Released: November/December 2009
Directed By: Ron Clements:
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman
Plot: Warning! Spoilers!
Tiana is a young girl with a dream: she wants to open up a restaurant, just like her father dreamed he would. However, fulfilling her dreams has proven difficult: her father has died in the war, her mother works as a domestic, and Tiana herself works very, very hard as a waitress, trying to get by. In walks Prince Naveen, a Handsome Man of Indeterminate Ethnicity. As a young gal of Indeterminate Ethnicity myself, I sympathize with his plight. Also, he has no money (I sympathize with that too). He’s come to New Orleans to A) get away from his parents, and B) find money. He is turned into a frog by Dr. Facilier, an evil witchdoctor who makes a pact with Naveen’s servant Lawrence. He gives Lawrence a magical charm which makes him look like Naveen, and plots to marry Lawrence off to Charlotte, a spoiled, prince-obsessed, rich gal. Naveen escapes their clutches and runs into Tiana, who is fresh from her disappointment at being refused her ideal restaurant location because she’s black. Naveen, who mistakes Tiana’s costume (it’s mardi gras) for a princess’ gown, convinces her to kiss him and change him back. Unfortunately, Tiana gets changed into a frog, too. They then spend most of the rest of the movie doing two things: bickering adorably and trying to get changed back into humans. They try to find Mama Odie, a voodoo practitioner who lives in a bayou, in order to get changed back. On the way, they meet up with a firefly in love with the evening star, as well as a crocodile who yearns to play the blues. They meet Mama Odie, who tells them that Naveen will have to kiss a princess to get changed back (they figure out that this means Charlotte). Also, Mama Odie gives Tiana a serious talking to about being to career-oriented, and how she doesn’t focus on what counts (a nice sentiment, but every time someone beats up on a career gal, I get bristly). Oh! They are also being chased around by evil spirits which Dr. Facilier has sent after them. Then, after the two return to New Orleans, they discover that Lawrence is about to marry Charlotte. Naveen manages to expose Lawrence, and proposes to Charlotte. He only does this in order to get Tiana the money to start her restaurant. What Naveen doesn’t know is that Tiana has fallen for him, as well. Charlotte, realizing that the two are in love, kisses Naveen out of a wish to help her friend. But she’s too late. The two remain frogs. They also manage to defeat Dr. Facilier, in a musically charged and yet totally predictable number. Unfortunately, their lovesick firefly friend dies during the confrontation. Fortunately, he is miraculously transformed into a star, so he can finally have relationship with the celestial body he’s been in love with for so long (I’m sorry, I just don’t know how else to say it). The two frogs, happy to be together, get married. And when Naveen kisses Tiana, they turn human! Cause she’s a princess now! Lookit that! The movie ends with a jazz number in Tiana’s restaurant, which is pretty adorbz if you ask me.
First of all, most of what can be said about “The Princess and the Frog” has in fact been said. The animation is gorgeous. The songs are sweet, but not stellar (with the exception of Tiana’s “Almost There.”) For the most part, Disney handled Tiana’s race and the issues she faces because of it by not handling it at all..with a few small exceptions (such as Tiana being refused a loan because of her “condition.”)
Now here’s what I think is interesting! That *servant* storyline! Remember that? Remember how i did a post on that wayyyyyy back? Well I personally thought that how that turned out was one of the more interesting parts of the entire movie…
I was especially interested in Lawrence, Prince Naveen’s “pompous” valet (with the obligatory “pompous valet name,” right up there with Soames and Jeeves). Now in the movie, Dr. Facilier turns Prince Naveen into a frog. He also plays on Lawrence’s resentment of Naveen, magics Lawrence so that he looks like Naveen, and commences trying to marry Lawrence off to Big Daddy LaBeouff’s daughter, hoping that he will then be able to control New Orleans through LaBeouff with Lawrence as his pawn.
Ohhhhh there is *such* class tension! One reading of “The Princess and the Frog” is that it is not only a love story – and to some extent a story about race – but also a class story. The movie, in effect, teaches children about the “correct” way each class is allowed to behave. Observe!
The Upper Class, or “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.”
It’s perfectly OK, says the movie, that some people are wildly wealthy and live off of others. This is quite a benevolent system, so long as the wealthy don’t abuse their power and/or squander their money. Even though the monetary oligarchy which Big Daddy represents is rather unfair (and probably keeps everyone earning low wages, as Tiana’s mother’s monetary woes suggest), the film is quite content to tolerate the unfairness of that system because, well, Big Daddy is such a nice guy. Naveen, on the other hand, is too loose with his money and so has to be reminded of the privileged life he enjoys. Once he appreciates his lot, he’s in the money again!
The working class, or It’s What You Do With What You’ve Got.
People like Tiana, of course, are supposed to be very happy with what they have as well. Note how Tiania is perfectly OK with Big Daddy’s daughter’s rather obnoxious behavior, and how her mother was also perfectly content to work for Big Daddy without complaint. Of course, it’s perfectly all right for these characters to aspire to something more, but naturally they must work *within the system* to get it. Tiana, for example, wants to open her restaurant, but runs into road blocks because of racist lenders and lack of funds. However, were a white, rich girl to have the same goal, she would have little to no trouble realizing it. That’s too bad, says the film, but rather than directing its criticism against societal structures, the film just teaches that working even harder within these structures (plus wishing) will eventually yield the desired result.
Dr. Facilier, who is also lower-class, is punished for trying to change the societal structure. The desire for revolution or direct change vrs. reform and gradual change is strongly critiqued in the fi;m. Dr. Facilier is, of course, evil because he changes people into frogs and tries to have Tiana killed, but consider what drove him to that behavior. One of his songs describes how he lives in a town which is not his own, and over which he has no power. For attempting to exert some modicum of control over his environment, he is punished by losing his soul. Lawrence, another member of the lower class who Facilier “leads astray,” is also punished by being made ridiculous. Silly old, not-conventionally attractive servants, thinking they could rise in social stature and marry young beauties! He should have been content with what he had, and worked *for* oppressive social structures, instead of against him.
Then maybe he would have been rewarded with a 401 K.
What do you think? Are TPATF’s class relations problematic? Are they similar, better, worse than other class relations in Disney films? Should we even care about these underlying messages?