The opening song banging on about wishes and ‘magic in the air’- aren’t you bored of hearing that yet? – made worse by the introduction of Charlotte, a wealthy white girl, almost halted my whole project. Her rage-inducing personality was limited to dreams about meeting her prince charming – Disney joking about their past storylines? This is lovingly juxtaposed with the protagonist, Tiana who has no interest in kissing a frog to meet her prince charming: oh, the irony!
Tiana is an ordinary girl from a poor background with a loving family and community. As a child she is extremely good at cooking: yours turly can’t guarantee unburnt rice! The most refreshing thing about this film, though, is that Tiana is black, thus immediately breaking the typical fair, white, princess stereotype and displaying a more realistic representation of women worldwide.
Not only this, but Tiana has a dream, and it does not involve meeting her prince charming. She has life goals to which all ages can relate. Her desire is to open her own restaurant; to achieve this Tiana works two jobs and makes noble sacrifices. She is not beaten by life’s inevitable hurdles, a mystery bidder competing for her dream restaurant location.
Conveniently, while this is happening, a young prince named Naveen, who is a lady’s man (he claims he has been out with thousands of women) enjoying his freedom, is coerced by a voodoo bad man, Dr. Facilier, to admit that this is his only desire. This results in his transformation into a frog. This may seem an odd plot, but Dr. Facilier has a plan to take over the whole of New Orleans, Louisiana – I know, he dreams big. He needs the prince’s likeness to woo and marry the local princess, the all grown up but still grating Charlotte. He makes the prince’s second in command change into Prince Naveen. The real prince is contained as his blood is required for this plot to come alive in all its frogginess.
This is still a child’s film, yes? Worry not, the frog escapes and meets Tiana, who is dressed in Charlotte’s clothing, and mistakes her for a princess. Unfortunately, they misread the ‘how to be in a Disney Princess story manual’; when she kisses him, with the promise of money (handy, eh?), she becomes a frog herself.
So off they run into the sunset – well, they hop off when people try to murder them; after all,they’re slimy frogs, not puppies. They embark on a quest to be humans again; both gain from this arrangement as they agree Tiana will use Naveen’s money to buy her restaurant while Naveen sets his sights on marrying a wealthy princess. Disney sends questionable messages to the viewer here. While on their journey of accidental self-discovery, like a gap year to Peru, they realise they only want each other, obviously. After all, love is the way to solve a problem in a Disney film.
Plot aside, however, let’s look at the characters and what the story means in relation to feminism. Tiana is a refreshing female lead for Disney. Not for her background alone but her desires and dreams; she is willing to work hard for a living in contrast with previous princesses.
Having said that, in the scenes where they need food, Tiana is the one who provides it. Nothing wrong with that, if that is her skill, but in doing so I feel Disney is reinforcing traditional gender stereotypes as was the case in Snow White, when it was she who cleaned the cottage for the hard working dwarves. In this instance, a prince with servants is unlikely to need such a skill. However, keeping in mind how the sexes have been represented in Disney films, this feels like a step in the wrong direction.
Tiana seems to be the moral voice guiding them and is said to be a ‘stick in the mud’. Apparently a woman cannot be hard working, career orientated and a little fun. Would it be so difficult for Disney to give Tiana more ground breaking attributes than being a hard worker and a canny saver?
There is also the typical ‘woman changes man’ plot line. While romantic and enables worldwide audiences to go ‘awww’, it feels quite repetitive and leads to Tiana feeling empty without Naveen.
I believe the exact line from the film is, “my dream wouldn’t be complete without you in it”. This is probably my biggest issue with the whole film. Disney has progressed by displaying a female protagonist with more desires than finding a man, especially of royalty, yet this is smashed to pieces within the last fifteen minutes. Tiana is not complete without a man. Of course, there is nothing wrong with wanting to share your dreams with someone else. However, Tiana is portrayed specifically as independent and hardworking, an ordinary girl not interested in being a princess. Disney fools the audience by cunningly depicting Tiana as such only to have her become a princess and seem to have no problem with it. Just when I thought it wouldn’t be clichéd.
To conclude, I can see why The Princess and the Frog is a progressive film in terms of its representation of real, everyday people with emphasis placed on love, family and working hard for something. However, despite the latter message, Tiana receives hers through the Prince’s money. Therefore it feels reminiscent of the old Disney; Tiana needing a prince for her happily ever after. They should have left them as frogs, croaking with subtitles. On second thought: scrap the subtitles. Who needs them anyway?
Image Credit: disney.wikea.com