Fairytales and romances more or less go hand in hand. Regardless of whether there are princesses and princes involved, it's hard to find a fairytale that's been made into a Disney animated film that doesn't involve a central couple. Even more recent Disney films, which haven't been derived from fairytales and traditional stories, have central couples driving the majority of their action.
Most of Disney's animated films are coming of age stories, featuring teenagers and young adults who are longing for something more than the life that they've already known. One of the inevitable parts of these stories features characters falling in love, often despite obstacles that stand in their way. In some cases, our protagonists fall in love with the wrong people. In other cases, our protagonists find themselves the object of unwanted affection.
But in most cases, Disney has dedicated itself to telling stories of true, real love - romances that deserve their happily ever afters, no matter what difficulties come their way.
True love in grand sweeping narratives and fairytales is often conflated with loving someone so much, you would risk anything for them - even your own life. One of the clearest examples of this common trope can be found in the relationship between the endlessly hopeful Princess Rapunzel and the always cynical Flynn Ryder (also known as Eugene Fitzherbert). When Flynn and Rapunzel embark on their adventure together in Tangled, it's instantly clear that these two are cut from completely different cloths.
But by the final act of the film, it's also clear that these two were made for each other - perfectly complementing one another in each and every way. So when Flynn heroically sacrifices himself to save Rapunzel, we're already crying. And by the time they both admit that they were each other's new dreams, we're basically bawling. In the end, these two get their well deserved happily ever after, and our tear ducts get a welcome reprieve from all the feels.
To be fair, there really isn't anything wrong, per se, with the relationship between Snow White and her Prince Charming. After all, it was this very relationship that set the precedent for every Disney princess and prince couple to follow. But it's hard to ignore the fact that, in terms of an actual relationship worth caring about, there really isn't very much there for these two. Snow White, all of 14 years old in the film we might add, engages in a duet at the wishing well with her mysterious prince.
And beyond that, almost nothing happens until Prince Charming kisses her awake from her sleeping curse at the film's end. It's not even that these two are necessarily boring. It's just that... there isn't really anything to this relationship, and certainly nothing of the "fairytale romance goals" variety. It's odd, then, that this relationship set the bar for all the relationships to come - when each and every one of them has so far surpassed it.
Sometimes, the best Disney romances of them all don't involve a princess or a prince at all. One of the most moving love stories Disney has ever told is the romance that blossoms between Tarzan and Jane Porter in 1999's Tarzan. Tarzan, raised by gorillas in the depth of the African jungle, and Jane, the wealthy and privileged aristocratic daughter of a British professor, couldn't have been more different from one another.
But in their efforts to learn more about each other - reflected in the film's stellar soundtrack with the song "Strangers Like Me" by Phil Collins - they come to realize just how much they have in common, when it comes to what really matters: who they are inside, and what their hearts look like. Tarzan and Jane have one of the purest romances developed in all of Disney canon, despite the harsh and often brutal obstacles that are thrown their way courtesy of the violent Clayton. But in the end, Tarzan and Jane bring together their "two worlds," becoming "one family."
In many ways, Princess and the Frog is a wonderful film, featuring a truly inspiring, independent, strong Disney princess the likes of which the Disney canon hadn't seen before. But in many other ways, the film is a colossal disappointment. Look no further than the film's choice of a prince - the arrogant, selfish, odious Prince Naveen of Maldonia - and you'll find many of its core problems.
It's bad enough that Disney decided to saddle poor Tiana with a narrative that required her, and her supposed prince, being frogs for the majority of the action. But to pair such a fiercely independent and inspirational character, with someone as totally backward and self-centered as Naveen feels like the lowest of all blows they could have managed. Naveen does improve, if barely, by the end of the film - but it's too little, too late.
The Toy Story franchise basically exists to make us cry hysterically over children's toys and make us feel either guilty about how we treated our own, or nostalgic for the days when we had toys to play with. But something that most people probably didn't expect, going into those films, was to fall head over heels in love with the love story between a nervous sheriff and a kind-hearted shepherdess. But that's exactly what we did.
The romance between Sheriff Woody and Bo Peep is an understated part of the first two films of the franchise, but it's always there. Bo is always ready to support Woody when he's at his lowest, and her three little sheep adore him, too. So when it's revealed in Toy Story 3 that Bo has been lost, and Woody sadly reflects on that fact, it's a total punch to the gut. But thankfully, Toy Story 4 is going to give these two the focus they have always deserved. Here's to hoping that their reunion will have the long-awaited happy ending it deserves.
There's no remote way to make this relationship at all palatable. Even calling it a relationship makes our skin crawl. From the very beginning of Aladdin, it's clear that the much older, credibly creepy Jafar has his sights set on Jasmine - presumably so that he will have access to the throne, in the Sultan's inevitable absence. But the film takes the creep factor to a whole other level when, late in the game, Jasmine feigns interest in Jafar and is forced to act as his slave, all while donning a genie-esque outfit.
Disney movies contain a lot of creepy things - don't even get us started on The Hunchback of Notre Dame in its entirety - but the disturbing back and forth between a clearly violated Jasmine and an overly powerful Jafar is by far one of the worst storytelling choices that a Disney movie has ever made.
Boy meets girl. Girl meets boy. Boy and girl fall head over heels for each other, but can't be together due to differences in their station that they're both initially unaware of. It's a sort of common narrative, found in plenty of classic novels and romance novels alike. But Disney's Aladdin takes this basic narrative conceit and runs with it, bringing to glorious life the romance of Princess Jasmine of Agrabah and Aladdin, or Prince Ali.
Sure, much of their courtship may amount to some form of catfishing when you think about it. But at the end of the day, Aladdin and Jasmine's relationship always goes above and beyond their societally defined roles. They were meaningfully connected from the first moment they met on the streets of Agrabah, and not once did their status as royal or commoner matter when it came to falling in love with each other. No amount of Genie's magic could make that happen, after all.
Far and away the worst romantic relationship in any film in Disney canon - and not only for the total shock eleventh hour reveal of betrayal that came with it - is the coupling of Princess Anna of Arendelle and Prince Hans of the Southern Isles in Frozen. To be fair, the duo does have quite the catchy duet on "Love Is An Open Door," complete with finishing each other's sentences and/or sandwiches. But at the heart of this relationship stands everything that is antithetical to what Disney movies are all about: deception.
Prince Hans is one of Disney's meanest villains, purely for his Machiavellian power plays of trying to win over the entire kingdom of Arendelle through the seduction of the younger, vulnerable Anna and the destruction of the now publicly feared Queen Elsa. Subsequent viewings of Frozen - while still as enjoyable as the first time around - are always going to feel different, and more upsetting, once his deception has been made known.
If there's anything we've learned from Disney's many, many love stories, it's that people will go to crazy lengths in the name of finding love. Take, for example, all that Ariel is willing to give up just for the chance of finding love with Eric in The Little Mermaid: her voice, which is the only feature that Eric would be able to recognize her by after she saved him and sang to him, and her life underwater. It's a big decision for a girl that young to make, and maybe, to some viewers, a price too steep for any independent young princess to make.
But at the end of the day, Ariel is unafraid of going after what she wants in life, and is unwilling to settle for anything less than what she deserves. She and Eric fall in love with one another, despite and because of all that she has given up. When Ariel is given her voice back in the end, it only further reaffirms their connection and devotion to one another, when Eric learns the truth. Love at first sight may be hard for our modern day audience to believe in, but in the world of Disney, these two make that as real as it gets.
Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and the Beast. Could any other Disney couple really have topped this list? It's the love story that defined a generation of moviegoers, regardless of their age group. Beauty and the Beast love story all about opposites attracting, and a strong-willed heroine who bucks the conventions of the passive princess of the past, and a damaged, selfish man who learns to become a better man in order to deserve the love of the woman he loves.
Sure, there's some icky claims to be made about the bestiality aspect of it, and even some debates about whether their relationship constitutes Stockholm Syndrome. But beyond all of that, the relationship between Belle and Prince Adam is one that defies definition. It's a love story about two people learning to be better because of one another. Isn't that what love is all about?