralph Breaks the Internet will have you think. Disney theorists assume that the reason is marketability; because Frozen was such a smashing success, Disney considers Elsa and Anna keystones of a separate, parallel Frozen franchise.
While eventually added into the lineup, Moana’s inauguration came three years after the release of her movie, and she never got a big coronation ceremony in the parks. My working theory is 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 it realized it’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 lineup, the pomp and circumstance of an in-park ritual, and how the lineup itself is fading in favor of individual movie-specific franchises like Frozen, it’s very unlikely that all these potential princesses will ever become Princesses.
Correction (March 22): Andy Mooney was the chairman of Disney Consumer Products in the early 2000s, not the chairman of Disney. We’ve edited the article to reflect this.