Disney’s “Adorkable” Princess Problem Continues with ‘Wish’

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Asha from Disney's 'Wish' standing in front of a door

Credit: Disney

Disney’s animated films are often broken into “eras,” with most fans understanding exactly what you mean if you say “Disney’s Renaissance” or “Disney’s Classics.” While Disney certainly has more than just animated princess movies, there’s no arguing that their princess films are their most popular.

In Disney’s Classic era, we have Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. Disney’s Renaissance brought several female-led films and introduced new heroines like Mulan, Esmerelda, Ariel, Belle, Pocahontas, and Jasmine. After the 1991 release of Aladdin, Disney put more effort into their Pixar and male protagonist movies and audiences wouldn’t get another princess until Tiana was introduced in the Princess and the Frog in 2009.

Belle Reading a Book
Credit: Disney

Each of these heriones shared similar traits of kindness, independence, and passion, wanting a sense of adventure and more out of the life they had. However, they also each had defining and unique personality traits and character flaws. Belle was smart and a book nerd but headstrong and opinionated. Mulan was strong but self-conscious and shy. Ariel was curious but naive. Tiana was hard-working and dedicated but at the expense of herself and her relationships. See what I mean?

Sadly, Princess and the Frog would be Disney’s last fully-2D animated film and Tiana would be the last of the princesses from that “era.” Following the release of Princess and the Frog, Disney would release their first of many 3D animated films along with a new princess and the brand of heroine that they’re still copying to this day.

Tiana standing near her mother in Princess and the Frog
Credit: Disney

In 2010, Disney debuted Tangled and introduced millions of fans everywhere to Rapunzel, the long-haired, quirky, loveable long-lost princess. And thus started the Disney “adorkable” princess era.

Maximus the horse (left) getting hugged by Rapunzel (right) from Tangled
Credit: Disney

What does adorkable mean?

What am I talking about when I say “adorkable?” According to Merriam-Webster, adorkable means “socially awkward or quirky in a way that is endearing.” Literally, adorable dork. In the 2010s, adorkable was everything. People were drawing fake mustaches onto everything, chunky fake glasses were in style, and girls were trying to emulate Zooey Deschanel’s quirky character Jessica Day in the smash sitcom New Girl.

Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day from 'New Girl'
Credit: Fox

Typically, characters that are adorkable are klutzy and awkward but cute and funny. Whether a result of the social trend towards adorkability or an attempt on Disney’s part to make characters relatable to younger audiences, adorkable seemed to become the primary personality trait of the female protagonists after Rapunzel.

gramma tala moana
Credit: Disney

Which Disney princesses are adorkable?

Pretty much every heroine introduced after Rapunzel could be classified as a Disney adorkable princess. While these traits on Tangled’s herione were new and fresh at the time, the success of the film and the popularity of Rapunzel proved to Disney that there was a formula there.

Vanellope von Schweetz from Wreck-It Ralph looking cheeky in racecar
Credit: Disney

Vanellope von Schweetz from 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph leaned heavily into the “adorkable” qualities, even outright calling herself “adorable.” Although Vanellope is more of a charicature of this archetype, and she’s not technically an official Disney princess, the traits are still very obvious.

Sisters Anna and Elsa as people use Disney for parenting advice
Credit: Disney

Anna from 2013’s Frozen was very similar to Rapunzel in her characteristics and sense of humor. Both characters are clumsy, quick to trust, and have some awkward moments when interacting with others around them. From there, that personality seemed to become the standard for the next decade of Disney leading ladies.

Moana holds an oar.
Credit: Disney

With the release of Moana (2016), Disney continued to capitalize on the success of the previous handful of princesses. Although Moana had traits of some of the earlier heriones, including a stubbornness and mature strong desire to help her people, she also had traits shared with Rapunzel and Anna. She was awkward, chatty, and has an “in-your-face” type of humor.

Mirabel from 'Encanto' close up
Credit: Disney

2021 would see the release of Encanto and Raya and the Last Dragon and a continuation on the adorkable princess theme. Mirabel is obviously awkward, finding herself more comfortable with the kids of the Madrigal family than her own cousins. Encanto’s director, Jared Bush, literally calls her “imperfect, and weird, and quirky.”

Raya and the Last Dragon
Credit: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Raya’s personality is less obvious, partially due to her darker story and themes. She’s stronger, more mature, and slightly more hardened than her fellow “adorkable” princesses and the contrast between her and Sisu, the dragon she befriends along the way, shows her in a less obvious light. However, she still has obvious moments of #relatability and literally calls herself a “dragon nerd.”

Asha (Ariana Debose) with her friends in shock.
Credit: Disney

In the upcoming animated film, Wish, Asha continues this trend. The trailer showcases this by showing Asha running onto a stage, clearly out of breath, gasping out “I’m here! I’m here! Let me just…catch my breath. Whoo!” This type of bubbly, energetic, but dorky dialogue and energy is reminiscent of Rapunzel, Anna, Moana, Mirabel, and Raya.

Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) in Disney's 'Encanto'
Credit: Disney

Disney’s Troubled Adorkable Era

The adorkable personality is starting to become unpopular because it’s so obvious. While Rapunzel was cute and has been able to stand the test of time, each princess that’s been released after her has become more exhausting to fans because they all seem the same. Each of these princesses share a similar style of voice acting as well, making them sound younger, more innocent, and almost completely replaceable with each other.

After the release of the full trailer for Wish, fans have taken to social media to share their disappointment. Several creators have taken to TikTok to express their concern, with @gavillain asking, “I feel like I’ve seen that personality before…is this the only personality y’all know how to write anymore?”

Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy) looking into a mirror (L) and Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) (R)
Credit: Disney

He continues by saying they “feel like reskinned versions of Rapunzel. And while it’s a very good thing we’re getting characters who are more racially and ethnically diverse, the lack of diversity when it comes to personalities is starting to get very noticeable.”

He also puts clips from each princess back to back to showcase the similarities between each, citing the cadence, tone of voice, and “I’m so awkward” sense of humor that makes it obvious.

@gavillain

Replying to @Mhm…..No #greenscreen #wish #disneywish #wishtrailer #asha #princessasha #disney #rapunzel #princessanna #moana #disneyprincess

♬ original sound – Evan Villain

It’s starting to become glaringly obvious that Disney has a “copy-paste” formula for its heroines. Unfortunately, it’s also starting to date its princesses with their “millennial quirky” humor. While written with the intent of being relatable, it goes over the top and just makes them kind of annoying. With each princess having a similar personality and similar jokes, the lack of diversity is starting to make the Disney adorkable princess boring to the general audience.

While it can be argued that Disney movies are for kids, there’s no denying that Disney has a strong older base and these types of characters and jokes can get old, fast. With Disney already struggling since the pandemic, experiencing a series of disappointing releases compared to their pre-COVID numbers and successes, it might be time for Disney to reevaluate their princess model.

Asha being surrounded by butterflies and purple light in Wish
Credit: Disney

With Wish being Disney’s next major release, and the culmination project of its last 100 years in animation, hopes and expectations were high for its success. However, the trailer has been widely panned for its “half-rendered” appearance and clear example of yet another adorkable Disney princess. It’s entirely possible that the trailer isn’t a good representation of the full film and that Asha will become the next popular princess.

Either way, Disney’s adorkable problem is starting to become obvious, and boring. Hopefully, after over a decade of these princesses, the next phase of Disney will revolutionize this standard and a series of princesses that are more reminiscent of Disney’s Renaissance: strong, unique, and individual characters with their own distinct personalities and characteristics.

What do you think about Disney’s adorkable princesses? Is it becoming a problem or do you not mind? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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