If you are a member of the black community, you have likely already discussed the ills committed by Disney in making and producing its first animated movie featuring a black princess.
Those complaints include the lack of a black prince, the film’s 2D format rather than the contemporary 3D, and the fact that the princess is a frog for most of the film (that was my main complaint).
Lucky woman that I am, I had a chance to interview the people who were instrumental in creating The Princess and the Frog: Anika Noni Rose, who provides the voice of Princess Tiana, and two of the film’s animators, Mark Henn and Mike Surrey.
“I’m really pleased with who she (Tiana) is,’’ said Rose, a Tony Award-winning stage actress from Bloomfield, Connecticut. “I’m not the type of person to push something that is disrespectful to people. It was made with a lot of love and care.”
I will give Rose this: The film, despite being hand drawn, is quite pleasing to the eye.
“For me, they’re just sort of apple and oranges, because, at the end of the day, it’s animation that you’re doing,” said Surrey, the animator of Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings), a lightning bug in love with his precious Evangeline, who is actually an evening star. “With CG (computer-generated imagery) you have to set the rules before you start. Hand drawn is the organic side of animation; I prefer hand drawn.”
Many people are outraged by Disney’s decision to make its first black princess a hand-drawn concoction. What many people don’t know, however, is that Disney has decided to take itself in a new direction; actually it’s more like an old direction.
The magic company is bringing back its hand-drawn animation for future films, including this one, which debuts on Friday, Dec. 11. Hand-drawn animation has not seen the big screen since 2004’s Home on the Range. Disney is also bringing back the original Mickey Mouse, who had a little attitudinal problem back in the day. It appears Disney is just trying to go back to what made it so great in the first place.
“You want to tell an interesting story with interesting characters and then you put it together; it’s like a recipe,” said Mark, the animator of Tiana, who is in the process of animating a Winnie the Pooh film. “For me, seeing the movie for the very first time, I was like, ‘Wow, this is going to be a great movie.’”
Now, I know you’re not just reading this review for the back story on Disney; you want to know what the film is like.
In The Princess and the Frog, Prince Naveen (Bruce Campos) has arrived in New Orleans to become part of the jazz scene and find a rich young woman to marry. His parents have cut him off. Not long after his arrival, he naively enters into a pact with Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who turns him into a frog. As a frog, he makes his way to Tiana and talks her into kissing him so that he can be human again. But when Tiana kisses him, she too turns into a frog. Not knowing what to do next, Tiana and Prince Naveen trek through a Louisiana bayou to find Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis), a witch doctor, so she can tell them what to do.
I won’t spoil the film for you. You’ll just have to watch it…with the kids, of course.
I will say, however, that in spite of the slimy green frog, I liked that Tiana is so head strong and has real goals. I also like that Tiana’s parents, Eudora and James (voiced by Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard, respectively) instill in her the value of working hard to achieve her dream, rather than waiting on some Prince Charming to sweep in and save the day. Rose and I agree in our hope that many young girls who see this film for years to come will get the same concept.
If I could just spoil some of the film, I would like to list some of the good qualities of the story. Tiana gets to be a real princess, unlike Pocahontas and Mulan, who are just strong-willed women with no royal title. Rose, a gifted chanteuse, sings all of Tiana’s songs; none of the other princesses had that luxury.
Speaking of great singing, David does a spectacular job as the voice of Dr. Facilier. I had not realized the actor was such a great vocalist. His “I’ve Got Friends on the Other Side” is the best musical number in the entire film, despite the voodoo, which was a little on the scary side for a kids’ film.
Other than Tiana, there was one other lovable character: Ray. His thick Louisiana accent and cute quips are this critic’s favorites of the film. Ray’s light makes this film shine.
I will admit that initially, I was not excited about seeing this film. I was highly insulted about Tiana being a slimy creature for most of the story. But if I make Tiana a general person, not exclusively a black woman, and I stop looking for hidden racism, I find a pretty good film. And after speaking with the animators, I don’t think any disrespect was intended; then again, you can never be too sure.
Rose addressed this issue.
“People are operating from a history. I hope they will be able to walk into that theater with an openness and oneness that our children have,” she said gracefully, diplomatically, and also in somewhat of a coached fashion. “It’s a lovely story and a beautiful representation.”
Pushing aside my misgivings, I’m inclined to agree.