Review: Tiana Sparkles, but ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Dims Disney Legacy

Racism a vital theme missing from animated fantasy

1209_LIF_THE-PRINCESS-AND-THE-FROG_4There is a lot to love about Disney’s new Princess Tiana from the animated movie “The Princess and the Frog.” Tiana is stunning as she demonstrates courage, self-determination, and black beauty. But in plot and personality, the movie falls short of Disney’s animated endeavors from the 1990s.

The movie opens with Tiana, played by Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose, as a young girl fascinated by the fairytales her mother, Eudora, played by Oprah Winfrey, reads to her and her friend Charlotte. Tiana is giddy about the idea that wishing on a star can provide immediate gratification, but her father (Terrence Howard) reminds her that it’s okay to dream, but without hard work, the dream isn’t worth much.

Fast-forward about 15 years and you find Tiana, a waitress laboring through two shifts a day as she saves money to fulfill her dream of opening a swanky restaurant. Her friend Charlotte, on the other hand, has her sights set on winning the heart of a prince.

Meanwhile, hard-partying Prince Naveen, who is visiting from a faraway land, wants to marry into a prosperous family because his parents disowned him due to his undisciplined behavior. Everyone’s plans get derailed when Dr. Facilier (Keith David)–for reasons not explained clearly– turns the prince into a frog.

What happens next are the typical tribulations and revelations that lead to a happy ending. The story, written by Ron Clements and John Musker, the same directing team behind “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid,” along with black screenwriter Rob Edwards, is full of commendable teachable moments that, at times, are too heavy and prevent the audience from getting lost in the story.

Aside from an array of dainty yet daring damsels, Disney’s animated classics are best known for magical plots and fabulous musical scores. Given its reputation for eerie phenomenon and a history steeped in jazz, Louisiana was the perfect setting for Disney’s debut foray into the telling of an American fairy tale. For Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation after 11 years, the animators, writers, and actors did a fine job of bringing New Orleans and all of its sights and sounds to life.

What Disney did not bring to life was the racism that permeated every nook and cranny of the 1920s deep South. The lack of historical or cultural context hasn’t stopped audiences from flocking to other Disney animated films — “Pocahontas” has been criticized as being historically inaccurate and Jasmine’s outfit in “Aladdin” was criticized as indecent — and the erasure of racial discord likely won’t keep droves of children from loving Tiana’s story either. (Parents can use Tiana’s story as a platform to provide background on the U.S.’s racial disharmony.)

Tiana definitely holds her own in the ranks of Disney’s princesses, who, unlike her, are usually being rescued. She becomes the ring leader for a misfit band of fauna out of the Louisiana bayou, including the frog prince; a loquacious Cajun firefly; a trumpet-playing alligator; and a 197-year-old voodoo priestess.

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  • http://performanceconsultantsintl.com Hadji

    Somewhat harsh comments about the movie, I don’t expect my 9 year old to go see a movie about Rodney King or slavery…these are intense topics that should be addressed when they turn in their early teens and when their reasoning and understanding is at a more mature level.

    I’m happy they finally have a Black Princess…we have to remember that this is a Disney Cartoon movie, we can’t expect a fantasy cartoon to be realistic…it is fiction!
    They can make the movie about anything they want it to be…whoever has a better idea needs to go make their own movie about whatever message they want to convey!

    Please let’s not put a lower grade on an already excellent and inspiring movie: we have to be positive about the large step forward of having a black princess.
    In real life, there have been many great kings and queens in Africa and their achievements should be disseminated in our communities…so although I agree that much history is to be told about us, it doesn’t have to be included in a Disney Cartoon.
    Disney movies are not encyclopedia but just an entertainment platform.

    Thank you

  • Glam Candy

    I agree. Eloquently stated too! My daughters and I enjoyed the movie and are going to see it again this weekend.

  • http://www.Card75.com/ Matt Krinsky

    Found a great site to watch new movies online FLY14.com

  • Pingback: Anika Noni Rose Adds Diva Glitz to Disney’s First Black Princess - BLACK ENTERPRISE

  • http://divalocity.blogspot.com Vonmiwi Culvera

    It’s up to the parents to teach their children about the inhumanity that happened in Louisiana and in the USA, not the writers of the movie. It would not be a fairy tale if they had to tell the kids about the segregated Southern United States, the movie was for the kids and the adults want to ruin it with their negativity and refusal to self-define.