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Starting with The Princess and the Frog (2009), every Disney princess movie has included a scene where the princess is a child.

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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Tangled (2010)

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Brave (2012)

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Frozen (2013)

anna and elsa

The only other Disney princess (I can think of) who was a child in her movie is Aurora, who was a baby for story purposes so that she could get cursed. We're introduced to every other princess as an adult/teenager.

Update: Zootopia does the exact same thing! **Young Judy Hopps declares her life-long goal to be a police officer** This similarity makes even more sense because Jennifer Lee, the Frozen writer, also contributed to Zootopia.

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+1 - Interesting observation. And don't forget to post your own theory as answer, too (or maybe as part of the question if it doesn't suffice for an answer, but don't hold it back). And are you sure about the plot-device tag? – Napoleon Wilson Mar 12 '14 at 9:40
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I like this question. I've done some basic searching, but I can't find anything definitive. An interview with a Disney executive would be good. I hadn't even thought about it until you mentioned it. – Andrew Martin Mar 12 '14 at 10:25
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As to the Pixar statement above ... doesn't Disney own Pixar? I think you're right on topic and we don't need to work with you on that one ;-) ... Also, didn't Cinderella start out as a child? Just thinking ... – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Mar 12 '14 at 11:58
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@Paulster2: To be honest, all the princesses are kids. Snow White was 14 for instance - io9.com/5989177/… – Andrew Martin Mar 12 '14 at 12:10
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@AndrewMartin for the purposes of this question, I'm defining kid as a version of the character at a totally different age than during most of the movie, and under 10. – vastra360 Mar 12 '14 at 16:12
up vote 6 down vote accepted

The "Disney Princess™" is a relatively recent innovation in Disney's branding, dating back only to 2000 or so:

The rise of the Disney princesses reads like a fairy tale itself, with Andy Mooney, a former Nike executive, playing the part of prince, riding into the company on a metaphoric white horse in January 2000 to save a consumer-products division whose sales were dropping by as much as 30 percent a year. ...

It was about a month after Mooney’s arrival that the magic struck. That’s when he flew to Phoenix to check out his first “Disney on Ice” show. “Standing in line in the arena, I was surrounded by little girls dressed head to toe as princesses,” he told me last summer in his palatial office, then located in Burbank, and speaking in a rolling Scottish burr. “They weren’t even Disney products. They were generic princess products they’d appended to a Halloween costume. And the light bulb went off. Clearly there was latent demand here. So the next morning I said to my team, ‘O.K., let’s establish standards and a color palette and talk to licensees and get as much product out there as we possibly can that allows these girls to do what they’re doing anyway: projecting themselves into the characters from the classic movies.’”

Mooney picked a mix of old and new heroines to wear the Pantone pink No. 241 corona: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas. It was the first time Disney marketed characters separately from a film’s release, let alone lumped together those from different stories.

(from "What's Wrong With Cinderella?", New York Times, December 24, 2006)

Tellingly, The Princess and the Frog was the first movie with a human female protagonist to be developed by Walt Disney Animation Studios after this re-branding took place. (Lilo & Stitch was released in 2002, but presumably it had been in development for some time before then, and was less likely to be influenced by a new marketing strategy adopted while it was being made.) So it seems pretty likely that by showing these new characters as children, they are encouraging girls (i.e., their target demographic) to identify themselves with the characters, which increases their desire for products based off of these same characters.

(As an aside: technically, Elsa and Anna are not Disney Princesses™. Yet.)

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That is so weird! When I wrote this question I assumed the coronation would be forthcoming. Maybe Anna will get promoted in Frozen 2 and they'll start a new line-up of Disney Queens. – vastra360 Mar 22 at 16:41
    
@vastra360 Disney Princesses is a specific group franchise, unrelated to the in-universe princess status of the characters. Tinker Bell isn't a princess but was part of the line up, but removed. Mulan is one, but isn't a princess, and doesn't marry into a royal line at all. She's a commoner. Pocahontas is the biggest stretch of the word princess, as the concept of princess in european royalty didn't exist in Powhatan government. She's more a governor or president's daughter. Elsa and Anna of course are princesses, in their stories, but not for the Disney Princess marketing purposes. – cde Mar 22 at 22:56

You may not want to believe it but they use psychoanalysts/psychologists in the motion picture industry to asses "what sells the story better" trends, habits etc. They've obviously worked out that kids can relate to the characters better if the character is a more like themselves. It makes perfect logical sense in fact. Don't forget that movie making is a business. The more $$$$$$ = better for the studios.

Checkout an amazing documentary called: The Century Of The Self - Adam Curtis

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Whilst this answer may well be right, it really needs references/materials to support it, e.g. interviews with Disney personnel, research showing changing trends of children's animated movies, etc. – Andrew Martin Mar 12 '14 at 13:54

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