I’d never watched The Princess and the Frog before I did so for this weekly Disney segment. I wish I hadn’t left it so long. It was released in 2009, so well after the established 8 Disney Princess franchise had been set up (around 2000-2001). Yet Tiana was easily added to the Princess line up in 2010 more than ten years after the last official Princess film was released (Mulan). Also, I always forget that I love jazz music until I listen to it, so I completely adore the soundtrack as well.
The film is based on a book that is based on a Grimm fairy tale, and the most interesting thing about the film (apart from being set in 1920 New Orleans with Disney’s first African American princess) is that the film is self-referential. The characters interact with the original tale, recognise it, and try to emulate it. This, of course, leads to more problems and conflicts as they then try to undo the spell cast on the Prince by an evil voodoo witchdoctor (voiced by my favourite voice actor, Keith David).
Working Class Princess
Now, let’s make one thing clear. Tiana’s not a princess. The closest thing the United State of America have to royalty is the First Family. Prince Naveen – a legitimate, if dishonoured royal – mistakes her for a princess because of the clothes she is wearing to a costume party – which is the first thing I hate about Naveen, but I’ll save my anti-Naveen rant for later. However, I love Tiana so much. I don’t know why this film, although selling better than the more recent hand-drawn films (Atlantis: The Lost Empire, Brother Bear) didn’t sell as well as the Renaissance films (from the 90s). I think basically in my opinion, The Princess and the Frog really paved the way for the roaring success of Tangled. Which is sad, because I once again underestimated a film (I refused to watch Cars for years, and it turned into my favourite Pixar film) and when I finally saw it, fell in love with it. Most of it.
I fell in love with Tiana. Tiana is hard-working, a no-nonsense dream-catching go-getter. She’s working hard to achieve her dreams, working two jobs for years, putting up with heaps of negative feedback and being told she won’t achiever her dream from colleagues to real estate agents. There’s even a racial slur in the film which made me fumingly mad. Intentional, of course. Tiana has to fight against so much: gender, race, and a poor socio-economic background in the 1920s, a father who died in the Great War. She’s the toughest of all the Princesses, next to Mulan, because the society she lives in makes it hard for her to do what she wants.
Tiana’s Pride, Tiana’s Dream
Tiana doesn’t believe in wishing. She believes in hard work. Her best friend, Charlotte, is a spoiled, shallow (but totally funny!) debutante and Tiana contrasts her so sharply sometimes I almost cut myself watching. See what I did there? Oh, Charlotte’s not all that bad. Tiana’s a good friend of hers. But Tiana still has to work twice as hard and twice as long as any of her friends to achieve her dream when Charlotte could simply throw the cost of one dress at her to help her open up her restaurant. Tiana works hard, and she’s proud of that fact. She tells Naveen, “I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve got,” which really resounds with me, and I think it leaves a great message to its target audience. No more Domestic Goddess princesses. No more princesses who do nothing but wait for someone to rescue them. Tiana is on her way to getting what she wants, and she’s only 19. Even Belle (mon amie!) wanted something (adventure) but wouldn’t actively go seeking it of her own free will. Even Ariel (poor unfortunate soul) didn’t seek out Ursula until Flotsam and Jetsam suggested it. Tiana is on par with Jasmine, Mulan and Pocahontas who all sought their own path without outside influence and who, incidentally, are all non-Caucasian. Perhaps that’s because the non-Caucasian princesses are the most recent films, but maybe I’m sensing a theme here!
The dream is Tiana’s but it’s also Tiana’s father. Tiana’s mother, voiced by Oprah, has a role in the film. Oh my gosh, a present mother in a Disney film! No way! Gender reversing the films of the 90s, Tiana’s father is the absent parent. But he’s still present in a big way, because he’s the one influencing Tiana’s current dream. All she wants is to open her restaurant, which is exactly what her father wanted but never achieved. So the question is, is the dream really hers, or was it just pushed on to her by her father so often and for so long that she adopted it as her own dream?
Yes, Tiana’s a black princess. I think that’s wonderful. I think she’s beautiful, both inside and out. Unfortunately, she spends the majority of her time as a frog, so we lose the visual images of a strong, confident, young black woman doing all these amazing, brave, independent things. I suppose the best thing about Tiana’s representation is that her black voice carries over in to the frog body. You can clearly hear the New Orleans twang. And she still carries over her amazing independent spirit and her strong will. If anything, she learns to become softer, and learns to let go of the dream she has kept tight for so long.
Now, I just have to have a Prince Naveen rant. The entire film is his fault. If you ask me, and clearly you asking me or you wouldn’t be reading this blog, the only thing Naveen has going for him is the fact that he isn’t black (I LOVE inter-racial couples, and I’m so impressed Disney put one in their first modern Princess movie) and that he changes from the lazy prince to an honest hard worker by the end of the film. It’s a good character arc, but because of the character he was when the film started, I don’t even like him by the end. Comparing him to Flynn Rider from Tangled, his contemporary Disney ‘Prince’, at least Flynn was also working hard to achieve his dream. Naveen just wants to marry some rich girl. He’s a total gold digger, and the exact gender opposite of some of the earlier Disney Princesses… mainly Giselle from Enchanted, who, despite not being a princess or really anything special at all, still harboured a fantasy to marry a prince.
Sure, Naveen is supposed to redeem himself at the end by refusing to marry Charlotte and choosing to spend his life as a frog with Tiana but still… I’m not entirely convinced. And when they are both transformed back into humans (which is a totally cool loophole, BTW) he’s had the adventure of a lifetime and changed his ways, but Tiana? She’s going back to working hard her whole life despite being a princess now. Tiana doesn’t really have much of a character arc. She starts off independent and strong with a dream, and she ends up achieving that dream and snagging a prince as well. It’s the exact same line Sex and the City is trying to sell: you can be superwoman, you can have the career you want and be sexy and independent AND you can marry the (rich) prince of your dreams. I suppose what Tiana’s got going for her is that unlike her friend Charlotte, she’s not sitting around wishing for her life to happen, she’s out and living it.
Now, I’ve written a lot about Tiana because these posts are a discussion of the Disney princesses, but quite honestly, Tiana was the best thing about this film (and the songs). I didn’t like the supporting characters and the plot had holes the size of my fist. I love Tiana and think the film should be seen on her merits alone. And as usual, I’m ending with a Disney kiss.
PSYCHE! No, really. here you go: