Mickey just can’t catch a break – seriously. It’s hard out there for a mouse.
The Disney Princess line up, home to iconic household names such as Belle, Snow White and Cinderella, will be crowning an African American princess for the first time this December, with the release of “The Princess and the Frog.” Never having shaken the love of cartoons or the princess mentality I grew up with, this is music to my ears.
Though I’m not one to analyze race relations when it comes to animation, throughout my childhood I wondered more than once why there weren’t more characters that looked like me in any of my Saturday morning cartoons, and I’m thankful that the next generation won’t have the same problem. “The Princess and the Frog” marks Disney’s return to traditional, 2-D animation with a Broadway musical style format that, if the teaser trailer released last summer is any indication, is sure to please. That is, if the critics could stop being politically correct long enough to consider enjoying it.
It’s been a bumpy journey to the crown for Princess Tiana, the star of the upcoming film, originally titled “The Frog Princess.” At first, her name was Maddy and she worked as a chambermaid. The sketch of her character design was strikingly different from the regal images of her in the ‘lily pod dress,’ as fans have come to describe it. Her name was changed due to claims that Maddy “sounded like a slave name.” I had a (white) friend named Madi who more than rolled her eyes at that claim. Her design was changed because her lips and nose were apparently “too big” and that she “wasn’t as pretty” as her white counterparts. Um, okay.
Early in the production process and eager to please (not to mention, eager to avoid another “Mulan”-reminiscent backlash), Disney changed all of that. Now we have a pretty pretty princess with a pretty princess name and a pretty princess dress and even a pretty princess title for her pretty princess movie. Happy now, naysayers? Not so much. When it was revealed that the story was set to take place in New Orleans, critics chose to ignore the years of musical and cultural historic value the city held for the African American community and focus on Hurricane Katrina. Katrina happened in New Orleans, and black people died. Obviously, having the movie take place in New Orleans was insensitive. So does that mean Disney can’t have a movie take place in New York, either? Because of 9/11?
Ridiculous still was the uproar over Tiana’s love interest, Prince Naveen. While sources conflict on the prince’s actual heritage, he’s definitely not black. Having been in a couple interracial relationships myself, I was excited to see Disney knock down two barriers with one stone – a black princess in an interracial relationship? This movie was made for me. But of course, critics claimed this was racist because it was like Disney was saying black men can’t be princes. Or that black on black love wasn’t acceptable. Or something. Then there was controversy over how long Tiana spent in her human form versus how much time she spent in her frog form – even though the story is about her being turned into a frog! Disney seriously can not win.
The worst part of all this is that the people making the most noise about this movie aren’t even in its targeted audience – this is a Disney Princess movie, people. It’s geared at children and is meant to be enjoyed as such, not dissected to within an inch of its life. I applaud Disney for their efforts to diversify their cast of characters and eagerly look forward to the movie’s premiere – I plan to take my younger sister and buy a copy for my future daughter. Honestly, I think the critics have played the race card so many times that they’re about to be out of a full deck – and they haven’t even seen the movie yet.