The new film The Princess and the Frog is a mixed bag. While the film is hailed as Disney’s first animated feature starring a black princess, unfortunately, she is a frog throughout most of it.
Set in 1920s New Orleans during jazz’s heyday, the movie stars Tony-Award winning Anika Noni Rose as Tiana. Tiana’s parents are hardworking people – her mother is a seamstress/housekeeper, while her father works double/triple shifts at odd jobs trying to make ends meet. He also makes a mean pot of gumbo and teaches Tiana how to cook as well. It is Tiana’s love of cooking that makes her set her sights on one day opening up a swanky, jazz playing Creole cuisine eatery. As she grows older, she works as a waitress and serves up her cooking to the locals, while saving money for her dreams.
Now, that isn’t the bad part, which pays homage to the hardworking African American black folks from my hometown.
We run into problems when a vain prince comes to the Big Easy, makes a deal with a voodoo priest, who turns him into a frog. Then when Tiana jumps in the picture she is turned into a frog as well – and the two of course fall madly in love – as frogs. Hmmm?
I ask why when we have our first starring animated black princess, does she have to remain a frog for much of the movie? It would have been great to have more interaction with Tiana and her parents, played by Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard respectively, spreading their wisdom.
And while 1920s New Orleans is nicely represented, why do we have to keep going backwards to make a point. There was even word that Tiana, voiced wonderfully by Rose, was supposed be a slave at first. Listen – I know that our past is important but enough is enough. We are saturated with depictions of life back in the day – can we move forward please. Why couldn’t we have a modern day black princess? Why, why, why? Why not?
Needless to say, I still have to give props to Disney for their live-action television mid 90s remake of Cinderella – it starred singer Brandy Norwood in the title character and Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother. It was a great story. I even got the film on tape and played it for my daughter, who now always remembers Cinderella as a brown princess with long flowing braids.