The Princess and The Frog

December 15, 2009 at 8:36 pm Leave a comment

So my seminar teacher and some classmates and I did indeed go see the new Disney movie, practically as soon as it came out. 

I told you, you should be jealous.  Clearly, I have the best first-year seminar class offered on the entire Penn State campus. 

[Notice: super long entry to follow.  I wrote this for my class on my PSU blog, and thought I may as well post it here.  You are under no obligation to read the entire blog entry].

Jealousy aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about this movie.  Disney clearly has a lot staked on this movie – their classic heroines range from the 30s-90s, but they haven’t created a real classic princess in a while.  Recently, their movies have been Pixar (which I do love), or starring people or ginuea pigs or something.  They haven’t gone back to their princess roots in a while.  And a return to classic animation?  Sounds like they want to recapture some of their own fairy dust.

But they also have to treat this movie delicately.  People have complained about Disney’s history of racism and/or sexism, and while some of these complaints are definitely true, they could always answer it with, “It’s unfortunate, but that was how things were in the 40s.”   Their goal for The Princess and the Frog?  Create a modern-day classic; a new princess that sets all those complaints aside. She’s not white, and she doesn’t sit around all day waiting for someone to sweep her off her feet.  And maybe put a twist on “love at first sight”, too.  Of course, this movie has been in production for years, and the very announcement of it created furor.  The new black princess created an uproar – mostly people who were upset that she hadn’t been made years ago.  It was a delicate thing to put together. 

In one seminar class, we discussed Disney’s Hercules – how when the movie came out they weren’t very concerned about the actual movies reception, for all the money would come from the products.  The Hercules costumes and stickerbooks and action figures and dolls and storybooks and Happy Meal toys.  The movie itself didn’t need to be stellar to generate this kind of product revenue.  And while the Princess & The Frog may follow this line slightly – I’m sure a good chunk of the money will still be from the dolls and dresses and playsets – I think they care about this movie more.  After all, Disney is trying to make a statement about itself through this movie. 

Whereas some of the past princess movies  – Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast – have been borrowed from classic Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, pretty much the only thing borrowed in this book is the name and the princess-kissing-a-frog idea.  Rather than being strong and noble and wonderful, Prince Naveen is egotistical, cocky, and charming.  He quickly gets himself mixed up in New Orleans style voodoo, which is where the frog part comes in. 

(Should I have mentioned that the movie takes place in New Orleans in the 1920s?  Some of these details may be historically inaccurate, but as Disney-lover, I really don’t care).  Oh, and Naveen is a little bit of a womanizer, too.  In fact, he is exactly the sort of man that our heroine, Tiana, despises.  So much for love at first sight. 

As a poor, working class girl, she has been working two jobs for nearly as long as she can remember to make her dreams come true.  She’s a talented cook, and her prized possession is a little picture of a restaurant, torn out of a magazine, that her father gave her when she was a little girl.  Across the page he’s written “Tiana’s Place” – and she dreams of the day when she really will have her own restaurant. 

Then, of course, things get mixed up: there’s Tiana’s rich, wishing-on-a-star, Mardi-Gras-Princess friend Charlotte, who is determined to marry Naveen; there are the two mean real estate agents who suddenly take away the place that she’s finally earned enough money to buy for her restaurant, and there’s the whole frog mix-up.  Seeing her in a pretty dress at Charlotte’s ball, the frog Naveen promises the princess wealth if she will only kiss him and turn him back into a human.  Tiana does, for her restaurant’s sake, but she’s not a princess, and so instead she turns into a frog. 

Adventure ensues.  And since every Disney princess must have an adorable animal sidekick, Tiana and Naveen are accompanied by the adorable, trumpet-playing, jazz loving, and wannabe human musician, Louis the crocodile.  And there’s Ray the lightening bug, who is also adorable.  So the pair traipses through the swamp, trying to find Mama Oldie, another voodoo person who they think can turn them back into humans.  And they learn some lessons along the way.

How does the movie fair in creating a modern and classic princess?  In my opinion, I think Disney handled this very well.  They created an admirable heroine – strong, hardworking, and determined; rather than sitting around waiting for her prince (or at least, thinking her life will start when she meets him), love doesn’t figure into her plans at all.  I’m not saying that part is admirable (and I love the old Disney princesses, so don’t think I’m knocking them, either), but she learns.  And as independent as Tiana is, she does see that she doesn’t have to do it by herself, and she both finds love and realizes the importance of it.  And while there is plenty of classic star-wishing in this movie, it’s really more of a last-ditch effort.  The characters try to combat problems themselves, instead of relying entirely on magic – genies or sea witches or fairy godmothers.  Even when they think they’ll have to stay frogs forever, they’re okay with that.  I also like how love grows in this movie.  It’s a little kickback to Beauty and the Beast.  And although people can argue their heads off as to whether girls can change men or if it’s a dangerous mindset, I don’t think that’s the point.  The point is that Tiana and Naveen both learn to appreciate each other.  Naveen learns to care for someone other than himself and stop being so egotistical, and Tiana is able to see past his cocky exterior and give him a chance to prove himself.  Really, he’s just been spoiled. 

So I think Disney handled this aspect really well.  One of my criticisms for the movie is simply – who are they targeting this for?  When people think “Disney princesses”, they think of a two to seven age range.  And while a seven-year-old might be able to handle this movie, it really isn’t meant for that age range.  (My four-year-old baby sister still gets upset when Tigger hops on Rabbit’s garden and tramples it.  She probably won’t see this movie until she’s about fourteen).  There are some fairly scary and serious parts in the movie with the voodoo, and even though the movie separates the two practicers – Mama Oldie lives in a bright, airy, and happy place and sings gospel-esque songs, while the Shadow Man is downright creepy – it’s still a lot for little ones to handle.  The Shadow Man’s henchmen are rather unforgiving spirits, and there’s even a whole dragging-to-hell scene that the end that I was really surprised they put in.  And I’m not even sure little girls would even get a lot of the movie’s points.  So who was it created for?  The doll-buying princess fan base, or the critiquing parents?

Maybe they went right in the middle and just aimed at college kids.  Which may or may not have been the best marketing strategy – but hey, I enjoyed it.  I loved the old-style musicals, and the Broadway star voicing Tiana had a fabulous voice.  And to mix things up further, they actually let her mother live!  Unfortunately, her father died instead.  But there weren’t any stepparents.  I think Mulan is the only princess to come from an intact family – I wonder why?     

Well, I think I’ve mused enough for now.  I really should get back to studying political science, and stop gloating – in Roomie’s presence – that I’m done geology forever.  Poor thing still has calc and bio and something else to suffer through.

Princess love,

Megan

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