“The Princess and the Frog” is Disney’s latest 2D animation. What makes its release so special is the fact it’s the first Disney film featuring an African-American princess. As with anything new brought to the public, the film created controversy, many people being outrage by a number of issues found in the initial press release, amongst them being the original name of the film and characters.
The film is a fairy tale set in Jazz-Age era New Orleans and centered on a young girl named Tiana and her fateful kiss with a frog prince who desperately wants to become a human again.
The story of the film began development with the merge of two separate projects in development from Disney and Pixar, both based around ‘Frog Prince’ fairy tale.
One of the projects was based on E. D. Baker’s “The Frog princess”, in which the story’s heroine kisses a prince turned into a frog to return him to his human for, but instead she’s turned into a frog. The other project was based on the original Grimm brothers’ fairy tale “The Frog Prince”, which inspired E. D. Baker for his version.
Controversy surrounding the film
Most controversy around the film revolves around racism, especially around the African-American community which has suffered in the past in the United States of America more than other ethnic communities.
The original title of the film was “The Frog Princess”, but was shortly changed after the initial press release because accusations were made of it insinuating that African-American women are ugly.
Even though the title was changed, looking at posters or covers for the movie, Disney still has the two problematic words the biggest, “Princess” and “Frog”. Linking them, changing places and adding “The” to form “The Frog Princess” is not far behind in anyone’s mind.
The original princess name
The princess’ original name was ‘Maddy’. African-American critics disapproved of the original name of the character, feeling that ‘Maddy’ sounded too much like the derogatory term ‘Mammy’. Maddy’s original career as a chambermaid didn’t help Disney fight the critics.
The ethnicity of the prince
The choice to have a non-black prince was also criticized. Opinions are divided amongst those who think Tiana should have an African-American prince and those who think Disney made the right decision with this character. Disney’s supporters consider that children don’t care about this and that it improves relations between ethnic communities. Moreover, it maintains Disney’s desire to promote family values more than anything else.
Placement of the story in New Orleans
New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina
Placing the film in New Orleans has brought both praise and critique. The main concerns being the relation with the viewers after the Katrina hurricane passed through New Orleans and left a disaster, the inclusion of voodoo in the film and certain characters.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina greatly damaged the city of New Orleans and resulted in the expulsion of a large number of mostly black residents. Critics claimed that the choice of New Orleans as the setting for the film with a black heroine was a direct attack towards the plight of the victims of Katrina, saying this reminds the people of what they’ve lost. Others consider this is a positive and glorifying image of New Orleans to remind people of its history, people and beauty.
New Orleans and Vodoo
Since the release, there have been critiques considering the usage of Voodoo. It’s not a common practice in the whole world and neither in the United States, but more locally. Disney game voodoo magical attributes, though it being considered more a religion than magic or witchcraft. This has been criticized because it brings a negative image to voodoo. Christian critiques consider the image of voodoo is too dark, so the film becomes inappropriate for children of small ages. Apart from that, non-Christian consider bringing together voodoo and witchcraft gives voodoo the image of evil, which it is not. Disney tries to balance the evil male character voodoo witch doctor with a female mother-like figure that represents what voodoo is, a form of religion close to nature.
The princess and her talking animal friends
Something that can be noticed in all of Disney’s films is the princesses’ ability to befriend animals. An animal that attracts special attention in “The Princess and the Frog” is Tiana’s alligator sidekick which has a passion for jazz and playing the trumpeter and singing, making the film somewhat racist. Unintentional (or not), a similar “mistake” can be found in Disney’s “Mulan”, where the main character has a pet dragon, which might be offensive to Chinese people.
Backing down on certain things
Disney was also criticized for backing down on certain things that people felt were not at all racist. This is very subjective because depending on a lot of factors (race, background, religion, etc.), certain things might or might not be inappropriate.
In conclusion, Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” is a successful and creative movie, which received both critique and praise for its story, characters and ideas. But the real critics for such films aren’t the adults, but the children who watch them. Censorship is exaggerated nowadays and children don’t care very much about such things and about a lot of things, but what we show them affects their way of thinking on the future and the type of people they become. By children in the world, “The Princess and the Frog” was loved by children as much as were all other films that Disney created and in children’s opinion; this film deserves to be part of the Disney’s legacy.
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