It’s time to head back to the Disney Princess Movie Challenge. This time we’re discussing The Princess and The Frog, which is kind-of-sort-of based on “The Frog Prince,” but not the hilarious version where the ungrateful princess tries to murder the frog and somehow ends up getting married to him instead, like, gee, how romantic. Instead, things go a little differently.
My advice to all young women is to be like Tiana: when confronted with a talking frog, go with your first instincts: retreat, then attack viciously with stuffed animals.
As with all my Disney Princess Movie reviews, SPOILERS abound.
Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a waitress in 1920’s New Orleans who has worked insanely hard her whole life in order to try and make enough money to purchase a restaurant of her own. Desperate when her dream seems about to die, Tiana kisses a frog to turn him back into a prince . . . but oh noes! Suddenly, Tiana is a frog herself!
1. The Princess and The Frog is a serviceable enough film, although it’s unlikely to ever become one of my favorites; the general pacing of the story feels off, and I found myself a bit bored through most of the middle. But it is a notable film for a few reasons:
1A. Tiana is the first black Disney Princess.
Obviously awesome, although Disney could really pick up the pace on creating a second black Disney Princess, like, this doesn’t need to be 17 white girls and 1 of everybody else. Kind of not how the world works.
1B. While Tiana and Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) are not Disney’s first interracial couple, they are the first interracial couple I can think of where neither party is white. Which is also good, because there’s a tendency in stories to assume that interracial couples (or, for that matter, biracial identity) are half-white and half-something else by default. Which, again, not how the world works.
1C. I’m pretty sure this is the first Disney movie where anyone has ever said the word “mucus,” much less had a Disney Princess triumphantly declare that something she’s secreting is mucus (and not slime). I now sincerely hope that there are little girls who, after watching this movie, run around the house screaming that line as they chase their siblings around.
2. But we’ve jumped ahead. Let us go back to the beginning.
In this prologue, we establish a few important things:
2A. A princess can break an enchantment on a cursed frog prince by kissing him, transforming him back into a human.
2B. Tiana has a friend named Charlotte who is spoiled and silly but otherwise seems to be a relatively nice person.
2C. Tiana has a Dead Meat Father who tells her to never lose sight of what’s important, pretty much guaranteeing that Tiana will absolutely lose sight of what’s important . . .
. . . at least, according to the movie. Personally, I take some issue with the theme here, because while I definitely appreciate a moral the says “try to remember to enjoy life and don’t literally work yourself to death,” I ultimately feel like the movie lands more on a “work alone won’t make you happy; you need to fall in love” message. Which kind of annoys me. Because while this is undoubtedly true for many people, it’s certainly not true for everyone, and I was kind of enjoying our heroine having a very specific, work-oriented, non-romantic goal. Having a love interest isn’t necessarily a bad thing, of course, but I’m less enamored with the implication that she had to have one to be whole. That may not be what the creators were going for, but it’s the general impression I was left with by the film’s end, perhaps because after a mere few days hopping around the swamp with a narcissistic frog, Tiana seems perfectly happy with her (not actually true) fate as Married Frog Lady, rather than being a restaurant owner, which, you know, was only her entire life’s dream. And don’t get me wrong, sometimes dreams change, but I don’t buy it here, like, at all because seriously. ENTIRE LIFE’S DREAM. She should probably have more of a reaction to losing the restaurant and her humanity in general than a rueful smile to indicate well, guess I’m a frog forever. Whaddya gonna do? At least I’ve got love!
3. About that love interest:
At the beginning of this adventure, Prince Naveen is a total tool–overconfident, sleazy, and periodically makes fun of his assistant for being fat. (Oh, but don’t worry: it’s not really so bad, because the assistant turns out to be evil, natch.) Naveen’s own parents have even disinherited him, although I guess it’s all forgive and forget if he settles down with a woman, which seems a little silly to me, but whatever. Anyway, that’s Naveen’s big plan: dupe a rich girl into thinking he’s currently rich himself, all so he can marry her and get his fortune back.
Like I said. Tool.
Naveen does get better as time goes on, though, mostly because The Princess and the Frog is another one of those stories where falling in love instantly makes you a better person. His redemption is sort of ridiculously quick, but I’ve seen worse and he does occasionally make me laugh (for instance, when he’s sternly telling Tiana to put the monkey down), not to mention Tiana is pretty awesome, so I’ll allow it.
4. What I will not allow is this bullshit about mincing mushrooms. No. Tiana shows Naveen how to mince mushrooms (as he’s never had to do it, or really anything, before), but then he only slices the mushrooms, presumably because the animators didn’t bother to actually draw him turning the knife and dicing the other way. Then Tiana takes the sliced mushrooms and actually compliments Naveen like he had minced the mushrooms, and absolutely none of it is acceptable. I call bullshit on that, Disney.
I acknowledge that this very tiny moment vexes me on what is probably an unreasonable level. I care not. Mince your goddamn mushrooms right.
5. Despite the fact that both Tiana and Naveen are turned into animals for the majority of the film, they still manage to find animal sidekicks of their own: Louis the Gator and Ray the Firefly. Weirdly, I totally don’t care about either of them.
It’s unusual because the animal sidekicks are often the cutest part of a Disney movie, but Louis and Ray aren’t cute . . . which could have been fine if I cared about their stories at all, but yeah, never really did. Although I will admit to being a bit sad when Ray fucking got stomped to death. Seriously, I did not anticipate this fate. I’m just sitting here, watching our bad guy raise his foot over little Ray, waiting for someone to swoop in at the last second to rescue him, when BOOM! Foot goes DOWN!
I mean, I got it two seconds later, of course: Ray dies so he can get the Mufasa Treatment and turn into a star, thus finally getting to be with his one true love, Evangeline. (Cause, you know. Death by getting smushed to death really isn’t so bad, so long as you end up with your lady love.) But still. I definitely wasn’t expecting it. Someone needs to do the Rated-R (well, probably PG 13) version of these movies where we see the actual blood and carnage of some of these Disney deaths: specifically, I’m thinking this, Lucifer’s Death in Cinderella, and the Wardrobe Killing That One Villager Dude in Beauty and the Beast.
6. I do kind of like Charlotte, though.
Don’t get me wrong: Charlotte’s nowhere near as awesome as Nakoma from Pocahontas, but I’m still excited to find another Disney movie where our heroine has a best friend who is a girl and not, say, a kind mouse who lives in her room or something. Charlotte is spoiled and clearly ridiculous, but I was really happy when she didn’t turn out to be a villain herself or working against Tiana or anything like that. It’s pretty clear that Charlotte has no concept of how much work Tiana’s had to do, but she does try to help her friend on multiple occasions, and I really like that Tiana has someone else in her corner.
7. Well, she has her mom, too, but Tiana’s mother, Eudora (Oprah Winfrey), isn’t really all that plot-relevant. I mean, I enjoy her, but she doesn’t contribute so much, story-wise. I’m mostly mentioning her for two reasons:
7A: Eudora may be the first Disney Princess Mom who’s outlived her husband. Usually, it’s the other way around with a Single or Remarried Father and Long Dead Mom . . . though I can’t help but notice that Dead Meat Dad at least gets to be inspirational and have an actual sense of character. Disney Moms are usually just, you know, gone.
7B. Eudora pointedly mentions that she wants some grandkids, which was particularly appropriate because I was watching this movie with my own mother, who’s only been nudging me about grandchildren since I was 17 years old. (Eudora also tells Tiana, “I want you to have your prince,” which I’m pretty sure is an actual quote straight from my mother’s mouth.)
8. Our bad guy, Dr. Facilier, looks appropriately villainous.
He’s also voiced by Keith David, which makes him infinitely more awesome. I like Facilier, but I kind of wish he got a little bit more time in the movie; he strikes me as a fun character who’s stuck in a story that’s not totally worthy of him. (This is pretty much exactly how I feel about Tiana, too. I find both the heroine and the villain of this movie pretty dynamic, but the story itself sort of meanders and doesn’t feel like it lifts either character to their full potential.)
Dr. Facilier probably has my favorite song in the movie (“Friends On The Other Side,” although I’m thinking “Almost There” is probably a close second), and he’s also a practitioner of Disney Voodoo. I don’t know anything about actual voodoo other than what White Zombie and The Serpent and the Rainbow have (surely incorrectly) taught me, but Disney Voodoo is notable for being very, very, very colorful.
9. Finally, I wanted to mention one last, totally important thing: I’ve been to New Orleans exactly once and I had beignets while I was there. They were very messy and very yummy. What they were not, however, was vaguely glowing.
The beignets in The Princess and The Frog look like they were sprinkled with magic crack, which can only mean one thing: obviously, these are the real, secret beignets of New Orleans, and my supposedly kind hosts and so-called friends judged me unworthy of the true authentic Crescent City experience and led me to the non-glowing, non-magic crack beignets that are only sold to tourists. So, I just want you to know, Bryan, that if you read this review? I’m hurt, man. I’m hurt.
Tiana: “Stella just talked to me! A dog just spoke to me!”
Naveen: “You know, if you’re going to let every little thing bother you, it’s going to be a very long night.”
Dr. Facilier: “Friends!”
Masks (malevolently): “Are you ready?”
Dr. Facilier: “No! I’m not ready at all! In fact, I got lots more plans! This is just a minor setback in a major operation!”
Louis: “You’re sure this is the right blind voodoo lady who lives in the boat in the tree in the bayou?”
Ray: “Pretty sure.”
Ray: “Don’t make me light my butt!”
Naveen: “But first I buy everyone here a drink!”
Lawrence: “With WHAT?”
Naveen: “Okay, please! Put the monkey down!”
Charlotte: “I was starting to think that wishing on stars was just for babies and crazy people.”
Naveen: “You will enjoy it, I guarantee. All women enjoy the kiss of Prince Naveen. Come, we pucker.”
(Naveen’s throat bulges suddenly.)
Naveen: “That’s new.”
James: “Yes, you wish and dream with all your little heart. But you remember, Tiana, that old star can only take you part of the way. You’ve got to help him with some hard work of your own.”
As you can probably tell, I just don’t have a lot to say about The Princess and the Frog. It’s not a terrible movie, but I wouldn’t call it a particularly great one, either. Tiana is an awesome heroine, and I will sign up for Keith David playing a villain (or really anyone) anytime, but for me, The Princess and the Frog is kind of the shrug of Disney movies. Definitely not the worst, but nowhere near the best.
Anika Noni Rose
Sorry, career-oriented girls. You have to find your prince if you really wanna be happy. And if you’re not a princess and he is a frog . . . yeah, maybe don’t kiss him. Cause secreting mucus probably isn’t as much fun as it sounds.