Disney princesses are some of the most iconic figures in pop culture. Millennials, in particular, have trumpeted the influence these characters had on their development during those formative childhood years, and still today they’re often marketed as role models for young girls.
In many of the Disney princess films, the heroines must overcome adversity in pursuit of true love and finding a happily ever after. These stories seem totally aspirational when you’re a kid, but when you rewatch these classic movies as an adult, one realization really sinks in: How young they are!
Yes, you are, Ariel.
These characters are getting married and making other major life decisions, and they’re not even old enough to legally drink.
For a rundown, the 11 characters of the official Disney Princess franchise are Snow White (age 14), Jasmine (15), Ariel (16), Aurora (16), Mulan (16), Merida (16), Belle (17), Pocahontas (18), Rapunzel (18), Cinderella (19) and Tiana (19).
The signature films end with weddings or marriage plans for Ariel, Jasmine, Cinderella, Rapunzel and Tiana (and hints of this sort of “fairy-tale ending” for most of the others). The most recent addition to the group ― Merida ― refreshingly doesn’t have a love interest, though the film begins with a competition among the kingdom’s firstborn sons to win her hand in marriage.
“What’s most troubling is just how little life experience they’ve had. They’re so naïve to the ways of the world. Most of them have never even met a boy, much less dated one before they fall in love and marry their prince,” blogger Julie Sprankles wrote in a post called “Things only adults notice in Disney princess movies.”
“You never realize the issues inherent with this until you watch when you’re older, at which point you’re like, where’s the fire, ladies? You have your whole life to get hitched!” she added.
The fact that the Disney princesses are teenagers actually helps explain their often questionable judgment ― like eating a poisoned apple from a very sketchy stranger, or giving your voice to a sea witch in the hopes that a cute boy will fall in love with you. As any former teen can attest, these years are full of terrible decisions.
“Next time you start pondering the epic romance of a Disney classic like ‘Sleeping Beauty,’ well, just try not to get too hung up on the fact that Princess Aurora should probably be studying for ninth grade math class instead of getting hitched to Prince Phillip,” wrote MTV News’ Scott Harris.
In 2015, illustrator Loryn Brantz redrew the Disney princesses to reflect their actual ages, resulting in hilarious images like “Snow White as an actual 14-year-old dealing with puberty and all the acne and bad eyebrows that entails”; “Mulan experimenting with hair and makeup like an actual 16-year-old”; and “Aurora being rightfully freaked out as a 16-year-old being approached by a strange man in the woods.”
Of course, the Disney princesses are just fictional characters from animated fairy tales, not real teenagers living in our time. After all, many Disney films are based on old folktales from a time when arranged marriages and teen brides were more common. And perhaps the ordeal of fleeing a murderous villain, fighting in a battle or breaking a witch’s spell gives a girl a sense of maturity beyond her years.
Regardless, times are changing, and more recent Disney projects are starting to address these issues. In 2013’s “Frozen,” Queen Elsa (age 21) tells her 18-year-old sister Anna, “You can’t marry a man you just met!” The film’s magic spell plotline also centers on the love between the two sisters, rather than a romantic relationship ― a twist on the savior plot that critics and parents found refreshing.
Like Merida, the title character of “Moana” is a 16-year-old girl with no romantic love interest. Disney also made efforts to give Moana a more realistic body and hired an actual teenager to voice her.
In one clip, the princesses are shown lounging in pajamas at a slumber party, which is arguably a more appropriate teen activity than, say, getting married.