I finally got to the theater to see Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, touted for featuring the first black princess. I really had a lot of misgivings initially, because of the ad campaign that featured mostly Louis the alligator and Ray the firefly. Why not show the princess in the commercials, hmm? And then hearing that Tiana spent most of the film as a frog herself made me go, “Shields up! Battle stations!”
But seeing the film puts a lot of my issues to rest. For one thing, as many people have pointed out, Tiana and Naveen are both frogs for a large portion of the film, so it’s froggy equality! And it’s while they’re in this state, searching for transformation, that they both change and grow and even fall in love.
The plot is simple: hardworking Tiana has only one goal in life, to open a restaurant of her own, and she’s so focused on that dream that she doesn’t have time for anything else. Until she meets the frog prince, Naveen, who seems to have nothing but time to goof off, and they become embroiled in an adventure. I really loved the animation, it’s old school Disney with no frills, and really fits the period, and while the songs weren’t particularly memorable, the story more than makes up for that. Tiana is a great lead character. Like Mulan, she’s driven, focused and determined to make it in a world that doesn’t quite welcome her. And I loved watching her learn to loosen up a little. That’s the best kind of message to pass on to all the little princesses at home: That you make your own destiny, but believing in a little magic doesn’t hurt either.
Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos bring Tiana and Naveen to life beautifully, and I loved hearing Peter Bartlett (Nigel, One Life to Live) as the sniveling Lawrence, but I think Keith David steals the show as Dr. Facilier. I could listen to that man for hours. Jennifer Cody is absolutely effervescent as Lottie; she practically leaps off the screen, and Jim Cummings does a fantastic job as Ray.
The Princess and the Frog is definitely a great addition to Disney’s collection, and I’m glad that after taking a magic carpet to Agrabah, prowling the African plains with Simba, and saving China, we’re returning to America’s own rich cultural history. I just wish they had passed out some of Tiana’s famous “man-catching beignets” at the theater!