Disney’s new 2-D animated feature The Princess and the Frog sees a dashing prince of the country Maldonia named Naveen transformed into a frog by a witch doctor, Facilier. Tiana, a hard-working waitress living in New Orelans whose dream is to open up her own restaurant, gets caught up in Naveen’s turmoil and the two go on a great adventure while learning about what is important in life and picking up a couple of goofy, yet kind-hearted animal pals.
A prince, a working class girl, a dastardly villain, talking animal sidekicks, and a curse to bind them all. At first, it seems as if the only goal of The Princess and the Frog is to capture what made the animated Disney classics so loved by people of all ages, but the very prominent advertisements touting Disney’s return to their forte belies the fact that the movie is very new and very ambitious.
While Prince Naveen is just as handsome as any of the other Disney heroes, and Tiana just as beautiful as any of the heroines, the two stand out among the crowd by subverting many of the popular archetypes for the better. Naveen is not just a ladies’ man but also a bit of a womanizer. He’s lazy, has no sense of responsibility, and has almost all the negative traits you can think of when you think of someone who was forcibly removed from the silver spoon he was raised on. You can see that he is still a good, admirable person, but he is a deeply flawed character, and while the perfect male heroes of previous Disney movies have their own place, Naveen cuts a new path for Disney to go. Similarly, Tiana never waits for someone to help her; she takes life into her own hands, challenging life to the extent that it becomes a fault of hers.
Naveen, Tiana and everyone else in the cast are incredibly balanced characters who, while very human, are never out of place in a fairy tale setting, and it makes following the story to its end that much more personal.
One potential pitfall of the whole movie was thankfully avoided, and that is the racial stereotyping that could have happened with a primary cast of non-Caucasians. Particularly, the witch doctor Facilier could have been a mine field, what with being a black voodoo master, but his presentation makes him out as a villainous character with a genuine stake in voodoo, instead of as a desperate attempt to “diversify” Disney.
And as for the animation itself, I think all I have to say is “it’s Disney.” They clearly put in all of their effort, and this is the one area in which they never really faltered all these years. The stories are a different matter, but given The Princess and the Frog I think it’s very likely that Disney now has the ability to surpass even its golden age. Whether that will be a reality will be seen in time.
Heavily flawed characters who are not always the most upstanding role models make their way through the world. As they learn and grow, you can really sense that The Princess and the Frog is simply not running away to the past but rather pushing forward to challenge what it means to be a Disney movie, all without betraying the company’s past. In the end, I really recommend that everyone go see it.