Treva is a pop culture fan who has been writing about the entertainment world for over a decade.
Disney has been on a live-action kick in recent years, and some of its more well-received attempts at bringing its animated movies to life have been its films centered on princesses. Fans of the House of Mouse have already watched a fairy godmother transform Downton Abbey star Lily James into Cinderella, and they’ve seen Harry Potter actress Emma Watson trade her wand for a talking teacup to play Belle in Beauty and the Beast. The next princess to get a live-action makeover will be The Little Mermaid character Ariel, who will be played by Halle Bailey.
Since princess movies are working so much magic at the box office, perhaps it's time for other production companies to challenge the Magic Kingdom. While Disney might reign supreme in the world of animated princess movies, a few feisty fairy tale rulers have created their own colorful realms, earning the support of a group of small but loyal subjects.
Some of these animated movies are just begging for a big production company to purchase the rights to them so that they can be turned into live-action movies. Nostalgia might make some of them seem better than they actually are, so they could actually benefit from being redone as more realistic movies. Here's a look at the non-Disney princesses who deserve their own happy endings as flesh-and-blood fairy tale heroines.
Princess Melisande from 'Flight of Dragons'
Dragons play an important role in this 1982 animated movie, so perhaps its live-action reboot would be the perfect family film for Game of Thrones fans who miss seeing Daenerys’s majestic children take flight on the HBO fantasy show (at least viewers wouldn’t have to fret over how a live-action version of this movie will end).
There’s also time travel, various beasties, and a plot that’s a little like Disney’s Enchanted in reverse: A modern man from our world is transported to a fairy tale land by wizards. These powerful sorcerers are trying to save their way of life from being destroyed as their society begins to embrace science over magic. Oddly enough, the man who just might be their savior is a man of science, and he just so happens to share his name with the author who wrote the book on which the movie is based.
Princess Melisande doesn’t have much to do in this movie, other than being a love interest and a sleeping damsel in distress for the boring science guy to wake up with a kiss. However, she could be given a more important role in a live-action remake. It would also be pretty awesome if her love interest were another woman. By turning the hero into an intelligent female scientist, it would become so much more than some male geek’s sad fantasy.
This movie was produced by Rankin and Bass, the same duo behind the beloved animated classic The Last Unicorn. I also would have liked to include that movie on this list, but, while the Unicorn does fall in love with a prince, she never becomes a princess by marrying him.
Princess Odette of 'The Swan Princess'
It's surprising that Disney never did its own version of Swan Lake, but this movie with a cult following does a decent job of bringing the story to life. I guess there are a lot worse things that a princess could be turned into than a lovely swan, but it would be pretty annoying to get stuck in a dirty lake. Also, Odette's Prince Charming tries to kill her while she's in feathered form.
This 1994 animated movie was directed by former Disney animator Richard Rich, which explains why it almost looks like it’s a part of the same fairy tale world inhabited by Ariel and Cinderella. It even has a Disney-esque creative twist that temporarily keeps Princess Odette from her true love (think Ursula becoming human and trying to marry the little mermaid’s prince in her stead). Basically, Odette is cursed to turn into a swan during the day, and she can only become human on moonlit nights. To break the curse, she either has to win the love of Prince Derek or marry the evil Rothbart, a practitioner of the forbidden dark arts. Using the magic of true love to break an evil spell might seem like a tired trope, but why mess with what works?
Unfortunately, a live-action remake of this movie might prove difficult, thanks to the talking swan scenes in the original. The Lion King remake is failing to wow critics with its photo-realistic talking animal scenes, so other filmmakers might be hesitant to spend a lot of time and money animating a swan that can speak. Still, I think a live-action version of this movie could be done with a little creativity.
Swan Princess fans may never get to see one of their favorite actresses cast as Odette, but at least they can soon watch her head off on yet another animated adventure (shockingly, there have already been over half a dozen Swan Princess sequels). A computer-animated sequel, The Swan Princess: Kingdom of Music, will be released on DVD on August 6.
Anastasia of 'Anastasia'
This 1997 animated movie takes a true story and completely turns it into a fairy tale. It was created by another Disney defector, Don Bluth, and it just might be the most beloved of all the non-Disney princess movies. Who cares if it's historically accurate or not?
Anastasia is a beautifully animated film with a great bad guy in the evil Rasputin, a baddie based on a real man. However, this Rasputin possesses supernatural dark powers in the movie. I love that Anastasia's love interest is a crafty con-man, not a simpering, spoiled prince. Yes, it's true that the amnesic heroine actually becomes a duchess, but she deserves a spot on this list because she still ends up being some form of royalty.
There's actually been some argument that Anastasia should be considered a Disney princess now that Walt Disney has acquired 21st Century Fox. However, Polygon disagrees, noting that she probably won't ever be added to the lineup of official Disney princesses because of the entertainment conglomerate's pickiness when it comes to which characters are allowed to join the merchandise franchise.
Princess Daria of 'The Princess and the Pea'
This obscure 2002 movie might not be one of the best on this list, but I’ve got to give its writers credit for taking a very basic, brief fairy tale and padding it out like a stack of 20 mattresses. There’s actually a lot going on here, with a switched-at-birth storyline, a tapestry mystery that a raven detective is obsessed with solving, a pea prophecy, and a peasant princess whose closest pals are pigs.
The storyline would have to be greatly improved if this were remade as a live-action movie, but some moments from the original deserve to stay. The scene where Daria dances around in a gown of fluttering moths is pretty magical, and it’s fun that the “princess singing to animals” trope gets a dark twist when Daria’s critter conversations get her denounced as an evil witch by a horde of bloodthirsty villagers. I'd also like to see more of the prankster princess who turns Prince Rollo off by acting like a royal Harley Quinn.
Fairy Princess Thumbelina of 'Thumbelina'
Honey, I shrunk the princess! This is another fairy tale that Don Bluth beat Disney to. Thumbelina just might be the most adorable of the non-Disney princesses on this list, with her upturned nose and a head of hair that would make Rapunzel jealous. There's always fun to be had in movies where humans are tiny and living in a gigantic world, and Smurf-sized Thumbelina has her fair share of super-sized adventures in the forest outside the safety of her home: singing for a toad, riding a bumblebee with a fairy prince, and almost marrying a mole!
Thumbelina might not be a princess at the beginning of this 1994 movie, but a fairy prince eventually makes sure that he and the mysterious miniature maiden get their fairy tale wedding. Sure their insta-love isn't ideal, but who can blame Thumbelina for falling for the only other tiny human being she's ever seen?
Fairy tale fans would enjoying seeing Thumbelina’s lush forest world brought to life with its giant lily pad boats and fast-flying bee-mobiles, and I'd love to see which female celebrity would get cast as Charo's buxom frog character. The mole wedding on a giant sword is another scene that would be awesome to see in CGI, as is the scene where she and Prince Cornelius hitch a ride on a swan (there's potential for a Swan Princess crossover there).
While Disney has Peter Pan's popular pixie pal Tinkerbell, it can’t boast having an actual fairy princess, so whoever produces the live-action version of this animated movie would be offering delighted fairy tale fans something that they can’t find in the Magic Kingdom.
Princess Kaguya of 'The Tale of the Princess Kaguya'
This 2013 Japanese movie produced by Studio Ghibli is one of the best on this list. Its gorgeous, ethereal animation does an incredible job of making it look like a fairy tale book in motion. It’s based on a popular Japanese folk tale, and it features a story that isn’t as formulaic as some of the others on this list.
For one thing, the way Princess Kaguya becomes royalty isn’t by being born into a royal family or marrying a prince. Her adoptive parents are simple country folk who discover her inside a bamboo shoot. However, while she’s a Thumbelina-sized nymph at the strange start of her life, Kaguya quickly grows into a full-sized girl. Her parents think that she’s a divine princess, so they do everything they can to make her life resemble that of a mortal royal, including moving her to a mansion in the capital. Unfortunately, Kaguya doesn’t enjoy being a pampered princess, and she misses the simple village life and the friends she was forced to leave behind.
Kaguya attempts to avoid marriage by doling out impossible quests to potential suitors, a fairy tale trope that might be familiar to those who enjoy the Brothers Grimm. However, there’s a big twist in this tale when Kaguya’s true origin is revealed.
The watercolor-like animation of this movie is part of its magic, but I think a live-action remake could be just as beautiful. It would also be awesome to see a live-action Japanese princess, which is something that Disney probably won’t be introducing its fans to anytime soon.
Princess Camille of 'Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland'
A live-action version of this 1989 animated movie would have an "in" with modern-day kids, thanks to its titular character sharing his name with the fish in Finding Nemo.
Nemo's playmate Camille is a slightly pompous princess that the young boy meets during his visit to the magical world of Slumberland. She's a younger royal, so little girls might have an easier time relating to her than they do to Ariel, Belle, or any of Disney's other official princesses. When a grave mistake that Nemo makes threatens Camille's surreal world, the two team up with an eclectic group of colorful characters to save the princess's father, King Morpheus, from the terrifying Nightmare King.
This movie isn't that memorable or exciting, but there's plenty of room for improvement. After all, it takes place in a dream world where anything is possible.
Princess Irene of 'The Princess and the Goblin'
The premise of this 1991 movie is pretty simple: A princess and a peasant boy team up to save their kingdom from a bunch of evil, sun-shunning goblins. One of these hideous beasts, Prince Froglip, devises a plot to conquer the human world by marrying Princess Irene.
Sure, a production company could terrify children by making realistic goblins that look disgusting and creepy, but why not go the Labyrinth route instead? Unfortunately, it would be pointless to cast a musician like David Bowie as the Goblin King (or the goblin prince, in this case) since his kind really, really hate music. However, since the sound of song is the goblins' weakness, this means viewers would get to enjoy plenty of great musical moments between Princess Irene and Curdie.
Princess Yum-Yum of 'The Thief and the Cobbler'
What actress wouldn't want to play a royal named Princess Yum-Yum? However, the lucky lady cast as the royal with amazing eyelashes might age out of the role if the production of a live-action version of this 1993 film takes as long as the animated original did. The Thief and the Cobbler has achieved mythical status among animation fans for being stuck in production hell for three decades. Unfortunately, the final result wasn't exactly worth the wait, but the movie's unique animation style is certainly worthy of praise.
A live-action version of this movie would likely be compared to Disney's Aladdin if it played it too straight, so perhaps it would be better as a comedy; think Arabian Nights meets The Princess Bride. It tells the tale of a thief who goes after the wrong treasure and a princess and cobbler who try to save their prosperous kingdom from destruction.
What I like about the love story here is that Princess Yum-Yum falls for the lowly cobbler early on, and he never tries to win her over with lies (I'm looking at you, "Prince Ali"). It's awesome that she saves him with a shoe, and Tack the cobbler proves to be just the man for the job when the silly solution to saving the kingdom from an attack is revealed.
Princess Mononoke of 'Princess Mononoke'
This is definitely the best movie on this list. I know a lot of Hayao Miyazaki fans are firmly against having any of the filmmaker's beloved animated classics adapted as live-action films. However, I think this movie's powerful environmental message is one that's important for a modern-day audience to see. The more future generations worry about our planet's health, the better.
It could also be argued that the titular character of Princess Mononoke is already a Disney princess of sorts since the Walt Disney Company owned the rights to distribute Studio Ghibli movies in America when it was released, but I can't imagine Disney ever adding murderous San (Princess Mononoke's real name) to its princess franchise. The warrior princess is too awesome to hang out with the ballgown brigade; she rides wolves and rocks red war paint that looks like blood smeared on her face. And instead of fancy jewelry, a necklace of teeth adorns heI neck. San also owns an awesome mask that makes her look even more fearsome.
In Princess Mononoke, a prince is searching for a cure for a curse when he meets a girl raised by divine wolves. She aids him in his quest as they both try to save her forest home. The Princess of the Wolf Gods begins to embrace her humanity as she falls in love with Prince Ashitaka, but she ultimately refuses to leave her forest home to spend her life with him because she hates humans and what their embrace of industry has done to her world. It's an atypical fairy tale ending, but it's perfect for his magical movie full of fantastical creatures and fleshed-out, multidimensional characters.
The history of this movie is also interesting. San's story originally resembled that of a Disney princess: She was a princess who was married off to a monster, so it had a bit of a Beauty and the Beast vibe.
So which of these non-Disney princess are your favorites, and do you think any of them deserve live-action remakes of their fairy tale movies? Share your thoughts in the comments below.