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Top 5 Disney Princesses With a Sense of Agency

Disney princesses have come a long way from where they started. Nowadays, these leading ladies take matters into their own hands. Here’s my ranking of the top five princesses with a sense of agency! 

No. 5: Ariel from The Little Mermaid (1989)

Ariel easily stands out with her bold red hair, her purple clam-shell bra and her passion for all things human. But she also stands out as the first in the official Disney princess line up to show some agency for what she wants! Ariel repeatedly SEAses the day by taking daring risks for what she wants. We learn this about her immediately: Ariel makes her first appearance out-swimming a bloodthirsty shark after collecting human artifacts for her collection.

Ariel also switches it up by rescuing her prince not once but twice: first when his ship sinks and again when Ursula aims her terrifying trident at him. She also seeks out the villain, Ursula, in order to gain what she wants: legs. Then after learning of the dire risks this deal may bring, she signs herself away just for the chance at life on land.

This aquatic anthropologist is truly a bright young woman.

No. 4: Tiana from The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Tiana’s a princess with agency for sure. She’s hardworking, independent and diligent almost to a fault! So much so that she needs to be reminded that love is more important than her work and her professional ambitions. However, that’s not to say that her hard work doesn’t deserve any credit!

Tiana’s a black woman in the 1920s, working two jobs and literally saving pennies to buy her own restaurant. She’s shown choosing work over a fun night out, and you certainly don’t need me to explain the social obstacles she overcomes. Her agency is especially impressive when you think about how her natural talent is likely more impressive than the cooks at the diners she waitresses at. It’s hard work, but Tiana’s never been one to shy away from hard work! Except, maybe, when it comes to kissing frogs. She’s known to be quite opposed to that.

She works hard and dreams big. Look out boys, she’s comin’ through!

No. 3 Moana from Moana (2016)

Moana’s sense of agency seems to be goddess-given, but then again, when the ocean chooses you to restore the heart of Te Fiti, you just might be blessed. Moana’s bravery and sense of agency lead her to sail away from her home island on a perilous journey to find a demi-god and to restore the heart of a powerful goddess. Moana’s dedication to learning the ways of her ancestors is super admirable and wonderfully influencing towards children watching, who will undoubtedly be inspired to learn about their family’s own histories and traditions.

Even when Moana finds herself in some hot water, she stands right back up, ready for more. Moana’s one of the few princesses who defeats the villain by healing them: Te Fiti’s heart is restored when she’s shown kindness and respect from the fearless islander. Self-love saves the day in Moana, and it certainly couldn’t have been accomplished without Moana’s kindness, bravery and forgiveness.

And remember, it’d be rude to refuse a gift from a goddess!

No. 2 Mulan from Mulan (1998)

Do I even need to remind you? Mulan’s sense of agency has her going to war. To protect her aging father, Mulan steals his armor and disguises herself as the son he never had.  As if willingly enlisting isn’t scary enough, Mulan’s punishment should she be found out is death. Mulan becomes a skilled fighter and proves Shang wrong when he attempts to send her home.

Unfortunately, Mulan is eventually found out after having received an injury.  After sparing her life, Shang discharges Mulan and leaves her behind as his army marches on. Mulan’s stubborn attitude leads her to quickly catch up with the army she’d been banished from in order to warn of Shan Yu’s return. Initially, Shang brushes her off, leaving Mulan to take charge and save the day.

She’s a girl who’s got a brain, and who always speaks her mind!

No. 1 Merida from Brave (2012)

Personally, I have a bit of a soft spot for Merida.  I feel like we never give her credit as a Disney princess with agency! She defiantly opposes marriage and makes a fool out of the three men competing for her hand by besting them in an archery competition. Merida may be one of the only princesses to cast a spell on her own mother (albeit accidentally). While cursing your mom and turning her into a bear isn’t exactly admirable, it nevertheless shows a sense of agency.

Her pride and her fearlessness are her strengths as well as her weaknesses, which is an important lesson for little girls to learn. Her agency gets her into scrapes but also gets her out of them. 

In the end, Merida overcomes her pride and mends the curse, returning her mother (and her three little brothers) to humans instead of bears. Queen Elinor also overcomes her pride and decides that the firstborn may choose marriage in her own time, as opposed to being forced into it.

This brave princess deserves more recognition for her fearlessness and her sense of agency!

All gifs courtesy of Giphy.

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Isabella Reimer is a student at Florida State University double majoring in Creative Writing and Women's Studies. She loves reading, writing, and an ice-cold soda! You can likely find her at second-hand bookstores, maze-like libraries, or cozy coffee shops!
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