Movie Review – “The Princess and the Frog”

NOT COOL

2009

Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker

IMDB

“It is notable that this is Disney’s first animated feature since “Song of the South” (1946) to feature African-American characters,and if the studio really never is going to release that film on DVD, which seems more innocent by the day, perhaps they could have lifted “Zip-a-dee Doo-Dah” from it and plugged that song in here. Though the principal characters are all black (other than the rich man Big Daddy and the Prince, who is of undetermined ethnicity), race is not an issue because Disney adroitly sidesteps all the realities of being a poor girl in New Orleans in the early 1920s. Just as well, I suppose.”Roger Ebert’s review

Um, WHAT?!?!?!?! (If you missed it the first time, go back and look at the RED, BOLD, ITALICIZED & UNDERLINED quote. Seriously. Go re-read it. It’s bad. Really bad.)

We had an incredibly hard time watching this movie. Every five seconds (literally) we paused it and wrote down narrative or visual evidence of the (never-ending!) racial, gender AND class stereotypes that “The Princess and the Frog” is laden with. From the other reviews we read, both from “critics” (well, the ones that get paid) and regular, run-of-the-mill reviewers that try to validate their opinions (I guess that’s us), the responses ranged from, wait, they didn’t range. At all. No range. Nope. BECAUSE THEY WERE ALL SEEMINGLY POSITIVE or indifferent. Again, I ask, WHAAAAT???!!!!

To prove our point, check out these deeeelightful quotations gleaned from the corners of the Internet:

“While I relish a conversation about the role of media in perceptions of race in modern American society, you know what I like even more? Catchy showtunes!” – Matt Goldberg, TheCollider.com (*cough* excuse me?)

“They also were savvy enough to cast Oprah Winfrey, foolproof Racial Insensitivity insurance, as the heroine’s mom Eudora. The strategy has already paid off: Tiana merchandise is a boom pre-Christmas industry.” – Richard Corliss, Time.com (cool guys. cool.)

“”The real surprise here is not about race, but how Disney has mined its own heritage for inspiration.” – Kevin Maher, Times.com (DID YOU WATCH THE MOVIE?)

I guess what we’re trying say is that, well, um, I guess we shouldn’t talk about race cause that’s not the point of  movie reviews and blah blah blah stream of consciousness….. THE WHOLE MOVIE IS A FRIGGN’ STEREOTYPE. About African Americans (who really weren’t treated as “Americans” in the reality of when this film is supposed to take place..) and Women and Southerners and the Poor. We can’t believe that few others commented on all of the ills that we noticed, such as the blatant caricatures, the sexism, the formulaic romance, etc. So….we made another list. For your horrified amusement. You’re welcome.

  • ~RACE: Seven minutes in we see the first glimpse of a New Orleans party with  black “Sambo” characters playing all the horns and drums that they can hold! There’s even a little boy following along dancing. But not the type of dancing that the pretty white girls do. No, he’s dancing a jig on the street.
  • ~GENDER & RACE & CLASS: In the first scene that we see Tiana working, her boss, a big cook, makes fun of her for trying to earn enough money to pursue her dream intimating that her race and gender will stop her from achieving it.
  • ~GENDER: Thirteen minutes in Tiana’s mother tenderly tells her ambitious and business-minded daughter that all she wants for her “is love and to meet your prince charming.” Disney throw-back or oppressive gender-typing? BOTH! (<–see what we did there?)
  • ~GENDER & RACE & CLASS: Twenty-four minutes in the real-estate brothers that Tiana is trying to strike a deal with to buy property for her restaurant, comment that, “a little woman of your background would have had her hands full.” (in the words of Wayne Campbell, exsqueeze me?)
  • ~GENDER: Devastated that the aforementioned lands owners rejected her offer and dream, Tiana wishes on a star despite her belief that it won’t do anything. We assume she is hoping to the heavens that she earns enough money to change their minds. Instead (as if by plot coincidence!) she gets a frog. Or, actually, a man in frog form. A prince if you will. You know, like the other main character. Yeah.
  • ~RACE: Louis. The alligator. More specifically, the horn-playing, jive-talking, lazy, perpetually hungry and cowardly, bayou inhabitant. He confides in his deep, obviously African-American voice to Prince Naveen and Tiana (again, they’re in frog-state at this point in the film) that he just wants to be human to play smooth jazz with the “big boys” of the New Orleans showboat bands. Louis’ character is explored with the catchy song, “If I Were a Human Being.” The lyrics casually describe all the amazing things he would do if he was granted the magical transformation. Personally, we believe this subtly insulting tune is hinting that Louis doesn’t necessarily want to be changed from an alligator into a person, but instead into a white person, or at least not a black person confined to the Southern swamps where others won’t reject him. (Positive role models!)
  • ~RACE & CLASS: Disney was kind enough light their viewers’ way to racial caricatures with the coon stereotype of the enchantingly childish firefly, Ray, voiced with an inarticulate Cajun accent. The bug is weathered, friendly, funny and portrayed as completely uneducated and clueless of the world. He’s in love with the North Star, which he thinks is the “prettiest firefly that ever did shine.”
  • ~RACE & GENDER: Mamma Odie. She’s a mammy figure and a blind witch-doctor living in a boathouse lodged in a tree in the bayou with animals as her only company. Her magic stems from her ability to cook, namely, “gumbo, gumbo in the pot…” and her final advice to froggy Tiana and Naveen, as well as Louis, is basically to accept their place in life, not to challenge the status-quo. In other words, Odie encourages Tiana to stop her frivolous hopes of being an entrepreneur and just look for a husband.
  • ~GENDER: As a little side dish, we noticed that although Naveen makes fun of Tiana for her die-hard work-ethic and calls her “a stick in the mud,” it is only when she’s not talking and instead dancing that he begins to become infatuated. First example is on the lily pads during the song Ma Belle Evangeline” and the second is during “Dig a Little Deeper”.
  • ~RACE: As Betsy Sharkey of the LaTimes.com writes, “So while it’s not Disney’s first time at dipping a toe in multicultural waters, “The Princess and the Frog” still feels like baby steps.” As a personal favorite example of inequality throughout this film, we would like to finally point out that Disney is just not yet ready for, *breathe*, an actual, black and white inter-racial couple. There, we said it. Although this movie is praised for having the “first black princess” (btdubs, she ain’t a princess, she’s a waitress and if made fun of it), her (obviously heterosexual) love interest has to be of indeterminable ethnicity from a fictional country.
AND that’s not the whole list. We could keep going, we really could, but we want to thank you for reading our deconstruction review and hopefully you’ll come back for more. As a last thought on the film (thank God), we’ll leave you with this quote:

“A frog whose green hue suggests that, if nothing else, Disney finally recognizes that every little girl, no matter her color, represents a new marketing opportunity.” – Manohla Dargis, NYTimes.com

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s