Sarah Friesz, we can be friends again. I have finally seen The Princess and the Frog.
I liked it. Maybe a lot. But I think I had too high of hopes for this movie. It’s no Beauty and the Beast, but then again, what is? Well, The Lion King was, sort of.
As oddly realistic and cool Pixar visuals are, I was super stoked about this movie being in old school 2D animation. Also, I knew going into it that I would love the music, because how can I not love the soundtrack to a movie based in Louisiana? I was mostly interested to see it because of the fact that it is Disney’s first black princess, which is absolutely ridiculous, but I’ll get more into that later.
Starting out, I knew that if nothing else, The Princess and the Frog was going to be really cute, and I was correct about that fact. I was then pleasantly surprised to find out this Disney character, Tiana, had both parents, but it turned out only to be a tease, because less than one minute later (approximately ten years later in the film’s life), her dad died. So much for that one… But before he’s gone, we learn he instills in her a love of cooking and, even more than that, an emotional connection to her own goal that will give both Tiana and us an even stronger desire for her to achieve her dream further along in the movie.
This movie does not mess around getting down to business. Ten minutes in her (rich, white) bff, Charlotte, hires Tiana to make her amazing beignets for a party being thrown on honor of the Prince coming to town. Tiana finally has just enough money to buy an abandoned sugar mill with the intentions of turning it into her own restaurant.
Shortly thereafter, we find out the prince–Prince Naveen of Maldonia, to be exact–has actually been cut off from this parents’ riches, and is actually looking for a rich wife in America. He runs into a voodoo witchdoctor who turns the prince into a frog and puts a spell on his butler that makes him look like the prince. Why he did this, besides just being evil, is a little convoluted. Maybe that’s part of the reason I wasn’t super impressed with the movie.
At Charlotte’s party for the prince (who is actually the butler under a spell to look like the prince), the Realtors who were going to sell her the sugar mill tell her someone else offered them more money and cash for the building, so she won’t get her restaurant. Remember, not only has she wanted to be a chef her whole life, it’s a connection she has with her dead father. In Disney, there is practically nothing stronger than a main character’s connection with their dead father.
She then finds the real prince (as a frog), who tells her he will give her the money if she kisses him and turns him back into a human. That backfires when he turns her into a frog, as well. They escape into the swamp as amphibians.
We find out the butler’s appearance only stays in tact for a while, & the spell requires the Prince’s blood to keep the facade up. I guess the reason the witchdoctor did this at all was to–and try to stay with me on this one–make the butler (who looks like the prince) trick Charlotte into marrying him so that the witchdoctor can then use voodoo (kill? I don’t know that it’s actually established what he will do, but there are multiple shots of a voodoo doll and pins) against Charlotte’s dad so that the witchdoctor can take all of his money. Phew. Did you get all that? Good. Let’s move on.
In the swamp, the now frogs meet a Satchmo-like alligator named Louis who just wants to play jazz “with the big boys,” and a, let’s say Cajun, lightning bug (because evidently, me calling him a coon-ass is like me using the “N” word) named Ray who is in love with the evening star, whom he named Evangeline, because he thinks she’s a lighting bug. They all make the trek to find Mama Odie, the voodoo priestess who lives in a boat in a tree in the bayou, to turn Tiana, Naveen, and Louis into humans.
They discover that in order to turn back into humans, Naveen must be kissed by a princess. Since Charlotte’s dad is the Mardi Gras King, they figure she’s the only princess they know, and must find her before midnight, when Mardi Gras is over.
By this point, Naveen has fallen madly in love with Tiana and plans on proposing to her. (He even made a fake pearl ring for her! It was precious.) He gets cold feet and doesn’t go through with it, though, when she starts talking about how much she’s going to love her restaurant. I still don’t understand why. I think she was supposed to be sending him “mixed signals” about loving her dream more than him, but I’ll get to that bull shit in a minute. Of course, he never gets a chance to pull his shit together and try again because the witchdoctor’s thugs (or shadows, as it were) kidnap him.
When Tiana goes to the Mardi Gras parade to find Charlotte (so she can kiss Naveen and turn them both back into humans), she finds Charlotte is mid-nuptials with the butler, who looks like Naveen. Thankfully, the frog Naveen interrupts the wedding and steals the magic talisman that is allowing the butler to look like him in the first place.
At this point, everybody is chasing after this fricking talisman. Tiana ends up breaking it, so the magic can no longer work, the butler no longer looks like Naveen, and Charlotte is no longer getting married. Unfortunately, this takes right up until midnight, and when Charlotte goes to kiss Naveen, nothing happens. Also, I don’t want to talk about it (it is very upsetting for me), but there are casualties in the fight for this talisman.
Since they’re still frogs, they go back to the swamp, and Mama Odie marries them. When he kisses his bride, however, they turn back into humans. Since she was just turned into a princess, she broke their curse. She ends up using intimidation in the form of an alligator to buy her sugar mill, and she gets her dream restaurant.
Okay, let’s talk about some shit. I know it’s just a Disney movie, but it’s important. At the same time, I know I am not the first to bring up these issues, nor will I be the last, but they need to be brought up nonetheless.
Honestly, I think they did a pretty good job dealing with most of the racial issues in the movie. The film does take place in New Orleans in the 1920s, so it’s black/white bffs are not realistic, and the race relations depicted are not representative of the true nature of this time period. On the other hand, it is a kid’s movie, and kids have to be taught about the civil injustices that happened in the past; they can’t just watch a cartoon and be expected to understand. This movie needs to be a fictional story that is uplifting to a current audience of children who will surely and rightfully be taught of the travesties that occurred in our country’s history.
What’s important is that Disney created a character black children can identify with on a physical level that is empowering (or at least as empowering as Disney princesses get). Because, let’s be serious; Belle is my favorite princess, mostly because she has brown hair, like me. Kids, whether taught or inherently, like to have someone who looks like them. Maybe because they want to have a more realistic Halloween costume or maybe because of something deeper than that (probably because of something deeper than that), but they do. Not exclusively, but to a certain extent.
One area where they were seriously lacking was with Prince Naveen. What the hell is he? Where, exactly, is Maldonia? I’ll tell you where. It’s right smack dab between Disney-doesn’t-have-enough-balls-to-make-him-a-real-minority and Who-do-they-think-they’re-fooling. He’s a delicious looking cappuccino color with a French accent, vocal fillers similar to those of Pepe the King Prawn from The Muppets, and what I can only assume is a Latin libido. Moving on.
As awesome as the Disney princesses always are, there is always something about them or their surroundings that make them not-quite feminist heroines in action. Or maybe the fact that they’re flawed in that sense makes them that much more heroic. I don’t have the stamina to figure it out right now. Either way, there were certain elements of this film that just rubbed me wrong way, and I would love to hear your views on them, as well.
In the scene where Tiana is checking out the sugar mill, her mother basically tells her it’s great that she’s following her dream, and all, but really she needs to have a man in her life: “Your goal of independence and a fulfilling career are less important than my desire for grandchildren.” Okay, that’s not a direct quotation; that’s the very near gist of it, though. Seriously, Disney? With the most minor of rhetoric changes we could have avoided this all together.
And this is not nitpicking, this is at the core of our collective worldview. If Tiana’s mother would have said something like, “Honey, you go get your dream of running your own restaurant, but remember, family is important, too. And I wouldn’t mind some grandchildren of my own!” Things would be hunky dory with me. There was absolutely no reason the script needed to devalue her career in order to show the importance of her falling in love. The fact that later in the movie Tiana tells Naveen she doesn’t want to have a restaurant if she can’t have him, too, doesn’t really ruffle my feathers too much. It was mostly upset that her own mother–the person who should be the most supportive–was not rhetorically sensitive.
Having said all of that–and there was a lot said–I totally liked this movie. And it took me writing this review to realize I do like it a lot. The music was fantastic. Despite my earlier criticisms, the characters are great. (Oh, I didn’t even mention how much I loved Anika Noni Rose as Tiana. I knew that was Oprah playing her mother, but it somehow surprised me to see it confirmed. And I knew Terrence Howard was her father by the fact that I immediately found this cartoon character to be irresistibly sexy.) The story is good enough. I don’t know that I will buy the DVD, but I definitely see myself watching this while at work a lot.