But whatever else they do right, one thing Disney's princess line-up could use some work on is diversity. Making use of the full existing line-up of princesses in merchandise would be a good start (and hopefully someday it will no longer be the case that 95% of all Disney toys and dolls are Elsa and Anna-themed) (and hopefully someday soon after that I'll finally get "Let It Go" out of my head). But I'd really like to see some fresh stories that aren't just rehashes of the same blonde princess's fairy tale. Here are a few ideas, just in case Disney is paying attention.
1. A spy princess.
Noor Inayat Khan, a World War II spy, was also an actual kinda-sorta princess - the descendant of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the 17th-century Kingdom of Mysore in southern India. Noor helped to raise her siblings when her mother fell apart after the death of Noor's father. After fleeing France just ahead of the Nazi invasion, she decided to reject her family's doctrine of pacifism in order to join England's Special Operations Executive and fight the Nazis - and defiance of parental authority is an essential Disney princess ingredient, of course. Now, yes, Nazis are kind of a heavy villain for a Disney movie, and preferably we would skip the sad ending where she dies in captivity - but an actual historical spy princess is clearly to good to pass up. Besides, if Disney can re-write history enough to make Pocahontas a twenty-something who speaks English and has a pet raccoon, sure they can re-write history to give Noor Inayat Khan a happy movie ending.
2. A pirate princess.
Want something cooler than pirates? I give you a lady pirate. I give you a Chinese princess lady pirate. The title 'princess' is something of a technicality - Ching Shih's husband, the leader of a pirate fleet, had been granted an honorary title equivalent to 'prince'. So after his death, Ching Shih did what any widowed honorary princess would do: took command of the fleet and ruled the seas with an iron fist, outsmarting the Chinese government at every turn. She even has a hot young pirate guy named Chang Pao for a love interest, to add more fuel the to Disney-movie fire; and ended her career by retiring with her enormous pirate fortune and her hot new husband. Our heroine!
3. A queer princess.
Picture this: our heroine, a bisexual opera singer in 17th century France, infiltrates the convent where her girlfriend has been imprisoned - then lights the place on fire to cover their escape. Julie d'Aubigny, who learned swordsmanship from her man-at-arms father, lived a wild life of adventure and debauchery that makes the titular characters of Lilo and Stitch look like schoolmarms in comparison. Disney can probably leave out the more R-rated shenanigans, but still: the cross-dressing adventures of Mulan, the lust for life of Rapunzel ... I know it's probably going to be a long, long time before Disney gives us a gay or bisexual princess, but a mom can dream, can't she?
4. A princess who doesn't end up happily married.
Kassia's story is actually one of her decidedly not becoming a princess. One of the most famous hymn-creators of the Byzantine Empire, her songs are still performed today - but she might be most famous for wittily snubbing Emperor Theophilus when he was trying to get friendly. She stood up to the emperor later in life, too, when he tried to control how her sect practiced religion, too, refusing to back down and stating, "I hate silence when it is time to speak." Think of her as Merida, but with less unkempt hair and a better singing voice, with a little Robin Hood-style "suck it, royalty" thrown in for good measure. Note to Disney animators: if you make a Greek/Turkish woman from the 800s blonde, I will scream.
5. A cross-dressing princess.
Know what would have spiced up Road to El Dorado? Cross-dressing. (Before I get ravaged in the comments, yes, I am aware that is not a Disney film. Deal with it.) But check out Catalina de Erauso, a conquistador (conquistadora) who lived as a man so effectively that even her brother, who served alongside her, didn't recognize her. Maybe she can be fitted up with a plot that doesn't involve her fighting on the wrong side in a native people's fight for independence? That would be ideal.
These five real-life badasses are at least as deserving of on-screen Disney beatification as someone who's famous for sleeping next to a fireplace and going to a fancy party. Come on, Disney, can't we break the mold a little more? I'm looking forward to the promise of Moana, but still, there's a literal whole new world of stories out there worth exploring.
And while we're at it, maybe some of those classic fairy tales could get re-told with, say, a non-white character in the lead role? I love Princess and the Frog, but you know what would be even cooler? A magical fantasy setting where the princess is black, or Latina, or Chinese. You can't set up a world that says dragons, magic, and monsters are realistic and then claim that people of color are somehow not.