Words cannot express how excited I was to see this movie. Not only was it the first Fairy Tale adaptation (I say that lightly though) from Disney in 10 years, but it was also the first hand drawn movie since Home on the Range in 2004. It was also the first Disney Princess since Mulan (which again… I dunno why Mulan is considered a Disney princess but whatever). That’s 11 years! Tiana is also the first African American princess, which of course was ballooned out of significance at its release (we’ll get to that later).
To put a long story short, I was willing to do whatever it took to go see this movie. I didn’t care if it was crappy or wonderful. I was going to support 2D animation. I still do, and I really wish Disney would do another one. There’s something about the hand drawn animation that has a magic to it.
But I digress. This movie, while not doing extremely well at the Box office (it did better overseas than here, even though it was a success), marked what they called the beginning of the “revival” which we are in the midst of right now. It’s based off of the story “The Frog Prince” with a little modern twist to it that we start seeing more of in this new revival part of Disney.
Apparently straight up adaptations aren’t good enough for them anymore.
Anyway, Here we go!
This movie is set in New Orleans in the 1920s. It focuses around a girl named Tiana, who we see in almost a prologue learn from her daddy that hard work gets you what you want. So now she’s a young woman working 2 jobs to save up to open the restaurant her father always wanted.
We also very early in the movie meet our other characters, namely a prince Naveen visiting from a fictitious country called Maldonia, and our villain, Dr. Facilier, or the Shadowman – a voodoo man. Naveen is there because he has been cut off from his family and has to marry a rich woman to upkeep his lifestyle. He gets invited by the shadow man to his “office” where he is turned into a frog for his own sinister purposes.
Meanwhile, Tiana gets paid the rest of the money she needs for her store from her friend Lotte for providing refreshments at her party, where Lotte intends to woo Prince Naveen. An imposter shows up pretending to be Naveen (it’s really his man-servant lawrence under voodoo magic), and the real Naveen (the frog) mistakes Tiana for a princess and asks her to kiss him, like in the story “The Frog Prince.” She manages to pull herself together to do it, but instead of breaking the spell, it turns her into a frog as well.
The two flee the party after being chased by our Lawrence/Naveen and drift off with balloons to the Bayou. Tiana is pissed at Naveen for the situation she’s in, and he is upset with her for misleading him to believe she was a princess. In other words, they don’t get along. She’s about to leave him, but he promises that if he helps him become human, he’ll get the money for her restaurant (see, the realtors have told her that unless she can pay more in cash, she’ll lose to another bidder). She agrees, and from there they meet an alligator named Louis with a yearning to be a jazz trumpeter and a cajun firefly named Ray on their way to meet Mama Odie, another voodoo witch lady who has the potential to turn them back into humans. All they have to do is avoid the demons the Shadowman has sent after him, frog catchers, and other alligators!
They get to Mama Odie’s (and of course by now they have realized a few things about each other), and she doesn’t turn them human, but instead explains that they need to look inside themselves and see what they need vs. what they want. But she does show them that until Midnight on Mardi Gras, Lotte is technically a “Princess” because her father has been elected king of the Mardi Gras Parade. Tiana works hard to get Naveen to Lotte so he can kiss her and Marry her and have his life go back to one big party, but he of course has a change of heart because he realizes he loves Tiana. But he intends to see his plan through, because he knows how much the restaurant means to her.
They get to New Orleans and the Shadowman and Lawrence (who have had a story B about how the magic keep Lawrence looking like Naveen is running out) capture the real Naveen. Tiana goes off to rescue him after Ray lets it slip he’s in love with her, and soon she’s working with the others to keep the amulet that is holding the power over Lawrence and Naveen away from the others long enough so that Naveen can go find Lotte.
The shadow man has an awesome death, Lotte finds out both Naveen and Tiana are frogs, but Naveen can’t let her kiss him because he’s in love with her. Lotte agrees to kiss him and not marry him, but waits until after midnight and it’s too late. Naveen and Tiana agree to just be frogs if it means being together, get married in the bayou, and get married. When Naveen goes to kiss his bride, they turn back into humans because Tiana is now technically a princess.
There’s a nice little epilogue that shows the two of them working hard to get the restaurant, get it fixed up, and opening it. The end.
I missed a lot with that synopsis, and I’m sorry if it’s a bit confusing. There’s a lot that goes on in this story, and there are two parallel story lines: one with Tiana and Naveen, and the other with our villains. but that’s the story in a convoluted nutshell. If you want a shorter synopsis, here you go:
It’s the story about two completely opposite people who both get turned into frogs and have to figure out how to change themselves back and each has a change of heart by the end.
There’s actually a LOT I want to talk about with this movie. I guess I’ll start with the good stuff.
There is so much atmosphere in this movie!!! Disney has NEVER done a movie with THIS much atmosphere. Granted I have never been to New Orleans, but wow – between the music by Randy Newman being all jazzy and gospel-y to the accents to the animation and inclusion of things like Voodoo and beignets and gumbo, this movie reeks of atmosphere. That, to me, is one of the things that makes this movie incredibly special. You can tell they put a lot of work into really creating the world that was New Orleans in the 1920s (whatever that entailed!). The only other movie I can think of that comes close to this in atmosphere is The Lion King. In the first few minutes, you KNOW where this movie is set.
In my opinion, this movie has some of the best characters Disney’s come up with since Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. On the whole, these characters are each interesting. We learn backstories to each of our more major characters (except our villain, but we never need backstory with them!). We understand why they do what they do. Because of this level of effort put into their personalities, the relationships we get that form between them are believable.
I want to start with Tiana, because oh my God she is by far my FAVORITE Disney heroine (right up there along with Mulan, Belle, and Anna – each for completely different reasons). But she’s at the top. Why? Because she’s so real I swear I have known someone like her. I have been her.
Tiana is an extremely hard worker. She’s trying to raise money to buy her own restaurant, and she has a special gift for cooking. Anyone can see that. But she’s almost insane about working for her restaurant. It’s the only thing that’s important in her life. Why? Because it was something she and her father dreamed about when she was little. Then he went off and died in the war (go disney! Killing a Dad off for once!), and it’s almost like Tiana thinks that’s all he wanted to and she wants so hard to fulfill his dream and make him proud of her. As if that’s the only way.
She’s all work and no play, but it’s of her own accord. She’s extremely grounded in reality and doesn’t believe the fairy tale nonsense until she gets swept into it. I mean, that scene where Naveen talks her into kissing him. You have two kinds of people in this world: people like Lotte, who would jump at the chance to kiss him on the off chance that magic is real, or Tiana, who has a normal reaction by dancing around in disgust at the mere thought of kissing a frog.
I love her reactions, I love her personality, I love her character design (which actually reminds me of Belle’s), and I love love love the journey she goes through (but more on that later).
On the other end of the spectrum we have Naveen, the prince of Maldonia who has never worked a day in his life, gets things handed to him, and wishes to party and be with all sorts of women 24/7. But he gets a backstory too! He was cut off from his parents and to maintain his lifestyle, has to marry a wealthy woman (Lotte, essentially).
Naveen is annoying. He’s supposed to be. In the beginning he sees Tiana as only a means to get what he wants, and luckily she’s smart enough to strike a deal. It’s as the movie goes through it’s motions that Naveen learns that having money isn’t everything, and that he can be happy without it if he has love. This message comes earlier to him than to Tiana, but I think it has to. Tiana really is the focus of this movie and to her, it’s harder to come to terms with. Naveen has just never lived a day in his life when he had to work. Tiana shows him that working can produce something you can be proud of.
These two are good for each other because they start off as polar opposites, and throughout the course of the movie, each teaches the other (inadvertently sometimes) that good aspects of the way the other lives their lives. Naveen learns to be a little more hard working, and Tiana learns that there’s more to life than work. Sometimes, it’s ok to have a little fun.
Joining them on their journey is Louis the Alligator, and Ray, the firefly. I’m actually not going to say much about them. They are interesting characters with definite personalities. Ray is a bit annoying, but he has a good heart. You can almost tell they stuck him in for comedic relief, which is fine, but you don’t get that anyone is really connected to him, so when he dies it’s not really as sad as it could be. Louis is better. While he’s comic relief as well, it’s done a little less “in your face.”
Lotte and Lawrence are the same way. I adore Lotte. She is hilarious, set on marrying her prince, and flat out crazy. But that’s what makes her fun and she’s a good opposite for Tiana in the scenes they have together. You don’t understand how they could be friends, but yeah. They still somehow are.
Lawrence is possibly the least developed character, but you understand he’s a man who feels used and is sick of it. He’s willing to do whatever it takes in the beginning but then realizes the Shadowman has pushed it a little too far.
Ah yes, let’s talk about Dr. Facilier for a moment. He’s one of my favorite Disney villains, because as Naveen so nicely puts it in the movie, “He was very charismatic.” He’s voiced by Keith David, which is always just… awesome. He’s a voodoo man who will read fortunes and has shrunken heads and makes deals with the devil. He’s the source of magic for our movie, and while I know real Voodoo isn’t anything like it’s depicted in the movie, it’s still fun. He can be extremely scary at some times, and at others he has this quiet way about him that still comes off as scary. I really enjoy the way he realizes he got in too deep, and this villain possibly has one of the best deaths in the Disney canon (dragged into his own headstone by a demon? that’s great!)
3) The Message
I’ve touched on this above, but I feel it’s worth reiterating. This movie has a few really good messages in it. They are front and center with our characters, but strangely enough, watching this movie, you don’t feel like the message is crammed down your throat.
This movie teaches people that you need to work to get to your dreams. They don’t just fall into your lap. This is evident with Tiana. She never shies away from any work, because she knows if she works hard enough, she’ll get her restaurant.
On the other hand, this movie also teaches that you can’t throw yourself 100% into work and your dreams. Not only can dreams change, but working that hard can strip your life from what’s really important.
So what’s important? Love. This part of the message gets evidenced once they get to Mama Odie’s and she tells them they have to find what they need, not necessarily what they want. I think this is actually a great message to teach kids – they’re not the same thing. You can want a new iPad, or the newest Xbox game or best car, but will they make you happy? Not necessarily. Everyone these days is so caught up in what we want, we, like Tiana and Naveen, forget about what we need. Love and family. They’re what make life worth living, and without them, we may not have a full life.
4) The Music
Again, I’ve mentioned it before, but the music to this movie is great. It’s not the best Disney’s had to offer (far from it in my opinion), but every single song fits into the southern vibe. There are a few great songs (My personal favorites? “Almost there,” “Dig a little deeper,” “Down in New Orleans.”) and some not so great ones. There are songs that are much better in the movie than on your computer (Friends on the other side). But all in all, these are wonderful songs that add to the movie. It’s also the first movie since Mulan that a character has actually sung an entire song….
Ok, now on to some not so great things/contoversies of the movie, and my take on them:
1) The Plot
Ok, I’ll admit it. This is probably the worst thing about the movie. It’s not hard to understand when you’re watching it, but it’s just kinda… boring. It’s a road trip movie to a point (Disney has loved those in the last 10 years…), but it’s not as exciting as even Bolt. It’s very compartmentalized. They go somewhere, they run into a problem, they repeat. I know that’s how road trip movies are, but with some, you don’t feel it as much as you do with this movie.
There’s also the fact that I still have no idea what Dr. Facilier was actually attempting to do with his little takeover thing. He was trying to take over New Orleans so the demons could run amok? why did he need Lawrence and Naveen for that? ugh I don’t understand!!!
2) The Humor
This one and the next one kinda run into each other, but I’ll do my best to try and keep them as separate as possible without reiterating too much.
To put it lightly, a lot of people criticized this movie because the humor, they felt, was inappropriate and “racist.” They’re quick to point out a few things:
The appearance of guns
The frog catchers
Ok. I don’t know about you, but personally? I laughed extremely hard when Louis was telling his story about how he tried to play on a riverboat and got guns pointed at him. I laughed like hell when the frog catchers beat each other up. You know why? Because it felt like an old school Disney movie! It felt like one of those old shorts Disney used to put on!
Does that mean it’s not racist? eh, I guess you could argue that type of humor still is, but then again there are people that live like that. Maybe they’re not that dumb, but I even think if I were in the situation with two frogs as smart as that, I’d get into trouble too.
As for Ray, he’s the one that sort of borders on racist, BUT is it just because of his humor and his accent? he’s not dumb, he’s got a huge heart, and he’s a good friend. I’m sorry, but to me, that’s not racist.
I didn’t see this humor as inappropriate. I saw it as nostalgic. And as for the guns… uh…. do you people see what types of movies 4-9 year olds are seeing these days? a few guns pointed at an Alligator for laughs isn’t what you should be criticizing.
3) The “Controversy” of Race.
I saved this for last because honestly I’m just going to talk and if I get myself into trouble than so be it. I could completely ignore this issue, but I’m not going to. I personally don’t think that there IS an issue, but when this movie was announced and promo footage and pictures were released, people, for some reason, flipped a shit.
They made a Disney Princess black.
Now I read a lot of stuff as it was coming out. There were the crazy white people who couldn’t believe it. There were the crazy black people who thought that Disney was just doing this to appease them, and the majority of us were in the middle thinking “Ok, Diversity, cool.”
Personally, I’m surprised it took them this long.
But… the more stuff came out, the more people started complaining. Disney changed Tiana’s name from Maddy because they didn’t want people thinking they were associating her with “Mammie,” or a term for a black maid in the south. I got the feeling that Disney had to walk over all these hot coals just to get this movie done and not cause a huge controversy, yet people still found one.
People are insane.
I’ve already talked about Tiana. I’ve already told you she is one of my favorites. Why should it matter what color her skin is? If anything, she is by far the smartest of the Disney Princesses. She teaches an extremely good lesson, and she’a great role model. If anything, she’s the normal person in this movie.
Lotte’s the one that makes white people look crazy.
There is NO issue of race in this movie. There is NO controversy. If anything, this movie paints it like it was in the 1920s: White people had the big houses, African Americans lived in shacks and had jobs like seamstresses and waiters. There is nothing wrong with depicting life the way it was. It’s not like the white people were being rude to Tiana and her mother. I mean hell, Lotte and Tiana were friends! Her father respected Tiana’s! Geez
People make me so mad to think this had to be an issue.
Disney likes to claim that it was after this movie that they decided to shy away from movies with the word “princess” in them, and that they were done with 2D animation. That somehow, both these things detracted from people going to see the movie. Because this movie didn’t make as much as they thought it would.
That is bullshit.
You want to know why people didn’t go see this movie? (this is just my opinion, I really don’t know obviously). It was two fold:
1) the “Controversy” (as stated above) that surrounded this movie at the time of it’s production
2) At the time of its release, Disney still wasn’t known as a powerhouse of moviemaking! People probably saw the trailer and thought that Disney was trying to get back to what was important, but didn’t want to risk going to see if they were right.
Ok I’m done.
This movie is extremely underrated. Upon watching it, Tangled and Frozen in a row, I can honestly say this was my personal favorite of the three (although I do like the other two). I really encourage anyone who hasn’t seen this movie to give it a watch. You might fall in love with Tiana like I did. She’s awesome.
I give The Princess and the Frog (2009) a 4 out of 5.
Next up: Tangled (2010)