Why Tiana is My Favorite Princess

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Tiana

As you probably heard, Merida from Disney/Pixar’s movie Brave was recently inducted as an official Disney Princess. This “event” got me thinking about Disney’s Princesses as a whole and how I feel about them.

Most of my life I was a typical, self-centered, middle class American. I have never been prone to idol worship: sure I had Michael Jordan posters on my wall as a teen, but despite the advertising I never really wanted to be like Mike, just play basketball like him (yeah, that didn’t work either).  Even as an adult, I never really thought about celebrity role models or their effects. Then I had kids.

Having kids changes a lot, but mostly what it changed for me was that I suddenly had to try to guide another human and prepare them to make future important life choices. That’s pretty heavy. While I still believe parents play the most crucial role in a child’s development, it would feel foolish for me to think that popular culture does not have any influence.

As the Disney fans that we are, my 4 year old daughter is heavily invested in the Disney Princesses. We have seen all of their movies, met them all at the parks, and have a bedroom dedicated to them (my daughter’s…not mine…really). She has even become interested in the mediocre Sofia the First Disney Junior television series.

Now what got me started on this diatribe was my thoughts on Disney Princesses as a whole and their message to the public, specifically young girls. What I found is that most Disney Princess movies have a few messages that I’m not thrilled with. Let’s go one by one:

SnowWhiteSnow White: Hiding from her murderous stepmother (okay, that was probably a good idea) and waiting for her prince to come. This in not generally a bad message as “prince” can be metaphorical.

Cinderella: In a bad spot with her step-family (not looking good for stepmothers so far), so she wishes super hard and her dream of marrying a rich guy comes true. I’m not liking this message.

Aurora: Put to sleep by Maleficent until her true love (and the boy she was betrothed to as a baby), the rich guy can come kiss her. Not the worst, but not the best thing for a young girl to hope for.

Ariel: Seeks the counsel of an undersea witch because she gets mad at her father. Doesn’t ever have to regret it because everything works out fine in the end…not loving this one either.

Belle: Definitely one of the better messages as Belle is well read and loyal to her father (by the way, Disney is much more forgiving of fathers than mothers to this point). She sacrifices herself to free her dad and eventually even develops a soft spot for the Beast. I like how Belle is strong and smart and how she sees right through Gaston’s crap.Belle

Jasmine: A strong woman, but also has some spoiled brat in her. It’s not really her movie, so she doesn’t really grow or change the entire time.

Pocahontas: Not my favorite movie, but a good message. Pocahontas is strong, smart, and willing to stand up for her beliefs.

Mulan: Another one who sacrifices herself for her father. She also never is a part of or marries royalty, so I’m not sure how she’s a princess at all, but that’s beside the point. I think the character of Mulan is not a bad role model for girls, but the movie spending 90% of its runtime putting down women and their role in society is not so good.

Rapunzel: This is a strange one because Rapunzel never really grows during the film. She is kind, sweet, and naïve in the beginning as well as the end. Everyone seems to love her in the movie, but the character development arc belongs solely to Eugene “Flynn Rider.”

Merida: The new girl has a few things going for her. She defies her mother (look a mom storyline that isn’t bad), but unlike Ariel she learns something from her mistake. Merida also doesn’t need a man, which I see as a good change of pace.

This gets me back to the one I skipped: my favorite, Tiana. In The Princess and the Frog Tiana is a smart, very hard working woman who is trying to claw her way out of poverty and make something of herself. Already this is different for Disney as she is not born into royalty, nor does she simply wish for it (well, she kind of does, but feels ridiculous about it). The way she wants to make herself better is by outsmarting and outworking everyone else.

Tiana is thrown into some crazy circumstances and, despite not wanting to be tied down, falls in love with a prince (although even the prince is penniless at the time). My favorite thing is that the happy ending involves Tiana and Naveen buying their restaurant with Tiana’s cans of change (and some gator staredowns) and building it by hand. There is no fairy that poofs it into existence and no king that gifts it to his daughter-in-law, just elbow grease.

As a parent I am trying to make sure my kids know that willpower, determination, and hard work are how you get what you want. And that is why Tiana is my favorite princess.

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Posted on May 14, 2013

37 Responses to “Why Tiana is My Favorite Princess”

  • Great article. I agree for the most part, my favourite is Belle (as I am an introvert who is irritated by arrogance & thinks seeing past appearances is pretty much the best lesson we can learn). On paper Tiana is certainly an excellent example too.

  • I appreciate and echo your sentiments. For the same reasons, Belle and Tiana are my favorite princesses. I long for the day when Disney will embrace the idea that a heroine can triumph even if she NEVER becomes a princess OR gets the guy! (Can’t you just see it, “Coming soon to theatres… Disney’s ‘Susan B. Anthony’”!!!) Well, a girl can dream. ;)

  • Although I adore Ariel, I’m totally aware of the reasons to not love that message. I see her relationship with her father as the “real” story that should have been explored, instead of the romantic one, but too late now. Anyway… thank you so much for the Tiana love. She’s an inspiration to me, and I love the whole movie and Tiana’s role in it. Totally agree with all you said about her!

  • I love this post. The last time I saw the Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Ariel said, “I’m 16 years old, I’m not a child!” the line hit me like a brick wall. I finally realized that one of my most loved Disney princesses may not be sending the best message to young girls. It also made me think of the evolution of Disney princesses – while Ariel was married off by the age of 16, Rapunzel didn’t even meet Flynn until she was 18 and the film implied that it took some time until they married. I think she was the first Disney princess to actually date her future husband!

    If I have a daughter someday, I’ll be fine with her watching Ariel and Jasmine. My sisters and I watched them, and we didn’t go running off to marry a stranger at the age of 16 in exchange for never seeing our parents again. Disney must be doing something right to make sure little girls (and boys) know that these movies are pure fantasy.

    • by Brian McNichols on May 14, 2013, at 1:59 pm EST

      Yeah, we have never once stopped our kids from watching any of these either, but it is definitely something I never thought of before kids.

  • And the music in the movie is superlative, too.

  • I have always loved Belle for the reasons you mentioned. Tiana as a charchacter is great as well, but the story line is a little boring to me.

    While Merida is strong, and I appreciate the fact that she doesn’t NEED a man, dating and getting married should not be portrayed as being a bad thing either.

    I the message I want my future daughters (and sons) to hear is that girls should be self-confident and follow their dreams. It is their choice to marry if they find the right guy, but they should not wait for a guy to save them.

  • Now granted I’m not a girl, but I grew up watching all the Disney movies just like everyone else. I think parents, and I am one of a little 5 year old girl, sometimes over think things. I seriously doubt kids seeing these movies ever have a single thought about any of those messages you listed in your post. I understand as a parent we want to stay on top of the images our kids are exposed to and try to protect them, but in general I think our kids are going to be ok with the Disney Princess movies. Great thoughtful article though. Thanks

    • by Brian McNichols on May 14, 2013, at 3:00 pm EST

      Thank you. I agree with you, this article was more “here is what I’m thinking as I let my kids watch this stuff anyway.”

  • This post comes at a good time, as I just watched Princess and the Frog this weekend with my daughter for the first time. My wife got it for her a while back and it was the first Disney movie we got for her, but I’d just never personally been in the area when it was on and hadn’t had the chance to see it. What a great movie, and I was thinking the exact same thing as I was watching — finally, a princess that finds success through hard work, and finally, a relationship that isn’t built upon the infatuation with idea of a Prince without even knowing the guy. Your article is spot on.

  • I like this article, but I think Ariel’s message for me as I grew up was that you don’t have to be just like everyone else like you. You can dream for things that seem impossible for everyone else. This movie still makes me tear up as Ariel thanks her father for letting her go and live her own life. My father had to do it. :)

  • I love the way Disney/Pixar movies evolve with society without being preachy, and the way the message has become more and more about how it’s okay to be who you are. I think Belle is my favorite princess, though Tangled is the movie I watch over and over. As you say, Eugene is the more interesting character there though.
    Thanks for not concluding that we shouldn’t let kids watch the earlier movies. It’s so easy to take an extreme position to create controversy.

  • Interesting article, I think you were way too harsh on the other princesses. They all have good things about them and discounting their positive attributes really isn’t fair. I like Tiana but that movie was way to dark with voodoo for my family. Also just a word of advice: When you have to put down something to make your opinion sound better maybe your opinion isn’t that great after all.

    • by Brian McNichols on May 15, 2013, at 7:02 am EST

      Yes, the voodoo is dark and the Shadow Man is one of the creepier villains, so I can’t argue that. Although the talk of murder in Snow White or indentured servitude in Cinderella aren’t super pleasant either.

      I would also counter that to argue an opinion, one must raise one point of view over others. Without doing that you are simply just stating the virtues of everything. If I was reviewing restaurants and only saying how much I love them all it wouldn’t be particularly helpful for someone trying to choose. Just a word of advice.

  • I too, have to wonder if we read too much into “fairy tales”. My grown daughter has a friend, who’s mother never let her watch any of the Disney Princess movies when she was growing up. It was because of the very same reason some of the posters mentioned. She didn’t want her daughter to sit back and wait for her “prince” to come. I find it odd that her mom didn’t think of her own husband as her “prince.” I certainly think of my husband as mine. Cinderella just wanted to go to the ball, Ariel just wanted to be human, Rapunzel wanted to see the lights, Jasmine was feisty and didn’t want to even get married. Yea, I get that Snow White and Aurora needed the magic of a kiss. But, my point is that these are fairy tales, not documentaries on what a young girl needs to do to be happy!

  • Did you even watch Tangled and Mulan? Your little paragraphs about them completely miss so much about those two heroines.

    • by Brian McNichols on May 15, 2013, at 6:59 am EST

      Like most parents of a four year old, yes, I have seen each of these movies dozens of times. What specifically did I miss about Rapunzel and Mulan? I feel like I was positive about both heroines in my little paragraphs.

      • The last sentence, for your Mulan paragraph, you note that the movie spends 90% of its time putting down women. Yet, Mulan, as a woman, is going against this. She puts her life at risk to join the army, and doesn’t know who she is (as her song, Reflection, shows) but by the end of the movie, she has used female aspects with her friends to climb the pillars, trick the guards, and even uses her fan to defeat Shan-Yu (along with her training in the army) effectively making her a tomboy who has struck a balance regarding the genders.

        As for Tangled, you noted that Rapunzel doesn’t grow, that she stays kind, sweet, and naive in the beginning and the end. Not really. In the beginning (and overall) yes she is kind and sweet, BUT!, she is also emotionally and verbally abused by Gothel, which is a very similar situation to Quasimodo and Frollo. The abusive parent relationship has a negative impact on her, and she feels guilty leaving the tower. However, near the end, when Gothel arrives and tries to guilt Rapunzel into coming back, she stands up to her ‘mother’ and says “No.” which shows that she has grown a fair bit, to actually say that.

  • Any literary historian or folklorist would dearly looooove to discuss the inherent darkness in most ALL fairy tales! Compared to the original versions of the stories, Disney’s movies are nothing in terms of the fright factor. Sure, as parents, we have to preview things and determine whether or not they are suitable for our kids. That’s true of most everything. I think Disney has done a very good job staying somewhat true to the original theme and flavor of the stories, while making them pretty family-friendly. I think kids mostly take things for what they are. It’s the parents (myself included!) who make way too much out of every little detail. I was discussing something in a movie recently with my sons, making sure that they understood the difference between the reality of life and the version in the movie. Something in it was a little scary. My son said, “Mom? Really? We’re not that sensitive!!!!” :)

    And yes, Tiana is one of my favorites, too! Love that movie!

  • Regarding Mulan and that 90% of the movie it´s spent putting women down.

    …you do know that is a portrait of the role of the women in Chinese culture, right?

    Also, precisely the whole point at the end of the movie is to prove regardless of that role what she could do.

    Besides, it wasn´t that far away that women got to vote in the US.

    As for the article in general, Disney just made movies based on fairy tales nothing more. If any complaints have to be made go back in time and tell the authors your point of view.

    Do you think it would have been better for Disney if they showed the actual consequences of the stepsisters and stepmothers of Cinderella in the real tale?

  • Cinderella is far more pro-active than you’re given her credit for. She didn’t just sit back and wish for something good to happen.

    Now if we could just get Esmeralda added to the list . . . . . .

  • This is an excellent analysis, although, like you, I don’t read to much into it.

    I’d rank them differently, though.

    Yes, Tiana and Merida and especially Belle (Valuing brain over brawn) are excellent role models. Jasmine’s quirky rebelliousness doesn’t bother me either, I’ve tried to raise my daughter as a bit of a tomboy/independent type, so I don’t entirely disapprove of Jasmine.

    Mulan, however, for me, is by far the best story to show young girls. Here she lived in a culture that was dismissive toward women and even misogynistic, and yet she rose above it. The message Mulan gives to young women is they can do anything they choose to do, and never let any man tell them otherwise. As a father, I can’t think of a better message for my daughter to learn.

  • Cindy was one hard-working girl. She accomplished everything asked of her in record time in order to make a little time to finish her dress in order to go to the ball. She doesn’t *just* wish for her dream; she works her butt off to make it happen & plays by all the rules of the game her family has set up for her that were designed to make her fail.

    It is only when the rules are changed, or the family cheats (dress torn up) that the fairy godmother steps in & “gives” her her dream.

    I’d say she earned the prince’s love & embodies the proto-typical “princess”. And she perseveres against all odds after being given a bad start — which is a great lesson for us all. If anyone deserves to marry the rich prince, she does. And she’s got the most awesome castle of all, even if she does marry into it. ;-)

    As for Snow, she does quite a job keeping house & feeding 7 dudes. She’s very hard-working & earns her keep. And she’s the “original”.

    Having said that, I couldn’t agree with you more about Ariel & Jasmine: spoiled & entitled to the max throughout both movies from beginning to end. Ariel (late to everything, listens to nobody whether the advice is sound or not, the world revolves around her & her little collection of gadgets & trinkets & possessions, even Eric is nothing but a possession via the statue) — despite her marvelous singing voice — is best enjoyed without a voice at all so she’s not whining. That’s one thing Ursula got right. Alas, Ursula met her demise at the end of that movie, so she couldn’t make a follow-up appearance in “Aladdin” & pull the same trick on Jasmine, nor is Maleficent around anymore to put the girl to sleep.

    As another person said, Tiana holds her own among the “Pantheon of Princesses”, but the voodoo darkness makes the movie a not-for-little-kids affair as far as I’m concerned.

    At any rate, I was concerned about the premise of your article at first, but you acquitted yourself well & you did a great job of it.

    Your reasons for putting Tiana at the top are sound; you just don’t give Cindy enough credit, IMO. :-)

  • 1937-1988 3 Princesses, 2 Theme Park Castles, good for 52 years.
    1989-1998 5 more princesses in 10 years.
    2009-2012 3 more princesses, plus a restaurant posing as a 3rd castle.

    Are they diluting the brand & cheapening the “princess” moniker, or the more the merrier?
    Discuss.

  • Jasmine is my favorite, she didnt display spoiled behavior in my eye, she didnt want all the glitz and glamour. She wanted to be a regular girl, see the world through the eyes of a common person. And not be treated like some Trophy. ‘Prize to be won” in her words. I like Tiana also tho. :)

  • by Tom Bricker on May 17, 2013, at 2:37 pm EST

    My favorite is Ariel because she’s friends with Flounder.

  • I have to disagree with you about Tiana. The way I see it, Tiana had a goal, and was working very hard to achieve it. But she only achieved her dream of owning her own restaurant after she got married. She didn’t like Naveen, she didn’t want a relationship, and yet somehow they end up married. It seems a bit misogynistic to me.

  • My favorite princess is Princess Aurora because of the gold of sunshine in her hair, her lips that shame the red, red rose and because she walks with springtime wherever she goes.
    :)
    OK, being serious, I think she’s my favorite because she’s the most beautiful to me – grace and beauty :) I think her design just kills me, as well as the whole movie’s stylization.

    It seems quite superficial, but hey, I’m an artist. We don’t really know much about her other than she’s a sweet, romantic girl who’d rather be with the one she’s in love with than becoming a princess and having a prince “waiting” for her (she was betrothed to him). I really like her anyways.

    Ariel is my second favorite because she’s fun and cute.
    Belle is great, too. She’s a good role-model, given what she does in her movie.

    I really like all the princesses. It’s hard for me to say who I like better, except for the ones I’ve mentioned.

    But if you want great role-models for girls, check out Sailor Moon :D She’s got the best message of them all – love, and she’s a princess, too.

  • I think it’s interesting how the princess movies evolved as the times evolved. The early princess stories that I grew up with gave me a very distorted idea of what love was. I absolutely love the trend towards movies with girls like Tiana who I think is a wonderful role model for my daughter and Merida where romance is never even part of the equation. I agree with the Rapunzel statement. I would have to say hands down that Tiana and Merida were my favorites. I love the Tim Burton’s Alice as well though she’s not a princess. Strong girls who build their own dreams and dream of things other than love rule!

  • I have an 11 year old and a 3 year old girls. The 11 year old LOVES Mulan, Merida and Rapunzel in that order because they were not like the other in her opinion. They were not waiting for their princes to come and in Monday ways were masters of their own fate. Since she is o,der, we have had many dicussions about how the portrayal of these characters reflects the history of women throughout history (when they were originally written and when Disney recreated them). It’s actually been very helpful to spark interesting and meaningful conversations. A far as the 3 year old is concerned, her favorite changes as the winds blow and she is most interested in finding her favorite tutu to put on and dance to the music in them. And we just roll with that for her for now :)

  • While the role of the prince never changes… ;-)

  • I love Mulan for multiple reasons. One, I’m Chinese, and that’s the only princess Disney gave us :) Two, the misogyny of Chinese culture is pretty well known (even today). You can’t ignore history just because it makes you uncomfortable. But the movie celebrates how different she is. And when you think of the stigma involved in what she’s done…the shaming her family would have suffered…and to portray her father as loving her so much that he doesn’t care, and still wants her back was beautiful. That was the best moment in the film to me. In my view, unlike many of the other princess films, Mulan is not a romance. It’s a story of one girl’s love for her father (and vice versa). That she ends up with a guy at the end seems more like an afterthought.