We all know Black folk have a murky history with our stories being told by non-Blacks; too often our culture seems to get lost in translation from one side of DuBois’s veil to the other. But not this time. Disney’s much-anticipated ‘The Princess and the Frog’ is finally here and our Black Princess doesn’t disappoint–in fact, she exceeds expectation.
The heroine of ‘The Princess and the Frog’ starts out as the precocious pig-tailed daughter of doting parents who drum into her the importance of hard work. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a die-hard Daddy’s Girl, never forgets the lesson and grows up to be a young woman holding down two jobs as she saves up to make a reality out her father’s dream of owning a restaurant.
Tiana’s so busy thinking about a mortgage payment that when she hears about the arrival of a prince in her New Orleans hometown, she pays it no mind. Which is just fine, as Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) of the mythical kingdom of Maldonia, is a bit of a rolling stone, seeking women, adventure, and fun exactly in that order.
(A note about the Prince: in the months leading up the film’s release, much ado has been made about his non-identifiable race. When he appears, he’s noticeably darker–about the same complexion as the heroine–than he’s ever been shown in sneak peeks of the film online.)
It’s no secret that when the pair meets, the striking Prince is already a frog and a fairytale-like kiss which he charms her into actually results in her becoming an amphibian, too. Their quest to regain their human figures takes them on a journey of misadventures throughout New Orleans and the bayou where they befriend a giant, but gentle gator (think Eddie Murphy as “Donkey” from the Shrek series), a firefly who’s both figuratively and literally a guiding light, and a 197-year-old voodoo queen. And they’ll need plenty of friends to avoid a swarm of hungry gators, gun-totting moonshiners seeking frog legs for dinner and a black magic villain who won’t let anything or anyone get in the way of his desire to capture the frog prince. Clearly, it’s not easy being green, even in the Big Easy.
Of course, New Orleans’s unique culture–from its Mardi Gras parade and spicy gumbo (they pour in the Tabasco throughout the film), to its riverboats and French Quarter–are center stage. Nowhere is this better taken advantage of than through a lovable gator, named Louis (after Armstrong) who is never far from his trumpet and in the film’s big Broadway-esque musical numbers, which are heavy on the trombones in an ode to the city’s rich jazz history.
Despite the strong-willed characters, the fast-paced adventure, and even the laughs, undoubtedly, there will be hard critics of the film. They will lament that Princess Tiana didn’t get a Black Prince (his race never comes up in the film) and some will discuss the characters’ complexions (everybody Black is Crayola Brown) or even the width of their features and hair textures (as the LA Times noted in its review.) That’s fine. It would have been impossible to please all of the Black women who have been clamoring to see an image of themselves and their daughters as a Disney princess. Still ‘The Princess and the Frog,’ which harkens back to Black fairytale classics like ‘Mahogany’ and ‘Coming to America’ at its magical conclusion, will please most of us this time.
‘The Princess and the Frog’ opens today in select cities.