Ranked: Disney Heroines Who Didn’t Need To Be Saved

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While many Disney films have had a cult following for decades, that’s not to say their movies go without flaws. Disney has been criticized for many reasons in the past, including their adherence to some very traditional gender roles. The typical plot of an animated Disney movie tends to involve a princess who is in danger, a prince who saves her, a marriage, and a happily ever after for the couple. Disney has started to change this pattern in recent years, however, and has even released a few films that don’t follow this formula at all. Follow along as we rank all the Disney heroines and Princesses who didn’t need to be saved:

20. Princess Aurora, Sleeping Beauty

Of all the Disney heroines, the least independent has to be Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty because she’s not the main savior in her own story. Rather, the entire premise of the film surrounds the idea of her getting saved by true love’s kiss, which is totally out of her own control. Since she spends the bulk of the film asleep, Princess Aurora is the epitome of a damsel in distress needing to be saved.

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19. Snow White

Snow White was the first Disney Princess, but this certainly doesn’t make her the most independent or strong. She spends most of her time in the forest doing domestic chores for the seven dwarfs such as cooking and cleaning. She’s tricked into eating a poisonous apple and is ultimately saved by a Prince in the end.

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18. Cinderella

While Cinderella is perhaps the most famous of Princesses, she’s far from being the most powerful. She lived a life of obedience to her stepmother’s wishes and then is saved from a life of servitude with the help of a fairy godmother and a lost glass slipper. Her life is saved by magic, luck and a handsome Prince much more than it is because of her bravery or strength.

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17. Ariel, The Little Mermaid

While The Little Mermaid‘s Ariel may not be as passive as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, she’s also not a standout Princess when it comes to independence. Ariel gives away her most precious gift, her voice, in order to live on land and have Prince Eric fall in love with her. We do, however, have to give Ariel some credit for her adventurous spirit and leadership abilities, which the Princesses before her lacked.

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16. Anna, Frozen

While Frozen is certainly progressive when it comes to Disney, we still can’t help but question Anna’s independence within the film. At the beginning of the film, it’s clear she’s presented as any other Disney Princess who thinks that finding the man of her dreams will make her life complete. Over the course of the film, however, she grows drastically as a character and realizes the importance of family and sisterhood, which is why she’s ranked higher than some of Disney’s earlier heroines.

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15. Giselle, Enchanted

Enchanted is definitely one of Disney’s most complex Princess stories. Giselle begins as any other Disney Princess stuck in a 2-dimensional world set to marry a Prince until she is banished to the human world where she’s faced with the harsh reality of New York. Giselle immediately resorts to the stereotypical shopping and makeover route, which makes her a little superficial and naive in our books. We do have to give her some kudos, however, for ending the film as a business owner and in a healthy, equality-focussed relationship.

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14. Alice, Alice in Wonderland

When it comes to female leads in Disney films, Alice from Alice in Wonderland is quite neutral. She doesn’t stand out as being fiercely independent, but she also has the curiosity and tenacity of a strong heroine in the making. We wish we saw more of this side of her throughout the film!

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13. Vanellope von Schweetz, Wreck-It Ralph

While Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph may not immediately come to mind when pondering Disney Princesses, she does fall under that category. She’s presented as a villain in the film whose sassy, thoughtless and puts her own needs ahead of others. Despite the attitude, Vanellope is creative, optimistic and ends up deciding to be a President rather than a Princess, which certainly makes her quite fearless in our books.

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12. Princess Jasmine, Aladdin

Princess Jasmine definitely isn’t afraid to speak her mind, which is something we love about her as a Disney Princess! When she was set up for an arranged marriage without any say in the matter, she made sure to point out she wasn’t “a prize to be won.” At the end of the movie, she even gets the Sultan to change the laws in Agrabah which allows her to marry whomever she wants and escape her arranged marriage.

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11. Belle, Beauty and the Beast

Belle is kept prisoner by the Beast but is in that situation because she has chosen to trade places with her father. After the Beast releases Belle so that she can go help her father later in the story, Belle returns to the Beast to save him from the angry mob that wants to kill him. The Beast nearly dies in her arms, but her love magically saves him. Belle didn’t really need any rescuing and was instead always trying to help those around her. This was an early example of the princess saving the prince.

©Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

©Walt Disney Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

10. Pocahontas

Pocahontas is a free-spirited young woman who certainly doesn’t need to be rescued by a man. Instead of being rescued by John Smith, Pocahontas saves him from being killed, throwing herself between him and the man who is about to execute him. Instead of following her love to Europe, Pocahontas stays with her people. Ending a movie without the main characters getting married was quite unexpected for a Disney movie at that time, and seeing Pocahontas decide that her family, friends, and home were more important to her than her true love was quite refreshing.

Photo by Moviestore/REX

Photo by Moviestore/REX

9. Tiana

In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana is a fiercely independent woman who is accustomed to working extremely hard for everything she has. She meets a prince named Naveen, who is under a curse that has turned him into a frog. She reluctantly tries to save him with a kiss, which doesn’t work, and then they go on a journey to find a solution together. She saves Prince Naveen from danger a few times and helps teach him a few things about survival. He helps save her during a few minor conflicts as well. In the end, she saves herself from the Shadow Man, and then Naveen tries to sacrifice himself to help Tiana’s dreams come true, but she doesn’t let him. They decide to live together as frogs, and their love magically turns them back into humans.

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8. Megara, Hercules 

Megara is definitely one of the most underrated Disney heroines! She’s deeply intelligent, witty, confident and knows what she wants. She even calls out men in the film and brings awareness to the ‘damsel in distress’ notion. “I’m a damsel,” she informs Hercules, “I’m in distress, and I can handle it. Have a nice day.” Another iconic Meg line is when she says, “”Well, you know how men are,” she says, with a roll of her eyes. “They think ‘no’ means ‘yes’ and ‘get lost’ means ‘take me, I’m yours’.”

Source: Hercules, Walt Disney Studios

7. Maleficent

Both major characters in the live-action Disney film Maleficent require help at some point in the story, but neither of them is saved by a man in typical Disney fashion. Princess Aurora, or Sleeping Beauty, needed to be saved from the curse that put her to sleep, but she was saved by Maleficent, not by a man. Maleficent isn’t really a Disney princess, but she is the main character of the movie, and she saves herself from danger with a little bit of help from Aurora.

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5. Merida, Brave

Merida from Disney’s Brave is another heroine who refused to be told who she was going to marry. Similar to Jasmine, she stands up to her father and makes her point in front of the whole town. She even says the line, “I’m Merida, and I’ll be fighting for my own hand!” In the end, she convinces her parents to change the rules about marriage.

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4. Rapunzel, Tangled

Tangled isn’t what we’ve come to expect from the story of Rapunzel. In this version, Rapunzel doesn’t need to be rescued from her tower. She does enlist the help of a man who stumbles across her when he tries to hide in her tower, but it wasn’t a rescue mission. In fact, when they are trying to get to the festival of lanterns, Rapunzel repeatedly saves Finn. She rescues him from a huge bar brawl, from the people hunting him down, and from a cave filling up with water where they are about to drown. He helps her along the way as well, but usually, she is the one rescuing him from danger instead of the other way around.

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3. Fa Mulan, Mulan

In Mulan, after the Huns invade China, families are ordered to send one man to fight in the war. In Fa Mulan’s family, her elderly, injured father is the only male in the family and therefore has no choice but to serve. Mulan knows that he cannot survive the service, so she dresses like a man, sneaks out in the night and joins the army in his place. She trains hard and goes from being one of the worst soldiers to the best. She saves everyone from multiple attacks by the Huns, with a little help from her friends. Fa Mulan repeatedly saves the day in this movie and saves her captain, Li Shang, who she has feelings for. In addition to her impressive fighting skills, she comes up with ingenious plans that get them out of seemingly impossible situations, showing that she has both brains and brawn.

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2. Elsa, Frozen

Queen Elsa from Frozen is unique in the realm of Disney due to the fact that she has no love interest throughout the film. She doesn’t need to be saved by a man and only her sister, Anna, tries to help her. In the end, Anna needs saving and needs true love’s kiss to bring her back to life. Instead of being rescued by one of the two men she thought might love her, Elsa comes to the rescue and we see that it is a sister’s love that saves her, not romantic love. Elsa is a great example of a princess who doesn’t need a prince and can create her own happily ever after.

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1. Moana

While Moana isn’t technically a Princess, she certainly is a heroine in her own right. Without any skill or experience, she manages to sail across the ocean to find a demigod that can help her save her island. The journey requires a lot of hard work and gumption and in the end not only does Moana learn more about her family’s history, but also succeeds in reclaiming it and saving them. In the end, she proves herself the perfect chief for the future of her village.

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Olivia Di Pede

Olivia Di Pede

Olivia loves all things fashion, beauty, and entertainment. In her free time, she can be found taking yoga classes, reading thriller novels, and styling outfits on Instagram.