V Opinion: Princess and the Frog Does Race Right… Mostly

Movies & TV

John Kennedy / November 17, 2009

Disney has a lot riding on its first animated Black princess. It’s long overdue. So naturally Princess and the Frog received backlash from the start-from the princess’ chambermaid occupation to the fairer-skinned prince to the Madea-esque Cajun firefly companion. Ultimately, though, these are minor details in a film that mostly gets it right.

Set in New Orleans, the story is a typical Disney rags to riches tale. But compared to other franchise tiara-holders like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a bit more ambitious. She’s a waitress (not a chambermaid) hell bent on achieving her late father’s dream of opening a restaurant called Tiana’s Place; he tells her as a child to “never lose sight of what’s important,” which is the gist of the story.

While working toward that goal, Tiana encounters a few mishaps and friends along the way, including a neurotic trumpet-wielding alligator, the aforementioned firefly Raymond, and of course the prince, Naveen of Maldonia, whom a voodoo-practicing Shadow Man (the bad guy) has transformed into a frog. Been there, done that. The Disney template is all you need to figure out how the frog-prince plot thickens, although there are a few tweaks.

On the firefly with the Chiclet grill: His accent may be wince-worthy to some until you realize it’s not much of a departure from how people in that region really speak (Lil Boosie anyone?). As a cartoon, this is literally a caricature, and the discomfort with the character subsides as his storyline develops. Hint: it involves a girl!

There is some incongruity in that the princess is so independent and goal-oriented for such a traditional setting. In fact, it’s her BFF Charlotte–a spoiled blonde brat with a penchant for sayings like “pretty as a magnolia in May” and “sweating like a sinner in church”–who wants to settle with a man. In lieu of a cliché neck-snapping Black friend, Charlotte is refreshing.

One could argue that the Southern setting lets the filmmakers get away with such things as voodoo men and broken accents. If it were New York, for example, more discretion would be advised. But the most important thing is that Princess and the Frog has a sense of humor and, firefly aside, it isn’t overdone. With fun musical numbers and gorgeous animation, the movie is enjoyable for all ages. Yes, it can. -Clover Hope

Princess and the Frog hits select theaters Nov. 25 and opens everywhere on Dec. 11.