In its 72 years of making animated movie musicals, Disney has featured Sleeping Beauties, Snow Whites, Little Mermaids, lions, tramps and bears. But it has never made a movie about a black princess, or any black lead character for that matter. Into that void comes The Princess and the Frog, due out in December. Finally the mouse is reaching out to a segment of the population it has shamefully ignored for decades. So cheers all around, right?
Um, well, do you have a second?
At its face, the concept for The Princess and the Frog seems alright. Set in New Orleans, the fairy tale follows Princess Tiana (voiced by Dreamgirls star Anika Noni Rose) as she encounters a frog purporting to be a prince who asks for a kiss to break the amphibious spell. It certainly looks gorgeous with its hand-drawn 2D animation and lush setting. But then I watched the trailer.
[NOTE: The trailer contains a key spoiler for the film, as will the rest of the discussion of the movie. Don’t blame me, blame Disney.]
OK, so Princess Tiana kisses the frog and then turns into a frog herself? According to reports, she stays a frog for a good chunk of the movie. So, let me get this straight, instead of seeing Disney’s first and only black princess on screen we see a green, hoppy frog? I know it’s not easy being green but this is ridiculous.
Sure, the trailer shows many other prominent black characters. Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard voice Tiana’s parents. And Jennifer Lewis and Keith David are the film’s good and bad voodoo practitioners, respectively. But, still, when we look at the heroine for at least a portion of the film what we’ll see a frog. This is not the kind of embracing of diversity I was hoping for with this movie, Disney.
Of course, the film hasn’t been without its controversies already. At first filmmakers wanted to make Tiana a maid called Maddy, but it was a little too close to Mammy and back into the big book of names they delved. Also we could talk for days about the inaccuracies and stereotypes it will no doubt make in its depiction of voodoo.
Look, I grew up on Disney movies. And, as an Asian-American, I’d become wearily accustomed to them not reflecting what I saw in the mirror. (Mulan didn’t come along until well after my Disney deifying years were over.) Still the Disney magic totally worked on me as a child. So I want nothing more than to root for this movie. I want generations of little girls of all races and ethnicities to love and look up to Princess Tiana.
But I’m also not a child anymore and I no longer believe in fairy tales. I believe in fairness. And I’m not sure it’s fair to wait 72 years to give the world its first black Disney princess and then make her look like a frog.
So, what do you think? Does this look fair? Does this look fun? Are you ready for this fairy tale?