Monday, April 26, 2010

Revisiting Disney's The Princess and the Frog

Happy Monday Meltingpot Readers,

So our Kinky Gazpacho family FINALLY saw Disney's The Princess and the Frog. My younger son (he's five) and I were the most excited to see it but el esposo and the eight-year-old weren't as enthusiastic. They wanted to watch The X-men. Still, they sat through it.

So, as Ms. Meltingpot, I'm watching this film through the lens of race. I'm trying to determine if Disney did justice to their first African-American princess, wanting to make sure she receives all of the pomp and polish that Cinderella, Beauty, and Snow White received. And wouldn't you know it, poor princess Tiana lives on the wrong side of the tracks, works two jobs and doesn't even get to be a princess until the last two minutes of the movie. What's more, for the vast majority of the film, Princess Tiana, if we can really call her that, is a frog. We don't even get to see her beautiful chocolate brown face but for about 15 minutes. I was outraged. I was ready to protest. I started composing my grievance letter to Disney before the credits even started to roll. It would start, "Dear Disney, Nice try but no cigar."

And then I stopped. I took a moment to observe my younger son as he watched the film. He loved it. He thought it was really funny. He even requested to watch it again the next day. He loved the music. He loved that funny talking alligator who played the trumpet and he thought those in-bred swamp brothers who tried to catch the frogs for their dinner, were down-right hilarious. El esposo thought those guys were pretty funny too. To my son, and I'm sure to a lot of other little people, this was just another Disney film with magic, music, and a happy ending. They probably didn't notice all of the degrading stereotypes of the people of New Orleans (both White and Black), nor the unfair realities of racial segregation that probably killed poor Tiana's hard-working father and forced her to work like a slave. I mean really, wasn't Cinderalla pretty much a slave too? (Of course she didn't have to morph into a green amphibian in order for her to be an acceptable character, but I digress.)

Interestingly, my eight-year old, did pick up on some of these things. He asked me point blank about the movie, "Was that during the time of slavery, because I noticed all of the Black people lived in small houses and looked poor?" So, maybe this was Disney's attempt at keeping in real. Or maybe they just couldn't figure out how a Black girl could really be a princess, not even in a fairy tale. It's not like there aren't real Black princesses in the world living in castles with their Prince Charmings. Just ask Princess Angela of Liechtenstein.

So, at the end of the day, I didn't think the movie was bad. I just think with all of the money in the Disney machine, they could have tried harder. They waited this long to give us our first Black Princess, I expected something better. Something more Disney-rific and less hardscrabble reality. Is that so wrong? Perhaps my expectations were too high.

What do you think people? Did you see the Princess and the Frog? What were your thoughts as you watched? What about your kids? I'd love to hear what little girls thought of the film.

I'm listening.



KayB said...

I, too, had mixed feelings about La Princesse et La Grenouille as it was in French. I tried to ignore the racial element and enjoyed it for what it was-a Disney cartoon. What I noticed and appreciated most in France was how the children responded to it-she was just a princess. Granted they don't know all about the history of race relations in the States, but they were able to see a positive, albeit fictitious, image of a black female instead of just having to be content to gawk at one walking down the street. I was also touched while visiting Italy to see Italian little girls asking for Princess Tiana merchandise.

Alida said...

I guess I watched with the eyes of a child... I was thrilled that the central character looked and/or sounded like me or one of my cousins!

I am also thrilled beyond belief to see all of the merchandising of this beautiful black princess in stores.

Can you imagine my joy at seeing notebooks, dolls and other toys with Princess Tiana on them in Turkey and in Russia?! It is priceless!!

LT said...

KayB & Alida,
It's so cool to hear how these movies are received overseas. I wonder now if when I travel to places where there aren't a lot of Black people, if I will be mistaken for Princess Tiana, instead of Aunt Jemima as I have in the past. It will def. be a welcome change.

And I mean it. I think this kind of movie and the far reach Disney has in molding the minds of the world public is significant.

Thanks for sharing.

Shugie said...

I had never heard of Priness Angela - Thanks for sharing.

Oh, I have not seen this movie - I have no children and although I like cartoons sometimes, I didn't feel overly compelled to see this in theaters, although I'll likely see it one day. From what I heard about it, I was a bit put off by the stereotypes (that I garnered from the trailer) and lack of "princessness" about it. But I'm also pleased to hear how the related merchandise seems to be doing.

LT said...

You're welcome :)