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The Disney Princess Debate

Getty Images / Toronto Star / Dick Loek

Walt Disney introduced us to Snow White in 1937 – and we've been debating the merits of Disney princesses ever since.

Now that many of my friends are having kids – and those kids are starting to hit the age when pop culture targets them – I hear more about Disney princesses than I ever thought I would as an adult. The opinions are sometimes fierce, and they're pretty evenly divided between parents who delight in buying frilly pink dresses and throwing princess birthday parties for their daughters, and those who dread the day their daughters will ask for a plastic tiara.

I can see both sides in the Disney princess debate. On the one hand, "dress pretty and wait for your prince to come" is no longer considered good advice for our daughters. On the other, sometimes it really is fun to put on a pink dress and a plastic tiara and command your subjects (usually the dog and the cat). And I think there's a happy medium that can be reached, allowing us to encourage the joy of pretending without teaching little girls that being slim and beautiful are the most important aspirations.

The Walt Disney Company has made strides with their more recent movies to portray their princesses as strong women who don't need to be rescued by princes. Mulan is a fighter who saves her family, and Rapunzel finds her inner strength as she goes forth into the world to live her dream.

In celebration of Walt Disney on his birthday, we're taking a look at how the great showman's princesses have evolved over the years.

Disney's very first princess, 1937's Snow White, relied on men to help – and lots of them. Eight, to be exact – one tall and seven, um, not-so-tall…

By the time "Beauty and the Beast" rolled around in 1991, we were glad to find in Belle a heroine who was smart and independent – and who wanted more for her life than marrying the town hottie.

In 1998, "Mulan" was a revelation. This tough girl proves herself strong and resourceful, able to equal and inspire the men she fights alongside.

Disney princesses since have all embodied Mulan’s tougher-than-she-looks persona. Tiana of "The Princess and the Frog" is an entrepreneur-in-the-making, a girl who works hard and overcomes many obstacles (from prejudice to alligators to voodoo) on her way to fulfilling her dreams. In the end, unlike in most other Disney princess films, it is the girl frog herself – not prince, accident, or fate – who vanquishes the villain.

And though she's had a more sheltered upbringing than Tiana, Rapunzel of "Tangled" is able to face her fears, stand up to her controlling (and decidedly evil) mother – and, ultimately, save the boy.

Perhaps the next generation of Disney princesses will draw more on the influence of tough (but stylish, of course) pop-culture heroines like Buffy, Xena, Veronica Mars and others, showing us princesses who kick a little butt while sporting the latest in tiara fashion. We’re not sure how Walt Disney himself would feel about these strong, self-assured princesses, but his powerful legacy ensures that we can look forward to more Disney royalty down the road.