Earlier this week, I went to check out Disney’s newest animated movie The Princess and the Frog. I actually had no real interest in seeing a G-rated movie (it’s been years since the last time I saw one) but I was curious and was willing to make the sacrifice because a) I wanted to support Disney’s first movie featuring a black princess, and b) if there was anything to complain about, I wanted to know immediately. Overall, I don’t have too much to whine about, but I did have one huge problem with the movie that had more to do with the frog than the princess.
To give an overview of the plot: the movie takes place during the Jazz Age in New Orleans, where Tiana is working hard to make her dreams a reality. She wants to open her own restaurant, and she’s working two waitressing jobs to save up enough money for a down payment on a building. Meanwhile, her childhood friend Charlotte, who has always been spoiled by her wealthy father, only has dreams and aspirations to marry a handsome prince. Enter handsome prince Naveen of Maldonia, who is visiting New Orleans for unspecified reasons. Naveen gets lured into some voodoo mischief by Dr. Facilier, the “Shadow Man,” and is turned into a frog. Mistaking Tiana for a princess, Naveen convinces her to break the spell by kissing him. Tempted by the idea that he’s really wealthy and will give her money for her restaurant when he’s human again, she kisses him and is turned into a frog herself. The two then embark on a journey through the bayou to find a priestess who can break the spell.
Since The Princess and the Frog is about as subtle as an Adam Sandler movie, the main lesson was easy enough for a small child to figure out: working hard is enjoyable, rewarding, and will allow you to follow your dreams, man or no man. But a man can – and probably should – be part of your dream, too.
I went into the movie appreciating the fact that Tiana didn’t look like all the other Disney princesses, but she had a few other qualities they didn’t have either. First, for her, work is neither punishment nor did she feel the need to sing happily while cleaning up after other people (she does sing while cooking for others, but it’s happening in her own imaginary restaurant, so I was ok with that). She seems courageous, and doesn’t need rescuing. She sings better than all the other Disney princesses (thanks to the voice of Anika Noni Rose). Her only flaws appear to be that she works too hard, doesn’t have fun, and is accused of being a “stick in the mud.” I also really enjoyed her childhood friend, Charlotte, a bright, energetic, spoiled man-eater, who does something unexpectedly charming by the end of the film.
My biggest problem with the movie was Prince Naveen. The man is triflin’. He doesn’t really appear to have any redeeming qualities other than being handsome and a good dancer. He’s never worked before, doesn’t have any money because his parents cut him off for partying too much, and is a womanizer. Example: his part of the song When We’re Human includes the lyrics “A redhead on my left arm/ A brunette on my right/ A blonde or two to hold the candles/ That seems just about right.” Ick. Throughout most of the movie, he does nothing that would lead anyone to believe that he is mature, sensible, or even capable of taking care of himself. And, of course, Tiana falls in love with him. Girrrrl…
I don’t want to complain too much. The movie has a lot of good messages, but I really wish Prince Naveen wasn’t such a fixer-upper. We all have our fantasy partners, but it wouldn’t have killed Disney to have given the guy other positive attributes aside from hair that flops in his face (what is up with that, anyway?), and an ability to have fun. Hard work is important, but so are love and relationships, and I think it’s critical to give girls positive messages about that, too. Messages that let them know they should be equal to their partners, that you can’t change someone, and that the most rakish, irresponsible man is NOT marriage material.
I walked away from the theater feeling that, no matter how hard Disney tried to break the mold, they still stuffed poor Tiana back into the “married and lived happily ever after” princess role. But I guess that’s impossible to avoid. In all the Disney princess films I’ve seen, the princess comes from a vulnerable, meager background while the prince is handsome but has serious character flaws (hey, Aladdin was an indigent criminal and The Beast was, literally, a vicious animal).
Perhaps my standards are too high for a movie that has a trumpet-playing alligator and a talking, Cajun firefly, but I’ll still wish on “Evangeline” for a movie with a prince who’s charming enough to deserve a princess.