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Why Don’t Official Disney Princesses Get Theatrical Sequels?

Anna and Elsa Frozen poster

To say 2013’s Frozen was a success would be an understatement. It made over $1 billion at the box office and was the highest-grossing film of 2013, besting movies from juggernaut franchises like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Hunger Games, and Fast & Furious—not to mention the fact that it took home two Academy Awards, as well as a handful of other prestigious accolades, and the song that got stuck in everyone’s heads for about three whole years. So, it’s not at all surprising that a film like this is getting a follow-up.

Frozen’s sequel is due to be released on November 27, 2019, but it’s already generating buzz around notable cast additions of Evan Rachel Wood and Sterling K. Brown (yes, please and yes, please) and speculation as to whether Elsa will, in fact, have a girlfriend in the film (super yes, please). However, can we talk about the fact that this will be Disney’s first “princess” sequel to get a theatrical release?

Disney princess films have a history of successful box office runs, with many citing 1950’s Cinderella as the film that saved Disney from financial ruin. And for such success, the princess with the glass slipper was given two sequels—direct-to-video sequels, that is. Likewise, The Little Mermaid’s Ariel was seen again in two films that were direct-to-video. Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin and Pocahontas and Mulan? All direct-to-video! Disney princesses, it seems, are often getting sequels, but they don’t make it to theaters for some reason.

Audience members have seen some of the princesses on the big screen again in the form of live-action remakes. Particularly, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast received the live-action treatment, and by that I mean practically shot-by-shot remakes of the animated films themselves—just, you know, with real people. Meanwhile, the Sleeping Beauty live-action film focused on Maleficent rather than Aurora, which, at the very least, brought a new dimension to the franchise.

It’s noteworthy that all theatrically released princess films focus on the period of time in which the princesses are courted in some way. At the end of their films, they almost always run off into the sunset with their version of prince charming. This narrative decision—to only give theatrical releases to princess films in which they are the youthful objects of affection and courtship, while the married years get direct-to-video releases—reinforces the idea that marriage is stale and uninteresting by implying that it isn’t worth seeing in theaters.

Of course, Disney isn’t the only one producing content with this message. In fact, the portrayal of marriage as something that is dull and suffocating has been such a long-standing notion that Beyoncé has received praise for her music after marrying Jay-Z, in that it makes an argument for marriage being something sexy and fun. But even if these Disney princesses do have sexy and fun marriages, audiences are never shown that on the big screen. Instead, it seems, princesses are only big screen-worthy when there’s the potential of a first kiss or adorable hijinks. And if you think Frozen getting sequel is about to change this trend, think again, because here’s a shocker: Elsa and Anna aren’t Disney princesses—not officially.

So yes, Elsa and Anna are, in fact, not official Disney princess, because apparently there’s such a thing as “official Disney princesses.” Merida was crowned as the 11th Disney princess in a coronation ceremony (again, apparently this is a thing) in front of the Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom in 2013. Since then, no other princess has been inducted via coronation ceremony, so Anna and Elsa remain non-princesses, officially speaking.

The internet has proposed some very logical answers as to why the pair remain unofficial, like the fact that Elsa is actually a queen. Others have even offered up their ideas of what the requirements may be for being dubbed a Disney princess, including: the character must be human, must have a primary role in a Disney or Pixar film, must not be introduced in a sequel, must be born royal or marry into royalty or perform an act of heroism, and must have an animal companion. Many have pointed out that the last fact—the animal companion—is the one factor that keeps Elsa and Anna from being official Disney princesses, as Olaf isn’t an animal.

Of course, there’s also the fact that Disney seems to be distancing themselves from the princess narratives of their past. Frozen, in particular, was almost an indictment of their own princess narratives, like one big apology letter to fans. Likewise, the trailer for Ralph Breaks the Internet (the upcoming sequel to Wreck-It Ralph) features the princesses—official and unofficial—mocking some of the tropes of princess narratives.

Disney seems to now be course correcting, which is fantastic for a younger generation of girls who watch empowered female characters in the animated films. But there’s another way to course correct: revisit the official Disney princesses! Snow White has been waiting nearly a century for a return to the big screen in which she’s an older, self-assured version of herself with a sexy marriage, a thriving career, and an adorable rescue dog she named Apple as a nod to all she’s overcome.

With the way the company has been changing, it’s unlikely that Anna and Elsa will receive the royal treatment of becoming official Disney princesses, and that’s great as the company seems to be moving away from the princess narratives of their past and towards active, empowered, and independent female characters. But even with this forward progression, Disney’s habit of letting its princess characters disappear from the big screen once they’re married remains, and it may be time for Disney to reevaluate their portrayal of happy royal marriages—or, well, their complete lack thereof.

(image: Disney)

Veronica is a freelance writer. Her work appears on sites such as Bust, HelloGiggles, InStyle, xoJane and others. She firmly believes Sansa Stark deserves the Iron Throne, and she’s dealing with the fact that it probably won’t go that way. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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