NO REAL SPOILERS Fitting in with the last post about unsung movie heroines (albeit only accidentally), I saw The Princess And The Frog last week with Wee Girl, being half term. A reimagining of the old tale about the princess who kisses a frog who then turns into a prince (and they live happily ever after), in this version the “princess” isn’t a princess at all, but a waitress living in Jazz-Age New Orleans. And she turns into a frog as well. And oh: she’s black.
There’s been some talk about whether The Princess And The Frog is racist. Whilst many are quick to point out “it’s just a cartoon” or that it’s good to see not only a female protagonist (even if she’s drawn), but a black one too, I think it’s important not to dismiss the worry it *could be* racist as hysteria. After all, not only do movies (even animated ones aimed at children… Or especially animated ones animated ones aimed at children?) present a view of the time they’re written/made, but set up whether we will see any more *like them* for right or wrong in the future.
And I did see stereotyping in The Frog And The Princess. But funnily enough, whilst I was daring the script to say “slave” with all its talk of New Orleans’ signature dish Gumbo, to its credit it never did once – and it was not any of the black characters I felt were drawn too broadly. In fact, of all the characters (and there was some very shallow characterisation, particularly of the men, not least the playboy Prince and the Big Daddy character played by John Goodman), it seemed as if the white yokels who go frog trapping were the most obvious and underdrawn to me. I wasn’t offended per se; I just thought that sequence was dumb and let the rest of the movie down.
For the record, I don’t really understand why Voodoo can be quoted as being racist in conjunction to this storyline: witches are oft part of Disney storylines from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella right through to its modern day fare like this. Is that offensive to women, who are most likely to be those antagonists? Of all the issues I have with the representation of women in cinema (let me count the ways!!!), generally-speaking witchcraft has never been one of them.
Looking at the film as a whole, I can report it starts as it means to go on: fast, with bags of sentiment and a fuzzy glow. As anyone who accompanies children to the movies on a regular basis knows, there are often those moments in family films which drag and have you looking at your watch every thirty seconds for what feels like an hour (but it is actually only about fifteen minutes). I was pleased to find this not only wasn’t the case with The Princess And The Frog, I actually enjoyed it once I had allowed myself to get swept along with it [which was about four minutes in!]. The afternoon rushed by and I can tell you the Shadow Man’s evil demons were officially scarier than the creatures in Drag Me to Hell!
And looking at Tiana in isolation, I think she’s quite a triumph. She’s hard working, strong, knows her own mind; she has ambition, is loyal to her family and genuinely cares about other people. Unlike many female protagonists I see in specs, she isn’t thoughtless or vain; in fact, her arc and the realisation she must make across the course of the narrative is much more subtle, even if it is spelt out in glorious technicolour with some fabulous musical numbers, courtesy of an alligator with a trumpet and a frog with a makeshift ukelele (and of course the awesome Randy Newman).
VERDICT: Definitely worth a watch, if only to see what all the fuss is about so you can make up your own mind.
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