Disney has long been a kind of factory for a special genre of princesses—leading animated ladies that sing and dance their way into children's hearts, often in the midst of dramatic adventures.
The release of last year's Frozen added two new faces to to Disney's princess catalog—Anna, the fearless young woman who embarks on a quest to save her kingdom from eternal winter, and sister Elsa, whose powers over ice and snow hold the key to the quest's success.
With Frozen having become a commanding box office hit and its recent DVD release experiencing similar success, we thought it was time to take a look at how Anna and Elsa are selling.
Rather than just track film sales, however, we decided to have some fun with the topic and to track the stars of Frozen from the audience's perspective. We therefore set out to measure how Disney's princesses—Anna and Elsa, yes, but also other familiar Disney ladies over the years—stack up on eBay.
So—who's the fairest of them all?
For this look, we selected a strong cast of highly-regarded Disney princesses from across the studio's vaunted history:
Anna and Elsa from 2013's Frozen
Merida from 2012's Brave
Rapunzel from 2010's Rapunzel
Tiana from 2009's The Princess and the Frog
Nala from 1994's The Lion King
Jasmine from 1992's Aladdin
Bell from 1991's Beauty and the Beast
Ariel from 1989's The Little Mermaid
Aurora from 1959's Sleeping Beauty
Cinderella from 1950's Cinderella
Snow White from 1937's Snow White
We wanted to focus on the princesses themselves and merchandise related to them, but also to ensure that we got the right princess in each case. For this reason, we searched for each of the princesses' names along with the name of the studio, Disney, and the name of the related film in each case. We searched through over three quarters of sales data, going back to May 2013, to assemble our numbers.
This gave us a way both to see how Anna and Elsa are driving sales in the wake of the success of Frozen and—at the same time—to see how previous princesses stack up in relation to them, and in relation to one another. Here's what we found.
The Dollars They Represent
Our first dollar volume chart plots sales related to each of the princesses under the criteria outlined above and shows just how popular Anna and Elsa have been in relation to product offerings.
Anna and Elsa sales grew quickly following the film's release, then fell off briefly during the post-holiday slump. Once the new year began, however, interest in the two latest Disney heroines has been explosive. As we might expect, the DVD release of Frozen in late March drove sales to new heights as consumers rushed to own a copy.
There's also a bit of a cautionary tale here; sales linked to previous Disney princesses are much lower. This suggests that there is a limited window of opportunity following a Disney film release during which to capitalize on popular interest; afterward, sales fall to long-term background levels.
Because Anna and Elsa are doing so well right now, this chart obscures the relationships amongst the other princesses, so we also generated a chart showing only the past Disney princesses in question.
With Anna and Elsa out of the picture, we can better see which ladies remain popular, having stood the test of time, and which have faded as their films have receded into the past.
Who does well here? We might have expected princesses from the most recent films to show the highest sales, but in fact what we see is very little relationship between the age of a film and the popularity of its heroine. Cinderella and Snow White, both dating to the first half of the 20th century, are the leading ladies here, with Ariel of The Little Mermaid close behind. At the same time, other very venerable princesses, like Aurora of Sleeping Beauty, lag; Bell of Beauty and the Beast—dating to the same era as Ariel—is solidly in last place throughout the period.
The Items They Sell
Dollar volume can be a misleading statistic when we're talking about brands that stretch across nearly a hundred years. The very oldest products might be in collectible territory, the newest expensive due to their current licensing and intellectual property values, while those in between can falter.
For this reason, we also looked at the number of items sold, to see just now many purchases were being made, not just how valuable the items in each case were.
Here again—and not surprisingly—we see Anna and Elsa dominating the field following their film's release. Cinderella makes a very good showing here, even managing to separate herself from the rest of the pack during the holiday shopping season.
Once again, we produced a second chart without the current Disney leading ladies, to help us to more clearly see how the rest of the pack performs.
As was the case with dollar volume, Cinderella and Snow White are the favorites here, with Ariel close behind. Rapunzel isn't really in the same league, but does manage some separation from the rest of the group. The fact that Rapunzel is a recent film may play a role here, but it's certainly not the definitive role; after all, Merida from 2012's Brave is a more recent figure, yet she's clearly lagging behind Rapunzel throughout the year.
Totals and Proportions
To help us to make sense of these numbers in another way, we decided to chart the total breakdowns for dollar volume and items sold across the entire period, to better understand how princesses have performed overall, relative to one another, in recent months.
Despite not being in play for more than half of the surveyed period, Anna and Elsa make big showings. This represents a kind of best-case scenario for product sales following a new Disney release—a current film, two princesses rather than just one, and all of these wrapped nicely in a big smash hit.
Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel, however, deserve recognition here as well. All three have been around for decades or longer by now; none of them precisely fits the least generous of the Disney princess stereotypes. Snow White is short, with black hair and vaguely non-anglo features; Cinderella is a working-class woman who exhibits a certain seriousness and maturity, without trappings of frivolity and wealth; Ariel is—in point of fact—part fish, and a redhead at that.
Understanding the Market for Princesses
The data above tells us two things. First, that when Disney creates a blockbuster success, its princesses are bound to be great product opportunities, at least for a while; and second, that the staying power of a Disney princess over the long term may not be about age, hair color, or palatial circumstances.
Cinderella, Snow White, and fairy tales involving mermaids all predate Disney's involvement and have deep cultural resonances outside of the film world. They're characters and stories that had stood the test of time long before Disney got ahold of them—and they'll likely continue to do so long afterward.