The Disney Princess isn't simply a term to describe a collection of characters, it's one of Disney's most popular brands. The characters, like Cinderella Aurora, and Ariel, are core to the Disney identity, and that means that the way they are all portrayed is pretty strictly controlled. However, with Frozen II a barrier has been broken as Anna and Elsa are about to do something few princesses have had a chance to do before, wear pants.
Jasmine wears billowing pants in Aladdin, and Mulan wears them while disguised as a male soldier, but other than that, Disney's princess characters have been pretty traditionally feminine in their choice of wardrobe. But, if you've seen the trailers to Frozen II you know that both Anna and Elsa are seen in pants. Frozen II co-director Jennifer Lee says that Disney Princesses can do, and wear, anything, and considering what these women are doing in the new film, the more sensible clothes made sense. According to Lee...
The princesses are all things; they’re all times; they’re all outfits. Everyone sort of represents when the film was made and what the film’s trying to show. These two women I’m proud of, they are carrying the weight of the kingdom on their shoulders ... so they’re going to wear what’s right for that, and I love that you can wear anything.
As silly as it is to be getting excited about characters wearing pants, the fact that the Disney Princess has been around since 1937 and has basically never worn comfortable pants is something worth noting. Certainly, Jennifer Lee's comments to the L.A. Times make sense. These women are going off on a potentially dangerous adventure. They look as much like action heroes as any Disney character ever has, doing it all while wearing a dress just doesn't seem practical.
The Disney Princess as a cultural image has been going through something of a image shift in recent years. First of all, Anna and Elsa aren't even technically Disney Princesses, at least as far as the brand name goes. The feeling is that Frozen is such a huge brand in its own right, that the duo didn't need to become part of the exclusive club. Although, Moana, the only other "princess" character to debut since Frozen also hasn't officially joined the club.
It seems that recently Disney has begun to use the brand name Disney Heroine, rather than Princess a way to celebrate the company's popular female characters, but in a way that certainly sounds more empowering.
All things evolve over time and that includes concepts like the Disney Princess. As Jennifer Lee says, the concept is essentially timeless, and thus they can be anything they need to be. Right now, they need to be women wearing sensible clothes.
Frozen II hits theaters November 22.