Last year I found out that Walt Disney Studios was working on a fairy tale entitled, “The Frog Princess”, based upon the classic fairy tale The Frog Prince, with a scheduled release date of December 25, 2009, with the studio using Disney’s 2-D animation. It will be the first traditional animated feature (2-D) since 2004’s Home on the Range. When finished, it will take its place as the 48TH animated feature by Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is to be a return to the studio’s fairy tale legacy, as well as hand-drawn animation, only this time it would have a Black girl as the lead character, unlike the many non-Black female characters from the past. Here is the press release that Disney Studios gave on the upcoming cartoon in March of last year:
DISNEY’S 2009 ANIMATED RELEASE “THE FROG PRINCESS” TAPS INTO STUDIO’S RICH FAIRY TALE LEGACY
OSCAR-WINNER RANDY NEWMAN TEAMS UP WITH ACCLAIMED VETERAN DIRECTORS MUSKER & CLEMENTS
“NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – (March 8, 2007) — The Walt Disney Studios will continue its fairy tale legacy in animation by taking moviegoers on an all-new “once upon a time” musical adventure with its 2009 release of “The Frog Princess,” it was announced today by Dick Cook, chairman of The Walt Disney Studios, and John Lasseter, chief creative officer for Disney and Pixar Animation Studios. A musical set in the legendary birthplace of jazz – New Orleans — “The Frog Princess” will introduce the newest Disney princess, Maddy, a young African-American girl living amid the charming elegance and grandeur of the fabled French Quarter. From the heart of Louisiana’s mystical bayous and the banks of the mighty Mississippi comes an unforgettable tale of love, enchantment and discovery with a soulful singing crocodile, voodoo spells and Cajun charm at every turn.
“The Frog Princess” is based on an original story written by Disney’s acclaimed filmmaking duo John Musker & Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Hercules”), who will also direct. Oscar®-winning songwriter/composer and New Orleans native Randy Newman (“Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Cars”) will write songs and the score for this project. Peter Del Vecho, a 12-year Disney animation veteran, will produce.
Commenting on the announcement from The Walt Disney Company’s 2007 Annual Meeting of shareholders, Cook said, “We’re pleased to be here in the heart of New Orleans to announce ‘The Frog Princess,’ a great story with all the ingredients that go into making an extraordinary motion picture experience. Like many of Disney’s most popular fairy tales, it has elements of magic, fantasy, adventure, heart, humor, and music. The film’s New Orleans setting and strong princess character give the film lots of excitement and texture. We’re also thrilled to have John Musker, Ron Clements and Randy Newman lending their talents and creative energies to this project. John and Ron helped to usher in Disney’s second golden age of animation nearly two decades ago with ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and are on track to create the Studio’s next great fairy tale adventure.”
John Lasseter added, “Aside from being longtime friends and colleagues, John and Ron are two of the most influential and imaginative filmmakers in the animation medium, and I am so excited to be working with them in bringing their creative vision
for ‘The Frog Princess’ to the big screen.
They’ve come up with an original story that is deeply rooted in the fairy tale tradition, and it’s filled with great humor, emotion, and musical moments. Randy Newman brings fun and excitement to every project, and I couldn’t think of a better choice to deliver some wonderful New Orleans style music.”
John Musker & Ron Clements have directed and produced five feature films for Disney including “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” Additionally they received story and/or screenplay credits as well. Musker began his career at Disney in 1977, after studying character animation at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). He started as an assistant animator and went on to animate on “The Fox and the Hound.” Clements started at Disney in the Talent Development Program, and went on to serve a two-year apprenticeship under Disney animation legend, Frank Thomas. He moved from in-betweener to assistant to animator/storyman with credits on such films as “Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too,” “The Rescuers,” “Pete’s Dragon,” “The Fox and the Hound,” and “The Black Cauldron.”
Randy Newman is a 17-time Oscar® nominee and winner (in 2002) for his song, “If I Didn’t Have You,” from the Disney/Pixar film, “Monsters, Inc.” Among his many achievements, he has contributed songs and musical scores for such other Pixar animated features as “Toy Story,” “A Bug’s Life,” “Toy Story 2,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Cars.” Newman’s impressive list of film credits also includes scores for “Ragtime,” “The Natural,” “Parenthood,” “Awakenings,” and “Pleasantville.” He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2002, and his other career milestones include three Grammy Awards, an Emmy, the first Henry Mancini Award for Lifetime Achievement, and an Annie Award.
Peter Del Vecho began his association with Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1995, following a 15-year stint working as a stage manager, production manager and associate producer in the world of live theater. From 1986-95, he worked for the renowned Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, leaving there as associate producer. At Disney, Del Vecho was the production manager on “Hercules” and associate producer on “Chicken Little,” among other projects. A native of Boston, he received a degree in Theatre Arts from Boston University.
Maddy, the animated heroine in “The Frog Princess,” will also join The Walt Disney Company’s venerable court of beloved Disney princesses as they continue to enjoy the royal treatment at Disney’s theme parks, consumer products, publishing, Internet and other businesses worldwide.”
Fot those of you not familiar with the tale of the frog prince, it is based on a Grimm’s Brothers fairy tale of a spoiled princess who reluctantly befriends a frog, who magically transforms into a handsome prince. In modern versions of the story the transformation occurs when the princess kisses the frog. In the original Grimm version, the frog’s spell was broken when the princess threw it against the wall in disgust. (The throwing of the frog against the wall might seem barbaric, but, this was an act to remove the spell against the frog. In some other versions of the story, the princess had to chop the frog’s head off to turn him into a prince.)
When I first heard of this movie, many red-flags came to mind. How would Disney Studios handle a film with a Black girl as the lead? Then, there was that title: Frog princess. Okay. “Frog” princess. Why name her frog princess? Haven’t there been enough frogs kissed by other princesses? Should a little Black girl have to kiss a frog to be a Disney character? Could she have had a more original story?
Then there was the moniker they had given the Princess: Maddy, which made me a bit peeved, since it sounded too much like Mammy. Then there is a question I would ask Disney Studios:
What took you (Disney Studios) so friggin’ long?
Seventy one years later, after all of your heroines, you finally see fit to make a cartoon about a little Black girl. I guess your conscious finally caught up with you or probably because you see that you can make more money off Black people, but, whatever the reason, here’s my take on this upcoming fairy tale.
Back to the title: Frog Princess. The first thought that came to mind was a little female frog that was a princess, not the image of a human being (leave it to Disney to call a Black human being by an animal’s name).
Then there was the statement from Disney that she was to be a chambermaid.
Okay, I guess we Black women and girls will never get past being everyone’s maid, chamber or otherwise. I guess in everyone’s eyes, including Disney’s, we are destined to always carry out everyone’s slop jars.
Then there is the statement that voodoo abounds, since all of us Black people are such voodoo experts (I prefer the spelling Vodoun, ‘kay)? Oh, yeah, I remember. I did my best Vodoun spell last night. So silly of me, to forget.
Then there is the villanous Voodoo priest, named Duvalier, no less.
Okay, so I guess Disney Studios never heard of the infamous Duvaliers of Haiti. Let me guess: Disney was trying to imply that Black people are sinister and voracious like the Duvaliers. Else, why would they name one of the characters Duvalier?
Oh, and the Princess has a er, uh, Prince…who happens to not be Black. Wow, talk about opening up a can of worms with the Black community:
Disney began to feel the heat from the public (Black people):
One of Disney’s representatives gave a press release on the name change of the movie and the lead character, and the storyline:
“The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans’ fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age. … Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney’s rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.”
(Even then, Disney was more worried about the title being a slur against the French. Nevermind how Black Americans felt about the title.)
Anyhoo, after much anger from some Black people who contacted Disney——presto, chango!—–and voila, the title of the movie has now changed: “The Princess and the Frog”:
“Much like Uncle Walt, Lasseter believes a director’s vision is the key to superior animation. So he wooed Ron Clements and John Musker, the writing/directing dream team behind the 1989 hit that kicked off Disney’s last 2-D golden age, The Little Mermaid, to oversee The Princess and the Frog.
The film’s characters have undergone changes as well:
- Originally named “Maddy” on the casting call sheet and listed as a chambermaid. Both details have been confirmed as having changed in development. The princess has a new name: Tiana.
- The villain’s name was originally “Dr. Duvalier” and was going to be a black Voodoo magician/fortune teller. In a recently updated script, he is both a palm reader and a Voodoo practitioner.
- The prince’s original name “Harry” has been replaced by “Naveen” in a revised script.
This is a list of the film’s major characters, all of them are now revealed on the official website:
||The 19-year-old heroine.
||Anika Noni Rose
|Charlotte La Bouff
||An 18-year-old spoiled, southern debutante and diva. Tiana’s main rival.
||A palm reader and A Voodoo practitioner. The villain of the movie.
||A 200-year-old Voodoo priestess/fairy Godmother.
||A lovesick Cajun firefly.
||Jazz singer alligator. Comic, manic, high-strung. Has a trumpet.
||A gregarious, fun-loving Prince who comes to the French Quarter for the Jazz scene and who Tiana and Charlotte had fallen in love with, in his early twenties.
||Prince Naveen’s pompous valet.
|Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff
||Wealthy, Southern Sugar Mill owner and father of Charlotte La Bouff.
||Tiana’s mother. In her fifties.
Tiana is officially now The Princess and the Frog.
A screenshot of Tiana attempting to kiss a frog in the upcoming Disney film, “The Princess and the Frog”.
So, now Disney seems to have a story that is not wrought with ethnic/racial problems. The princess and the frog. We’ll see how this story works out, upon release.
But, first things first. Let’s review Disney’s female lead characters and how they have become a part of American culture through the years.
First off, we will start with the previous Disney heroines ( and I state heroines with much hesitance because I consider Disney Studios as not much into making their female cartoon stars heroines, more like wimpy victims to me, but, I digress), and I will review how they have handled life’s tosses and turns and whether or not they are true heroines or wimps, and what type of Disney character will Tiana be?
Will the Black Princess be a cowering, wimpering, sniveling milquetoast? Will she be a tired-out rehash of the classic damsel-in-the-distress waiting for her Knight-in-Shining-Polyester to show up?
What kind of princess will Tiana be?
So, let’s go down memory lane and rackup the heroines/wimps that Disney has presented to the public over the decades.
Pocahontas. She builds a tenuous bridge between whites and her people. She puts the needs of her people before her desire to be with Cap. JohnSmith. She is self-sacrificing; she thinks of others and of ways to help them.
Out of all the Disney female characters, this one alone is based on a true person, Matoaka, an actual historical figure, who really lived. She is also Disney’s only official Princess.
In the movie, Pocahontas is shown as a 20-something babelicious young woman. Pocahontas also has two lovers in the Disney film, Smith, and John Rolfe.
Pocahontas of the movie Pocahontas 1995.
In real life, Pocahontas was just a young girl, and was the daughter of a Native American chief, Powhatan (also known as Wahunsenacah), who was leader of the Powhatan Confederacy.
The age of Pocahontas in 1607 at the time of John Smith’s arrival was much younger (closer to 10 or 11 according to accounts), creating a vast age gap between the two. While the real Pocahontas saved John Smith’s life from her father, there was no romance involved. With their ages being what they were, a romance would be irregular and unlikely. The real Pocahontas was not an only child; her father, Chief Powhatan, had an estimated fifty wives and an undetermined number of children. While she did indeed go to London in her lifetime, it was as a hostage, not as a diplomat. Pocahontas married John Rolfe in real life. However, this was against her will. He took an interest in her while she was a hostage, and took her as his wife (no romance involved). Her name was changed to Rebecca Rolfe (she was the first Native American to be baptized). When she did go to England, Ratcliffe (who in the Disney film shoots at her father, but instead shoots Smith, who pushes Pocahontas’s father out of the way, and wounds Smith) had already been dead for three years, therefore making a reunion and controversy between the two impossible (Pocahontas II: Journey to a New World). Her going to England did however allow peace between the Europeans and Powhatan people for many years, which was the basic point of her going there in the film as well. Around 1612 she was married to Kocoum (who asked for her hand in marriage) where as in the film he was killed shortly after their marriage was planned.
Princess Mataoka (c. 1595-March 21, 1617).
A 1616 engraving of Pocahontas by Simone van de Passe.
The original English caption (not visible here) reads “Matoaks als Rebecka daughter to the mighty Prince Powhatan Emperour of Attanoughkomouck als Virginia converted and baptized in the Christian faith, and wife to the wor.ff Mr. John Rolfe .”
The inscription under the portrait reads “Aetatis suae 21 A. 1616”, Latin for “at the age of 21 in the year 1616”.
Princess Jasmine (Aladdin”):
Princess Jasmine is is a problem solver, free-spirited, and definitely speaks her mind. She does not sit, snot and cry, and wait for someone to bail her out of life’s troubles. When caught in a trap or danger, she thinks her way out of it. (Okay—–with a little help from Aladdin.)
This little girl may not be a princess, but, she is smart, brave, and fearless. She defys local customs, at great danger to herself, to fight in the Chinese army, disguised as a man (she takes her elderly father’s place) to fight the invading Huns. This Disney story is based on the Chinese legend of Hua Mulan. The story can be traced back to The Ballad of Mulan.
Mulan. Definitely not a wimp.
Belle (“Beauty and the Beast”):
At first meeting, Belle seems like your classic damsel-in-distress, but, don’t let that fool you. Belle offers her own life for her father’s when he is imprisoned in a castle with a beast. She keeps an upbeat attitude while under duress. Belle is smart and has a mind of her own (She loves to read, and this is considered unusual for a woman by her fellow townspeople.) Her love towards the Beast in the end is a sign of her nonconformity and compassion for others.
Ariel (“The Little Mermaid”):
This little princess is feisty, zesty and rambunctious. She knows how to have a good time. She doesn’t sit around moaning and groaning, waiting for the Prince to come for her—she goes out and gets him. She goes for the gusto and grabs life to get what she wants from it.
Ariel, as portrayed in The Little Mermaid.
No wimp material there.
Sleeping Beauty . Spends much of the movie in a comatose trance. Does not awaken until kissed by her prince.
Princess Aurora under a sleeping spell cast by the evil fairy in Walt Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty.
Cinderella. Spends much of her time having things done to her. She is not very proactive. Only when her Fairy Godmother helps her get a life, does she liven up, and only because she loses her shoe for the prince to find.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs poster.
Hangs out in the woods with a bunch of dwarves. While they go off hi-ho-hi-ho singing to the woods, she sits around crooning, “Someday My Prince Will Come”, as if some man is supposed to magically appear at her doorstep. She gullibly eats an apple from her arch nemesis, the Evil StepMother Queen, falls into a sleeping stupor, is kept in a coffin in the woods by the dwarves, and is awakened by a kiss from a prince. Boring.
Queen of the Wimps.
The Eight Disney “Princesses”.
- Princess Snow White – voiced by Adriana Caselotti – Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
- Cinderella – voiced by Ilene Woods – Cinderella (1950) / Jennifer Hale – Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and Cinderella III: A Twist in Time
- Princess Aurora – voiced by Mary Costa – Sleeping Beauty (1959) / Erin Torpey – Disney Princess Enchanted Tales: Follow Your Dreams
- Princess Ariel – voiced by Jodi Benson – The Little Mermaid (1989)
- Belle – voiced by Paige O’Hara – Beauty and the Beast (1991)
- Princess Jasmine – voiced by Linda Larkin – Aladdin (1992)
- Pocahontas – voiced by Irene Bedard – Pocahontas (1995)
- Mulan – voiced by Ming-Na – Mulan (1998)
Tiana will join this list of princesses with the release of the movie, “The Princess and the Frog”, as the 9th princess. A 10th princess, Rapunzel, is slated to debut in 2010:
It remains to be seen how Tiana/The Princess and the Frog will be marketed once the movie hits the theaters. Will she get a big promotion by the Disney Studio the way Snow White and Cinderella received in their heyday? Will Tiana send the wrong message to little black girls hungry to see a positive image of themselves on the silver screen (albeit, a fictional one)? Will Tiana be a strong woman in morals and action? Will she be weak and blow like the chaff separated from the wheat, at the first gust of adversity? Will she be a “Sapphire” princess?
I can’t get racist images of Black women and girls out of my mind.
“Coal Black (So White) and de Sebben Dwarfs” will do that to you:
But, then again. . . .Disney Studios is no stranger to racism in its films:
Maybe I ask alot from my princesses, but, since this is the first Disney animated movie to showcase a Black girl, I do demand a lot from how Disney brings her across on the screen. The racism does not have to be blatant like the “So White” Warner Bros cartoon (which is loaded with many other racist stereotypes, in addition to So White). Racism can be subtle. Stereotypes are often that way.
Also, how will they handle the voodoo? Anyone who knows the history of Vodoun knows that it is a traditional monotheistic organized religion of coastal West Africa, from Nigeria to Ghana. It is The Vodoun aspect of the film that is just ripe for misunderstanding. And that jive-talking firefly in the trailer has me worried.
What will the other characters look like? What will they talk like? Bugged-eye, golly-wog, pink-lipped Sambo types (no matter how toned down), like the firefly in the teaser/trailer?
Disney only get one chance with this movie, and I will watch every scene, listen to every word of dialogue, take note of the character’s costumes, dialect, mannerisms, how they treat each other, and how they react to the world around them.
It remains to be seen what kind of princess Tiana will be. It remains to be seen if there is more racial insensitivity that Disney may present on the silver screen in this movie. Racial insensitivity that is intentional—or unintentional.
Only when it is released will the final verdict be known.