Review: Tiana Sparkles, but ‘The Princess and the Frog’ Dims Disney Legacy - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

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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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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.