This list details the best of the animated classics featuring cultural and racial diversity – subjective and in no particular order. Also included are favorite movie quotes, songs, and notes on whether the main voice actors are accurate to the film.
This Pacific Island princess declares to god Maui:
I am Moana of Motunui. You will board my boat, sail across the sea, and restore the heart of Te Fiti.
Maui laughs in her face, deceives her multiple times, and throws her off the boat, with song and dance to boot. Despite this, Moana maintains her identity and ambition. Eventually, she learns that basing one’s ambition on another person, or demi-god, is not the best idea and that having a backup plan is wise. Her backup plan then turns into her main plan - i.e. trusting herself! Fantastic girl power, and excellent self-determination. Moana (2016) doesn't mess around!
Voice actors – Pacific Islanders. Great representation. Auli'i Cravalho (Moana), Dwayne Johnson (Maui)
Best Songs – "How Far I’ll Go," "You’re Welcome"
Based on the Chinese legend of Fa Mulan dating back for millennia (over 2000 years), Disney's Mulan (1998) presents a fun-spirited and powerful story that brings honor to us all – and to the original legend. Mulan breaks the rules in order to save her father and ultimately the entirety of China as well. Mulan even makes a romantic connection with a man - as a man! Luckily, Shang still has feelings for Mulan as a woman too. Yay for being open-minded, Disney!
The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.
Voice Actors – Chinese, Black, and White. Interesting diversity, but it works! Ming-Na Wen (Mulan), Eddie Murphy (Mushu)
Best Songs – "Reflection," "I’ll Make a Man Out of You"
Why is this considered cultural representation? Belle, the Beast’s human form, and all the rest are white! Although overrepresented in Disney movies, Caucasian people are still part of diversity! That’s why there’s just one white princess on this list - Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991). Nevertheless, Belle beautifully demonstrates that intelligence, curiosity, and kindness are characteristics that fit a princess properly.
I want adventure in the great wide somewhere! I want it more than I can tell!
Voice actors – White, which is accurate here! Paige O’Hara (Belle), Robby Benson (Beast)
Best Songs – "Beauty and the Beast," "Be Our Guest"
Ah, one of the few Disney prince movies: Aladdin (1992)! This charismatic prince of thieves steals our hearts, along with Jasmine’s and the Genie’s. Arabic, Middle Eastern, this Disney movie is ultimately just plain fun throughout! Bravery and agility do come in handy for a prince!
Jasmine, I Do Love You, But I've Got To Stop Pretending To Be Something I’m Not.
Voice Actors: White… why? Scott Weinger (Aladdin), Linda Larkin (Jasmine), Robin Williams (Genie)
Best songs: "A Whole New World," "Prince Ali"
This film is controversial to some due to the actual history of Pocahontas. However, the main character of Disney's Pocahontas (1995) is fantastic representation for women. Pocahontas exemplifies adventure and respect for nature in this Disney princess movie.
But I know every rock and tree and creature has a life, has a spirit, has a name.
Voice Actors: Native American, yay! And White for John Smith, fair. Irene Bedard (Pocahontas), Mel Gibson (John Smith)
Best Songs: "Just Around the Riverbend," "Colors of the Wind"
This is the first Disney film featuring a Black princess – Tiana in Princess and the Frog (2009). This film doesn’t get enough credit. Tiana is hard-working, ambitious, and awesome! Too bad she's portrayed as a frog for most of the movie instead of her beautiful human animated self. She learns that professional ambition and love are not mutually exclusive, and always aspires to do the right thing.
It serves me right for wishing on stars. The only way to get what you want in this world is through hard work.
Voice Actors: Black and Latino for the leads! Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Bruno Campos (Prince Naveen)
Best Songs: "Almost There," "Dig a Little Deeper"
Raya, the princess whose misplaced trust leads to the demise of her kingdom and calcification of her father, and consequently whose learned trust then goes on to save both kingdom and father. Raya and the Last Dragon (2021) gives hope during a troubled era. Alas, no music! Is this what happens during the pandemic? Regardless, the themes of trust and empathy are definitely fitting for a Disney princess! We're happy that this film was created, as it's one of the best Disney movies for diversity.
Yeah, well, the world’s broken. You can’t trust anyone. -Raya
Or maybe it’s broken, because you don’t trust anyone. -Sisu
Voice Actors: Asian – that part is accurate! Kelly Marie Tran (Raya), Awkwafina (Sisu the dragon)
No songs? Lame, Disney - come on!
Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001) is one of Disney's most beloved flops. While the film performed poorly at the box office, many Disney fans adore Atlantis, due in no small part to its excellent representation for Indigenous and Latina women. Disney's take on the fictional civilization of Atlantis draws heavily from Indigenous South American cultures, and the Atlantean princess Kida is voiced by a member of the Cree First Nation. Audrey, a Latina mechanic, is another fan-favorite character who expands Disney's (often narrow) vision of womanhood. Even Milo, the film's white male protagonist, can be seen as positive representation because his heroism is grounded in curiosity, intellect, and compassion rather than physical strength or bravado. Atlantis shows that there's more than one way to be a woman, a man, and a hero.
So, I guess this is how it ends, huh? You're wiping out an entire civilization, but, hey, you'll be rich!
Voice Actors: White, Indigenous, and Latina, which matches the characters' backgrounds. Michael J. Fox (Milo), Cree Summer Francks (Kida), and Jaqueline Obradors (Audrey).
Another non-musical film, but the score is excellent.
We're excited for Mirabel in Encanto coming up in November 2021!
There can always be criticism on films, but I do believe these Disney movies have their hearts in the right place, and really do bring the magic! We hope you enjoyed our take on the best Disney movies with diversity - the animated ones!