If you wish upon a star long enough, your dreams will come true, maybe. For years African-American’s have been wishing for a Disney princess who looks like them. Finally, after nearly eight decades, that wish has been granted.
The new Disney movie, “The Frog and the Princess,” opened Dec. 11, breaking the December opening weekend box office record for animated features. The production took in $25 million on its opening weekend.
The movie features Disney’s first African-American princess, Princess Tiana. While many awaited this movie with baited breath, there also was caution as to how Disney would portray Black characters on the big screen. The reserve came from memories of the jive-talking crows from the 1941 Disney movie, “Dumbo,” as well as the racially insensitive monkey’s from the 1967 film, “The Jungle Book.”
This princess exudes qualities that should make us all proud. She’s not the typical damsel in distress-type princess. Tiana doesn’t sit around wishing for a prince, or any man for that matter, to come and whisk her into happiness. She has learned from her industrious father that you must be diligent and work hard for what you want. She spends most of her time working as a waitress, and saving her tips as she aspires to becoming a successful restaurateur, with little time for friends or fun. With a love of cooking, and a vision of her father inspiring her, she is bent on fulfilling her father’s legacy. But in spite of her hard work and perseverance, obstacles keep Tiana’s goals out of reach. “She has dreams of opening the finest restaurant in all of New Orleans,” says screenwriter Rob Edwards. “It’s a dream that’s been instilled in her from her father.”
ANIKA NONI ROSE
But not everyone is buying fully into this dream. The movie comes with much controversy with statements that the first Black princess doesn’t spend enough time as a “princess.”. True, Tiana does spend most of the movie as a frog, but this is fictional animation, and Sleeping Beauty spent most of her time sleeping in that movie. Additionally, the movie leaves some still singing, “Some Day My Prince Will Come.” There is a murmur because the prince, played by Brazilian actor, Bruno Campos, is not African-American. While he is of a dark complexion; he clearly is not African-American. In fact, he is racially ambiguous. Race really plays a very little part in this movie. If anyone is actually stereotyped it could be Tiana’s friend, Charlotte, the spoiled, rich debutant, who is out to catch a man, specifically a wealthy man. Some are asking if all of this nit- picking is necessary. Disney, in an effort to remain racially sensitive, did seek input from consultants like Oprah Winfrey, who was cast as the voice of Tiana’s mother, as well as the NAACP members nationwide, who, according to a Disney spokesperson, were “extremely positive” about the project.
Tony-winning actress Anika Noni Rose (“Dreamgirls,” “Caroline or Change,” and HBO’s “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency”), defended the film recently at a Los Angeles Urban League dinner. “There is no reason to get up in arms. If there was something that I thought was disrespectful to me or to my heritage, I would certainly not be a part of it,” Rose said. Originally, the script called for Tiana’s name to be Maddy, short for Madeleine, and she was to be employed as a maid to a wealthy White woman.
The story itself is fairly well known, inspired by the Brothers Grimm’s, “The Prince Frog.”
As in the original, the frog needs to be kissed in order to break the spell that was cast upon the prince turning him into a frog. But this adaptation does not quite turn out that way. Set in the great city of New Orleans during the Jazz Age-era, the story is a mix of humor, music and emotion. The animated comedy features a beautiful girl named Tiana, who ends up being turned into a frog along with the handsome visiting prince (from a fictional country), due to the evil antics of a wily voodoo priest. In the quest to find Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis, best known work on “Strong Medicine,” “Not Easily Broken,” and countless other performances), who is hoped to return the pair to their human status, they are led on a hilarious adventure through the mystical bayous of Louisiana where they meet a few wacky, yet sweet characters to help them along the way.
The movie hosts an impressive list of celebrities who lent their voices to the film from Winfrey as Eudora, Tiana’s mother; Academy Award nominee, Terrence Howard as the voice of James, Tiana’s father; to Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen; Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis the alligator; Keith David, Dr. Facilier, the Voodoo priest; Jennifer Cody, as Charlotte, Tiana’s debutant friend; and Peter Bartlett, Lawrence, the prince’s butler.
The movie also marks Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation from the revered team of John Musker and Ron Clements, with music by Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman. “We’re returning to sincere, classic Disney fairy-tale storytelling. It’s a return to the musical. It’s also the return to the warmth and grandeur of hand-drawn animation and hand-painted backgrounds. All of that together makes it feel like coming home,” says Peter Del Vecho, producer.