DISNEY PRINCESSESOriginal Medium: Theatrical animation
Produced by: Disney
First Appeared: 2000
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Princesses have been part of the Disney pantheon of merchandisable characters almost since the beginning. Not quite the beginning the Alice Comedies weren't about one, and if Oswald or Mickey ever met one, she's never been exploited by the marketing department. But Snow White was one, and there have been
lots more since then. Sleeping Beauty, Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid
all princesses. But the Princesses weren't marketed together until 2000.
The idea of a princess-specific franchise came from an observation that at a "Disney on Ice" show, many little girls dressed as generic princesses, of the sort that doesn't generate a penny in royalties for Disney. Clearly, a market existed for princess-related items, and the Disney company, with so many princesses to exploit, could benefit from tapping into it by marketing its many princesses specifically as members of that segment of fantasy society.
Some of the Princesses, such as Cinderella and Belle (from Beauty & the Beast) are merely princesses-in-law, having achieved princesshood by marrying, instead of being born, into it. In fact, Mulan, marketed as a Disney Princess since the franchise's early days, didn't have any royal family connections at all. Disney spokespeople say what matters is whether or not the character fits the "mythology" they're trying to convey with the princess theme.
Because she was deemed not to fit the mythology, whatever that is, Eilonwy, the authentic royal daughter from The Black Cauldron, has never been part of the franchise. Giselle, from Disney's 2007 animated/live action feature Enchanted, was rejected because including her would require Disney to pay actress Amy Adams, who played Giselle, for the use of her face.
Tinker Bell, introduced in Peter Pan and more recently the star of her own feature, was considered for inclusion, despite the fact that creator J.M. Barrie characterized her as a decidedly non-royal working-class fairy, employed by the other fairies to mend their pots and pans. Instead, she was later spun off into another franchise, The Disney Fairies, where she's the only star-quality player.
Racial diversity was present since the beginning, Jasmine representing the western part of Asia, Mulan the eastern, and Pocahontas Native Americans. The group got its first black member in 2009 with the addition of Tiana, heroine of The Princess & the Frog. If it counts as a demographic, even funny animals are sort of represented. Minnie Mouse, who played "Princess Minnie" when Mickey, Donald and Goofy were cast as The Three Musketeers in 2004, was included with them at least once. Others who have appeared at least once with the Princesses include Alice, Megara (from Hercules), Nala (from The Lion King), Maid Marian (from Robin Hood) and Jane (from Tarzan).
Aside from costumes, The Disney Princesses are used to market toys, clothing, books and all the other products popular cartoon franchises are used to market. They've sung songs, made stage shows, greeted fans at Disney theme parks, and done any number of other things that the Disney organization uses to promote its franchises. This is a healthy one, giving every sign of being ready to continue indefinitely.