The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Bruno Campos (Prince Naveen), Keith David (Dr. Facilier), Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis)

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin)

IMDB: A fairy tale set in Jazz Age-era New Orleans and centered on a young girl named Princess Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to be human again.

We went to see this with the girls yesterday, mostly because we missed our chance to see The Fantastic Mr. Fox but still wanted to get out of the house for the afternoon. So much was made of the racial implications of the first black Disney princess that I didn't read any reviews. I didn't want to get that sort of petty ick all over my ideas before seeing it for myself. I'm glad I didn't, because the movie was a perfectly lovely surprise.

Apparently the original plan was to have Tiana be a maid, which might have been good enough for Cinderella, but not for a character with so many stereotypes to battle--while still hanging on to what makes her essentially and marvellously different. So the shift to have her be a waitress not only mollified that concern, but the change made more sense considering that her entire dream revolved around one day owning a restaurant. Why not be around food? Made perfect sense.

The other pre-concern was that she's a black princess who spends most of the movie as a frog. Well, I'd say she's more like a black princess who spends 99% of the movie as a commoner! She was never technically a princess with a frog...she was a frog with a frog or a princess with a prince. Where's the truth in advertising? But I digress. See what silly semantics does to rational thought?

Tiana, however, whether a human or an amphibian, was inherently a product of jazz era New Orleans. There's no getting around the fantastic way this movie was infused with the flavor, humor, and accents of the Crescent City. For once, the music wasn't annoying, treacly drivel! It was zydeco and blues and Dixieland. I was boppin' in my seat.

Equally refreshing was Charlotte, or Lottie, who was Tiana childhood's friend. Lottie's father employed Tiana's mother as a seamstress, so the girls grew up sharing the same fairy tales. But rather than degenerate into catty backbiting when the potential for rivalry appeared, Lottie remained both hilarious and supportive. Her motivation never wavered, but neither did her generosity.

The Three Stooges-esque hunters drew big laughs from the girls, as did most of the alligator's antics. The bad guy was pretty spooky with his grasping shadows, but not so bad as to make Ilsa cry. Prince Naveen, whether a human or a frog, was funny and charming. And of course Ray, the firefly, was a choice gem. The entire supporting cast was wonderful, fun of spunk and funny and unapologetic Southern-ness.

But the star of the show was definitely Tiana. I gag when it comes to most princesses other than Belle of Beauty and the Beast because their morals are so skewed. Someone will probably wonder where I get off, being that I write romance, but those people will have never read my books. My heroines don't wait for their princes to come; they more likely challenge their princes to a duel. Belle is a great character because of her love of reading, her initiative, her refusal to cow before the Beast, and because of her forgiving nature.

Tiana is a heroine for the ages. She's determined, she's ambitious, she has plans to live a fulfilling and elegant life, and she knows where she comes from--her family and her roots. Whereas most protagonists have to give up something in order to make room for love in their goals--oh, well, I can't move to New York, but I can teach dance here and still have the man I love--Tiana wasn't made to give up anything. She fell in love, got her man, kept her friends and her pride, and achieved her dreams.

It was Naveen who had to give up all of her previous ambitions, mostly having to do with spending money and having a good time, in order to find love. It's rare in Disney princess world when the man has to give up all of his selfish goals in order to claim is woman. Yay! What better example to provide to young girls? If your man loves you, he has to work as hard toward a future together as you do!

I know they took tiny cop-outs in setting this in a suitably distant past (1920s) so as to avoid modern-day discussions on race, and that by having Naveen come from a made-up European country helped avoid interracial questions--was he Arab? Spanish?--but I don't care. I really don't. Because this movie wasn't the place to accomplish everything with regard to hundreds of years of inequality. It is a lovely fairy tale. Honest. And it was the first to make a go of tackling the subject at all. Now it's up to future pop culture projects to build on this balanced, entertaining example and continue the journey.

So yes, I'm all over the moon for this one. It's a beautiful story with lots of heart and laughs, a helluva soundtrack (considering the source), and a memorable heroine. I hope everyone is fussing now about how good this was, to balance all of the fuss they made back when it was just an idea on the drawing board.

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