- The Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog is Disney's first full-length animated fairy-tale film based on a specific tale type (ATU 440) in more than two decades, and it introduces the first African American to the highly marketed Disney Princesses series.
The film begins in classic Disney style with both narration and a storybook. The storyteller is the protagonist Tiana's mother, who is reading the story of "The Frog Prince" to Tiana and her friend Charlotte. The unlikely friends—a poor African American girl and a rich white girl in 1920s New Orleans—have disparate reactions to kissing a frog in order to marry a prince. Charlotte would do anything to marry a prince, but Tiana finds frog kissing gross and not worth the outcome. These early reactions shape the worldviews of the girls as they move into early womanhood—Charlotte continues to yearn for a royal wedding, whereas Tiana dreams of owning her own restaurant with no thought of marriage.
Upon hearing of the arrival of Prince Naveen, Charlotte throws a costume party in the hopes of catching his eye. Naveen, however, has been changed into a frog by Dr. Facilier, thus allowing Naveen's greedy servant to take his [End Page 133] place. When Naveen sees Tiana dressed as a princess singing to shooting stars, he assumes her kiss will restore his human form, but because she is not really a princess, when she kisses him, she is changed into a frog as well. To ascertain a way to change them both back, the two journey through stereotypical New Orleans locales.
No Disney film would be complete without singing animal helpers, and Tiana and Naveen enlist the aid of Louis, a jazz-loving alligator, and Ray, a Cajun lightning bug, to take them to Mama Odie to find a cure. Rather than offering straightforward answers, Mama Odie tries to get the frogs to "dig deeper" for what they need, not just desire, from life. Naveen realizes he loves Tiana, but Tiana is not yet willing to admit she needs anything besides her restaurant.
Although Naveen initially plans to propose, he chooses instead to give Tiana her dream by kissing and marrying Charlotte, who is Princess of Mardi Gras, so as to transform them back into humans. However, neither Charlotte nor Tiana allows him to follow through because Tiana finally declares her love for him. Instead of remaining frogs indefinitely, the two become human again with their wedding kiss because Tiana has now become a princess and she is able to have both her prince and her restaurant.
Disney clearly hoped The Princess and the Frog would propel them back onto the top of full-length animated films after years of falling in popularity to Pixar and Dreamworks. The film applies two of Disney's critical and market successes: hand-drawn animation and the fairy-tale princess. Tiana is clearly meant to fall in line behind Belle and Jasmine and their predecessors Snow White, Cinderella, and Aurora. The film itself even insinuates this marketability by showcasing Charlotte's princess dresses and paraphernalia in the opening sequence, which closely mimic the gowns already available to wannabe princesses through Disney retailers.
Conscious of the criticism lodged against previous Disney fairy-tale films for offering young girls either completely passive heroines who await their princes or pseudo-feminist heroines who read and dream of escaping patriarchal confines, the creators of The Princess and the Frog attempt to showcase a modern heroine. Co-director John Musker explains in the DVD commentary that Tiana "broke the mold, not just because she was African American, but because she actually had a dream that wasn't finding a prince . . . [and was] the first princess that really had a job and a career path." Although Tiana is unique among the Disney princesses for having a job and finding her happily ever after as a restaurateur with her royal husband working for her, rather than living idly in a palace, she...