Title: The Princess and the Frog
Release Date: December 11, 2009
Director: Ron Clements and John Musker
Production Company: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Disney made a number of interesting decisions when adapting E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess, itself an adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale “The Frog Prince” as an animated feature. First, they returned to a traditional animation style after making several CGI-animation films. The artists really embrace the classic style by making visual references to Disney classics of the 1950s & 1960s, particularly in the dance scenes which emulate Cinderella, while the animals playing jazz on the bayou are reminiscent of The Jungle Book.
The biggest decision was in making the lead character, Tiana, an African-American young woman – the first black Disney princess. Tiana is a lovely character, a hard-worker trying to fulfill her dream of opening a restaurant. She is, of course, paired with Prince Naveen, who cares for nothing more than to eat, drink, and be merry. The opposites attract plot has Tiana learning to have a little fun while Naveen becomes more responsible. The weakest part of the plot is that it never really allows time for these two to fall in love, so when they start talking marriage it feels very rushed. Otherwise, their time together on the bayou as frogs is delightful fun.
The final big decision was to set the story in New Orleans in the Jazz Age as well as more rural bayous in the vicinity. New Orleans is a romantic location on its own, and in a sanitized version it’s a beautiful backdrop for the story. Unfortunately, there’s an uncomfortable undercurrent of knowing that this story takes place during the time of vicious segregation. The depictions of black and white people cheerfully rubbing elbows and Tianaand Naveen’s interracial marriage just wouldn’t have been allowed to happen. To its credit, the movie does depict the inequality of New Orleans as Tiana and her mother ride a streetcar from the mansion of Tiana’s friend Charlotte to her own community of shotgun houses, and a pair of real estate agents basically try to cheat her out of buying an old mill for her restaurant unless she can come up with more money. While it can be argued that a light family film is not going to be the best place to address Jim Crow, it should also be noted that they film didn’t need to be set in 1920s New Orleans.
All in all, this is a fun, entertaining movie with great visuals and musical numbers.