This past weekend I took T. to her first movie birthday party, to see "The Princess and the Frog". Since it was her first experience at the movies in the context of a party, I wanted to go, too. Yes, I was nervous about T. being at the movies without us, but I also wanted to see the film myself. I missed out on many early movie viewing experiences because of L.’s phobias about seeing movies in the cinema, and when I do get a chance to go, I jump at it. I was also curious about the film itself. I hadn’t read much about it, or heard many responses to the film, beyond T.’s initial description: “it’s a movie about a Princess and a frog”.
To be fair to T., it was. But it was also so much more than that. Finally, I left a Disney movie feeling satisfied and good about what I had just seen. Finally Disney moved beyond the same old character stereotypes they have relied upon in so many films: the beautiful but struggling very white heroine, the evil female character, the andro-centric world of strong male figures who wait in the wings to sweep the heroine off her feet, to save her, to protect her from the evil female forces that lurk in the darker places of her world. In fact, most of my problems with Disney films have to do with how poorly female relationships are depicted—the mother is usually absent from the start of the film, and the heroine either an orphan, or the daughter of a kind but bumbling father-figure who just can’t (of course) satisfy all of his daughter’s desires.
You know what happens next. The heroine is thwarted in her desires by evil female figure, male hero swoops in for the rescue, female heroine falls in love after just a kiss, or a dance, or one touch from the strong and capable male hero’s hands. Cue music.
Apart from the fact that Disney films depict love as the physical exchange of tokens of affection (he kissed me! I must be in love!), I always felt sad for the female heroine, whose only friends were often animals of the forest, or crotchety crabs, or small men in hats. What I so liked about “The Princess and the Frog” is that it’s not simply a fairy-tale, sugar-spun unrealistically portrayed love story about a man saving a woman, but a story of a woman saving herself, following her dreams, using common-sense and intelligence, and sensitivity, and turning to several strong women in her life to help her along the way. It’s a story of unlikely love and friendship: a bumbling, self-centered, well-meaning, pampered young man who falls in love with an unlikely woman (Tiana, the waitress) because of who she is, not the reverse. It’s also the story of two women who grow up together and form a very unlikely friendship: Charlotte, the spoiled and very white Southern belle—princessy with her blond hair and perfect smile and dimples, and Tiana, the black daughter of a seamstress. The two remain unlikely friends throughout their young lives and even though I kept expecting Charlotte to turn on Tiana evil step-sister-style (they both ultimately wished to marry the same man), Charlotte unhesitatingly stands by her friend in the end.
I really enjoyed this film, and I haven't felt this gushy about a children's film in a long while. There were a few scary scenes with dark, menacing shadows and voo-doo skulls (courtesy of a necromancer who bears an eerie resemblance to Prince) and I'm not certain L. could have held up under those scenes--they did seem a little intense for five year-olds, but T. buried her head in a friend's shoulder and was fine. The music is wonderful, the animation fantastic and evocative. This might also have been the only time I found myself weeping unabashedly over the death of a firefly.
Would I see it again? Yes.