Saturday, December 12, 2009

I loved the Princess and the Frog!

I blogged about this movie when I first learned about it earlier this year, and now I've seen it during its opening weekend. My husband and I took our daughter today as a special treat (she has been to two movies at the theater before today--Madagascar 2 and Charlotte's Web--and wasn't able to sit through either of them in their entirety). But sitting through this movie was no problem; my daughter was enchanted.

I have a standard for evaluating whether or not I love, rather than simply like, a movie: if I immediately want to see the movie again, I loved it. By this standard, I absolutely loved The Princess and the Frog!

So many things were wonderful about it: beautiful animation, somewhat great music (more on that in the next paragraph), a wonderful heroine who is also a role model (I don't consider any of the Disney princesses role models, except for Mulan, and to a lesser degree, Belle; Tiana, however, is a great one), a hero who changes for the better, and a plot that upends the traditional fairy tale story. More on that as well.

One of my only disappointments is the music. It seems weird to write that, because the music was amazing in many ways, filled with the sounds of New Orleans jazz and gospel. And Aniki Noni Rose, who is the voice of Tiana, is an incredible singer. The problem is that the songs weren't memorable, not in the way that "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast, "Under the Sea" from The Little Mermaid, and "Circle of Life" from The Lion King (and at least one or two other songs from each movie) were. I walked out of the theater and couldn't remember any of the songs, except for "Evangeline," a lovely ballad sung by the Cajun firefly Ray.

I have to add a comment about Ray. I read one review in which the reviewer noted that her biggest concern prior to seeing the movie was that Ray, a snaggled-toothed firefly, would be the worst of stereotypes, and was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn't. I agree. He was actually one of the movie's sweetest, most endearing characters, and it's fitting that the movie's most romantic song was sung by him.

One other major comment I have is about the ethnicity of the movie's hero, Prince Naveen. I noted in my earlier post about this movie that some were already complaining that he wasn't black (FWIW, it's not a complaint I share), and I've seen several comments since then expressing the wish that Disney, while giving black girls a role model, had also given black boys a role model by making the hero a black prince. Instead, the character is brown-skinned; his name is Sanskrit; the actor voicing him is Brazilian; his accent is Spanish; the character speaks English, French, and something that sounds made up; and his nationality (Maldonian), is also made up.

In other words, the filmmakers deliberately made his ethnicity ambiguous, and having seen the movie, I think they made the right call. This goes back to what I said above about the movie upending traditional fairy tale themes. If you've seen the preview, you know that when Tiana kisses the frog, instead of breaking the spell and having him turn back to a prince, she becomes a frog instead. This is due to the fact that according to the original story, a princess must kiss the frog and Tiana is not a princess; she is a waitress.

The story does have a princess, though; a blond white girl named Lottie who is the daughter of one of New Orleans' richest men and who is also the Mardi Gras princess. And if the story followed a traditional arc, she would be the one to break the spell. Naveen wants her to, and even before he is transformed into a frog, he is trying to woo her. The fact that it's not the actual "princess" who wins the prince, and it's only when it no longer matters to Naveen that Tiana's not that he wins her heart, is part of the movie's charm.

This, then, is the principal reason Naveen could not have been black. Lottie's father accepts Tiana's friendship with his daughter, something not uncommon in the South--white children who were friends with the black children of people who worked for their parents (although having those friendships survive into adulthood was much less likely). Nevertheless, there is no way a wealthy white man in 1920's New Orleans would have accepted a black man wooing his daughter. But a wealthy, foreign prince of indeterminate ethnicity? In that case, I could imagine him overlooking a little brown skin.

It's interesting how Disney kept race in the background. At only one point do they reference it--and then indirectly. Tiana dreams of opening her own restaurant, working two jobs and carefully saving all her tips. When she has enough for the downpayent on a building, the bankers tell her that someone else has outbid her for the structure and only if she pays the full price in cash will they sell it to her. Well, it's bull--the building is in shambles and needs so much work that it's doubtful anyone besides Tiana wants it. But you really know the bankers are lying by what they tell her next: something along the lines of, "A young lady of your background shouldn't think she can have her own restaurant and rise above her station."

One of the most pleasant surprises was how romantic the story was. The movie made me believe that the two principal characters were falling in love, and the ending, with what they are willing to change and sacrifice for each other, cements it. And unlike the typical Disney princess movie, their kisses have chemistry! In addition, the movie had great messages about hard work being necessary to make dreams come true, and love and family being the most important things one can have in their life. This is the type of movie that I think adults would enjoy even without a child accompanying them. It was completely satisfying and I, for one, can't wait to own it and watch it again and again.

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