TAMPA — Uncontrollable tears streamed from the eyes of Tiana Kennell, a freelance journalist from Detroit, as she watched her Disney dream come true.
I handed her a tissue to wipe away her powerful emotions after she took a picture with her namesake, Tiana, the star of the newest Disney character in the highly anticipated animated feature film The Princess and the Frog.
Tiana Kennell was just one of the attendees at the 2009 National Association of Black Journalists convention in Tampa who watched a special 30-minute screening of the film on Aug. 6.
The film, an ethnic twist on the classic theme of a princess who kisses a frog, begs the question, “Will he turn into a prince?’’
Kennell said that for her to see a black princess who looks like her and shares her name melts her heart.
“The reason why I was very moved by the movie is my family always called me Princess Tiana,” she said.
Her family also joked with her about her royal statehood.
“I was born in a hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan,’’ she said. “I’ve always thought if my father who is God is the King then that makes me a Princess.”
Disney’s newest princess also dazzled the eyes of all the princess wanna-bees in the audience at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina.
The film will not be in theaters until December. The journalists at the screening were the first to see the rough cut of the 2D, hand-drawn animation. The technology hasn’t been used since 2004.
Some of the film, still under construction, was shown in black and white, which upped the cool factor and made it even more intriguing. It was like being in on a special secret, the making of magic, and seeing how the characters come alive right before your eyes.
Disney took a big risk with a film starring a black princess desperately trying to avoid stereotypes. I enjoyed my sneak peak and thought a black princess was long overdue.
The big question is, “How will she be portrayed?’’
With just a 30-minute look at the film, we viewers were cut off with a cliffhanger following that frog-altering smooch. It left me wanting to see more.
Here’s what I can tell you without giving away the entire film:
The Broadway-style musical is set in the jazzy, French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1920s. We are introduced to the pre-princess Tiana as a little girl who grows up to be a bright, hard-working resourceful visionary. She is without a doubt a beautiful black woman, with dark velvet chocolaty skin and clear African-American features.
There is a dark side to the film with the character Dr. Facilier, a witch doctor who uses voodoo dolls and skulls and communicates with the underworld, a scary sinister character for little ones.
Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose is the voice of Tiana. You will remember her as one of the singers in Dreamgirls, alongside Beyonce. Rose also stars alongside Jill Scott as an assistant-turned-detective in the HBO drama, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.’’
Right after the screening, Rose, who looks just like the Princess Tiana in the cartoon film, blew away the audience with her sweet rendition of a song from the film. Then, she quickly left the stage and disappeared behind the black curtain.
By the way, Princess Tiana’s nurturing mother, Eudora, is voiced by some real star power, talk show diva Oprah Winfrey.
Before and after the presentation, Disney dancers and singers filled the stage and pumped up the crowd with a clapping, dancing frenzy. Then, suddenly, there was a loud boom, and colorful, glossy confetti rained down from the ceiling.
Guests were then taken to another area outside the screening room for pictures with another woman who will play the new Princess Tiana character at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Resort in California.
The Princess and the Frog premieres in theaters nationwide on Dec. 11.
Expect to see Disney’s line of costumes in stores in October just in time for Halloween, and a line of Princess Tiana merchandise for the holidays.
AP Photo/Disney Consumer Products. Tony award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose, the voice of Princess Tiana, Disney's first African-American princess from Disney's upcoming movie “The Princess And The Frog,” admires her one-of-a-kind Princess Tiana doll at the American International Toy Fair in New York, Monday, Feb. 16. Ms. Rose unveiled a new toy line inspired by the film releasing this holiday season.