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KIDS WATCH: 'The Princess and the Frog'

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The same old Disney, not that it's not enjoyable.

the princess and the frog

Rhianwen Benner: THE LOWDOWN
Disney returns to traditional 2D animation with this adaptation of E.D. Baker's young adult novel, "The Frog Princess," based on the classic Grimm Brothers tale. In this version, both prince and (eventual) princess are turned into frogs.

It's hard to believe, but Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is Disney's very first African-American princess. And she is a good role model too: a focused, entrepreneurial young woman who knows hard work is necessary to achieve her dreams. Unlike many princess characters, Tiana is not looking for a man to complete her, and that should encourage your young daughters.

Tiana's male counterpart, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), transforms from a misogynistic playboy into a man who truly appreciates strong and independent women.

We are reminded over and over that wishing and wanting will only get you so close to your dreams, that hard work and dedication will take you the rest of the way. A timely message in an age when everyone wants to be famous and nobody wants to work, even if we are kind of beaten over the head with it.

The movie is set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, circa 1913. As you can imagine, it's quite a rich setting: rowdy jazz, crazy parades, scary voodoo, and an all-around party atmosphere. Musician Randy Newman clearly has deep love and respect for traditional jazz, and his score makes "The Princess and the Frog" hop off the screen.

There is a lovable cast of supporting characters, including a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley), and Ray (Jim Cummings), a Cajun firefly in love with a bright star. As Louis and Ray accompany Tiana and Prince Naveen on their journey, sweet and genuine friendships are formed.

Cheers to Disney for breaking their princess color barrier, as it were, but Tiana spends the vast majority of the movie as a frog. As the Disney Princess brand grows and strengthens its grasp, how popular is poor Tiana going to be when most little girls will know her best as a mucous-covered reptile?

There is also an unrealistic depiction of race relations in the early twentieth century American south. Tiana's best friend is a wealthy white heiress who lives in a mansion, while Tiana lives in poverty on the edge of town in a small shack. The movie acts as if this makes all the sense in the world. Tiana's dream is to open a restaurant that "brings people from all walks of life together," but given the historical context of the film, she would probably be dreaming of just achieving some semblance of equality. Disney has Disney-fied American racial tensions.

As for things that may scare your children, there is a voodoo practitioner named Doctor Facilier (Keith David) with "friends on the other side" who do his bidding. Eventually, he is dragged away into his own grave by these "friends" -- which might frighten children who are, you know, afraid of ghosts killing them.

Doctor Facilier also ruthlessly kills Ray, and there is a funeral (of sorts) held for him before he ascends skyward to join the star in the sky he loves. With all the death and ghoul stuff going on, you might want to leave kids younger than elementary age at home.

While "The Princess and the Frog" is very entertaining, it certainly is not breaking new ground. In fact, it follows the same old Disney formula. As satisfying as the formula may be, there's not enough new in this film to be a classic.

Though not on par with classics like "Beauty and the Beast" or "Aladdin," this movie is a return to form for Disney. It also presents you opportunities to talk about race, history, and dreams with your children.

next: Mom Regains Sight, Sees Youngest Daughter for the First Time
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
√Ądamas December 18, 2009, 6:05 PM

“…know her best as a mucous-covered reptile?”

a frog is not a reptile it is an amphibian

Carly December 19, 2009, 9:57 PM

I really don’t think Disney was trying to historically correct. If they were, there wouldn’t of been much of a story. Look at their version of Pocahontas or even their retelling of Hercules. What parent would let their children go see a cartoon about segregation and racism? I know I wouldn’t.

Kristine January 2, 2010, 4:53 PM

I don’t understand why you don’t see this to be as ground breaking as it was. It is just as much classic worthy as any other Disney Princess film. You’re reading to far into it. No other Disney classic has ever been truly historically accurate, why would this one be any different? I agree that some elements in this movie are frightening, but every Disney Villain is. This movie has beautiful scenery, magical elements, and an extremely romantic tale that I personally adored.

jenn January 11, 2010, 4:46 PM

I really appreciate this review. I first took my daughter to a movie theater to see WALL-E. She loved it. A machine as a villain isn’t too bad. But add dark ghosts and death and we’re talking a whole new level of scary for my 4-year-old. So thank you for the warning. That would’ve made for a long night of bad dreams!

Harriet February 14, 2010, 1:12 PM

I loved the cute new approach to the story and can’t wait for (except for the dark floating spirits)The Princess and the Frog DVD. I didn’t care much for the dark floating spirits, but like The Swan Princess before it, at the end of the day it speaks of the power of LOVE to conquer evil. Thumbs up!

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