This past year, Disney released The Princess and the Frog, its first movie featuring a black princess. As my friends and I walked the block from my apartment to the movie theater to go see it, my friend Tiara was practically bursting with excitment, "Finally! I've been writing letters to Disney for years saying they needed a black princess!"
I did grow up on Disney Princesses, so despite the extremely problematic elements of their characterizations, I have a sentimental attachment. However, I found The Princess and the Frog to be markedly different in positive ways from other princess films. (I guess these could be spoilers... so... here's your warning.) Aside from being black, Tiana (the main character) is not a princess. She's a working class girl who dreams of opening a restaurant with all her hard earned money. And throughout the movie, she never budges in that dream. One of my favorite songs from the movie, Almost There, is about how she is sure her personal struggles will pay off someday. Her determination is seen in contrast to the Prince's lazy complacency, sending what I interpreted as being a clear message that hard work, good sense, and positivity are good values that lead to success. The Princess part of the movie was merely a plus.
Aside from being a good role model, Tiana also saves the day at the end of the movie. This is for all you girls who thought it was a drag that the girls had to get saved in the old Disney Princess movies. Yeah!
Enchanted (2007) I also loved for this reason. Giselle is not a princess, but aspires to be, but when her dreams are derailed and she's transported to New York City, her hilarious charicature of a Disney Princess is humanized the longer she's around, well, real people. By the end of the movie, she makes the choice of who she wants to be with, saves the day, and gets to live happily ever after.
Although the whole Princess thing is still kind of a pain... I like that the current trend is that Disney Princesses are more independent, stronger, and more human in their ambitions and characterization. We're going in the right direction.