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Why For is Disney already doing damage control on "The Princess and the Frog" ?

Why For is Disney already doing damage control on "The Princess and the Frog" ?

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First up, Jacob L. writes in to ask:

Did you see that story earlier this week about how Disney's PR department was reaching out to all these websites, telling them that much of the information that's now posted on the Web about "The Princess and the Frog" is wrong ? I don't recall the Walt Disney Company ever doing anything like that before. What's up with that ?

Two words, Jacob. Damage control.

Never in the entire history of the Walt Disney Company has the studio's PR department had to deal with a situation like this. Responding to people who are writing angry editorials about a motion picture that they haven't seen yet. That won't even reach theaters for another 2 1/2 years.

Of course, what's ironic about all this was that "The Princess and the Frog" (formerly known as "The Frog Princess") was supposed to be the film that would bring about the triumphant return of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios. Which is why Mickey's public relations staff thought that the official announcement of this movie -- which will feature Disney's first-ever African-American Princess -- would be greeted with tons of positive coverage.

Instead the exact opposite happened. Almost from the moment that John Lasseter stood on stage at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center and told the Disney shareholders who were gathered at this year's annual meeting that ...

"I'm proud to announce we've started production on a (new) movie.

We are going back to hand-drawn animation -- Go ahead, clap. I'm clapping too. I love animation. We're also going back to classic Disney fairytale, but this one is an American fairytale. It is called 'The Frog Princess.'

I
Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, LLC

The Frog Princess is being written and directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who did 'The Little Mermaid' and 'Aladdin,' among other great movies. And it's a fantastic, fantastic story, and I'm really proud to say The Frog Princess takes place entirely in New Orleans.

The movie is completely set in New Orleans, with the fabulous French Quarter, the beautiful Garden District, the mystic bayou, the mighty Mississippi. It's full of what this city has that's so wonderful that I love so much. It's got the jazz, the Mardi Gras; it's got the voodoo spells. In fact, it even has a soulful, singing alligator, and it's great.

The main character of the story, our hero, is named Maddy. And I am very, very proud to announce that she is the very first African American Disney princess. We're really proud and excited about this. This is a fantastic story, this movie is going to be classic Disney, yet you've never seen one like it before.

... the politically-correct types came out of the woodwork and began finding reasons to bitch and moan about this yet-to-be-animated animated feature.

Chief among their complaints were:

  • The name "Maddy" sounded too much like "Mammy" and/or "Addy" (Which supposedly was a slave name)
  • Maddy starts off this film working as a chamber maid for Charlotte, a rich, white, spoiled Southern débutante. Which -- to some particularly sensitive types -- also smacked of slavery.
  • The film's original title -- "The Frog Princess" -- was interpreted (by some) to be insulting toward France. Or -- at the very least -- a slur on French royalty.

Now here are poor Ron'n' John (Who are already having to deal with the enormous pressure that comes from knowing that traditional animation's future at Walt Disney Studios is pretty much riding on how well "The Frog Princess" does at the box office) trying to make the best possible movie they can ... Only to then find themselves caught in the middle of this politically-correct firestorm. Where op-ed writers were pouring over their film's casting list, actively looking for things that they can then pretend to be offended (EX: The number of people who expressed outrage that the movie's villain -- Dr. Duvalier -- is a smooth sinister black man who practices voodoo).


 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, LLC

Disney did what they could to quickly address people's concerns about this motion picture. Which is why -- over the past two months -- they got word out that the film's title had been changed from "The Frog Princess" to "The Princess and the Frog." They also used that "Enchanted" article that Susan Wloszczyna wrote for U.S.A. Today last week to let animation fans know that Maddy's name had been changed to Tiana.

But the "Frog Princess" furor still refused to die down. Which is why -- earlier this week -- the Walt Disney Company took the unprecedented step of reaching out to BET, Suite101, the A-List and several other websites who had previously published negative pieces about this still-in-development animation feature and issuing the following statement:

"While it is a Studio policy that we do not comment on our animated films while they are in the early stages of production due to the nature of our evolving development process, it has come to our attention that there is incorrect information being circulated about Disney's 2009 motion picture 'The Princess and the Frog' (whose previous working title was 'The Frog Princess').

The central character is a young girl named Princess Tiana. The story takes place in the charming elegance and grandeur of New Orleans' fabled French Quarter during the Jazz Age. She is the newest addition to the Studio's royal family of 'Disney Princesses.' Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney's rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.

This American fairy tale is several years away from completion and the creative process is ongoing. No other details regarding the film have been released at this point, and unfortunately much of the information that has surfaced, including the casting breakdown ... is inaccurate. When we do casting calls we frequently use substitute information as we don't want details out about the movies. Therefore that information you have is incorrect."

Mind you, Disney PR is hoping that this blanket the-Web-has-bad-info-about-"The-Princess-and-the-Frog" statement will then allow the politically-correct controversy that currently surrounds this still-in-development animated feature to finally dissipate. Which will then allow Ron'n'John and their production team to get back to the business of making the most entertaining movie they can.

But what about that other politically-correct controversy that threatens to consume "The Princess and the Frog" ? What am I talking about ? Let's start with this e-mail that I received from Jen B. :

Hi Jim,

I just found your site and as a Disney lover I have to tell you it is wonderful reading. I was wondering if you had any recent information about a "Song of the South" release in the US.

Thanks

Jen

 

Dear Jen --

Okay. This is one of those somewhat circular connect-the-dots stories. So please bear with me, okay?


 Copyright 2007 Disney Enterprises, LLC

Earlier this year (At the very same meeting where John Lasseter officially announced "The Frog Princess," in fact), Bob Iger revealed that he had just placed Dick Cook -- the Chairman of Walt Disney Studios -- in charge of determining whether or not the Walt Disney Company should release "Song of the South" on DVD.

Now a few weeks ago, I heard that Dick Cook reportedly asked Ron'n'John if it would be possible to have an entire sequence from "The Princess and the Frog" (Formerly known as "The Frog Princess") completed by the late Summer / early Fall of 2008. And by completed, I mean voiced, animated, edited, fully scored and color-corrected.

Soooo ... Why would Cook need a sequence of this film completed within the next 15 months ? It's simple, really. Dick supposedly wanted this excerpt from "The Princess and the Frog" to be an extra feature on the "Song of the South" DVD. So that this 2009 film can then effectively run interference for that 1946 Academy Award winner.

To explain: What the Mouse was hoping to do with this completed sequence from "The Princess and the Frog" was when people would then raise objections to "Song of the South" and its depiction of blacks, Disney officials would then be able to point to this excerpt from their studio's upcoming traditionally animated feature and say "Look, back in the 1940s, we may have depicted African-Americans in a sometimes clichéd, often despicable fashion. But we don't do that anymore. Look how even-handed we are with the characters from 'The Princess and the Frog.' How we don't use any stereotypes with this film."


 Copyright 1946 Walt Disney Productions

It was hoped that -- by doing this -- Disney officials would then give those who would automatically hammer on "Song of the South" because of the way that film depicts blacks much less to complain about. Defuse the situation, so to speak.

The only problem with this plan that it was dreamed up prior to "The Frog Princess" being consumed by its own PC controversy. Now, there are those at the Mouse House who wonder if it's wise to link these projects. Thereby making both "Song of the South" and "The Princess and the Frog" bigger targets for politically-correct types.

However, should the complaints about Ron'n'John's newest project actually be defused by that statement that Disney released to the Web earlier this week ... Well, the company might (And let me stress that word again: might) try putting "Song of the South" out in stores in time for the 2008 holiday shopping season.

And just so you know, Jen ... Disney's supposedly considering making "Song of the South" a title that they'd then release under their recently resurrected "Disney Treasures" line. Which could possibly mean a very small production run for this particular DVD. Something along the lines of 150,000 to 500,000 units tops. Just to sort of test the waters. To see if there'd actually be an uproar if the Walt Disney Company were to make this 60+ year-old film widely available for sale in the U.S.

If that Disney Treasures version of this film does well ... Well, look for the Mouse -- a year or so later -- to make another, wide-open edition of "Song of the South" available for purchase. But only in the Disney Blu-Ray format. Which would (in theory) provide consumers with yet another incentive to invest in HD technology.

Of course, a lot of things can happen between now and the 2008 holiday season, Jen. Disney could get cold feet about "Song of the South" and/or decide that "The Princess and the Frog" is already far too controversial. Which is why they then wouldn't dare to do anything to link these two films.

But -- that said -- this shows that the Walt Disney Company is once again looking for ways that they can then release "Song of the South" to the U.S. market. Which should give all you animation fans out there some reason to hope again ... I think.

Your thoughts ?

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  • Erg, "The Frog and the Princess" is still politically incorrect. In fact, it now seems more politically incorrect than before. Tiana...a princess? When was there an African-American princess in American history? Is she going to be a rich character now? I don't think there were such a thing as very wealthy African-Americans at that time and place, other than in big cities or in other Southern towns where most of the population were black. (Then again, I don't know much about African-American history in New Orleans.)

    The early concepts sounded very interesting and promising, but the controversy seemed to have killed off the imagination. Still, the new film should be politically correct.

    No, not politically correct, but HISTORICALLY CORRECT!!!

  • I hope they just quit trying to be politically correct and make a great film.  They are NEVER going to satisfy people that are looking to be constantly offened.

    Just make sure the movie has a great story with great animation, John...

    Another thing I hate.  I hate, Hate, HATE is the new title.  I liked "The Frog Princess"... kinda like The Lion King... "The Princess and the Frog" sounds like some generic title released by Filmation straight to video in the late eighties or something.

    I hope they develope some testicular fortitude and make what they believe is a great movie.  Stop trying to please everybody...  or they'll please nobody.

  • I am a white male, so I'm sure that my opinion does not hold that much weight. However, stories like this frustrate me to no end. There is unfair stereotyping in America today along with racism. But give me a freaking break here! People did not like the name Maddy because it sounds something like mammy??? I hate hate hate things like this!!! People with agendas playing the race card when it is completely unwarranted. For any P.C. type that reads this please understand that it completely takes validity away from much bigger race issues when things like this happen. I understand that Disney is making their first movie with an Afro-American hero-princess and that they need to treat this with kid gloves. The point should be, shame on them for not making one sooner. Not shame on Disney for naming a character Maddy. I think that it is laughable that Disney is going out of their way to do anything to please the P.C. people of the world. Now that they have made these changes, they open their selves up for this movie to be picked apart until there is nothing left. I hope that in the future Disney does not cower to the loud minority (no pun intended) and just go about their business.

  • I will be so irritated if these PC-types ruin this film for the rest of us. "Aida" was originally developed as an animated film: would there have been the same controversy surrounding that project? As it was on Broadway, it was a fabulous story and experience and I expect nothing less from "The Princess and The Frog" (I too prefer the original title).

    I suspect there would be controversy surrounding any Disney project where a black person is or isn't involved. Hopefully they don't cancel the project, because they're never going to satisfy everyone either way. That doesn't mean they should shelve the idea of a black princess: they have to do it eventually and they're always going to have to deal with the nay-sayers. I can't wait for the return of 2D and I will be extremely upset if I have to wait any longer for it due to things like this.

  • That's too bad about the name change. There are so many Maddies out there right now with all of the Madisons and Madelines, I'm sure they would have loved having a princess with their name. Maybe this kind of controversy is the reason why there has never been an African-American princess before.

  • I'm black, and maybe I'm too liberal to make a good statement, but WHAT?! Dear god, people will write everything to screw a movie before it has reached a substantial production state!! Do those "journalists" know that in that time in history all the situations Disney had put in "The Frog Princess" were kind-off correct?! And can we please stop nagging about "Song of the South"!!! In sooooooooooooooo many movies of the past blacks are being portrayed as slaves, because.. uhm.. let me see, it is historically correct!!!

    Damn, people are so ignorant. Even in the all-time highest grossing movie (adjusted) "Gone With the Wind" (beautiful movie) blacks are portrayed in a sometimes negative manner. So what, more white people are being portrayed in a negative way in movies nowadays, and I don't see everybody ranting about that!

    And the title is too long now, I don't like it. "The Frog Princess" was a classic name, and who doesn't know the story. Now we have "The Princess and the Frog" :S Oh! And how come she is a Princess now?! Does that even tie in with the rest of the story?! And I guess she isn't a maid anymore, too bad.

    God, I can see why Disney is trying to do all this, but it is too bad they HAVE to do it. Guess that maybe if they weren't a publicly trading company it didn't matter so much, and they wouldn't have changed all the good elements. Well.. My day is ruined!! :P

  • To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: "There they go again."

    Who the heck CARES what bloggers say?  Disney's once-fabled PR team should know that when they pay attention to erroneous information, they just fuel the fire -- particularly since Disney has a very long history of issuing denials shortly before the rumor comes true!

    American history has a period of slavery.  It's an ugly, unhappy period overall, but it should never be off-limits to storytellers.  In the 1920s, New Orleans was racially divided and tensions no doubt ran high.  But tension makes for drama, which makes for great stories.

    "Why does she work for that mean lady, mama?" is the question a six-year-old is most likely to answer about a chambermaid of any color (think Cinderella).  It's how we answer and address that question that becomes the source of angst.  Few parents think to say, "Because she has to, but she doesn't want to and hopes she can do better."  Instead, they get flustered and say, "How dare you make me discuss slavery with my children."  What was poor Cindy?  Simply a disliked stepdaughter?  And why bring up step-families anyway?  Doesn't Disney know how SENSITIVE that topic is to modern parents?  How dare they show that!

    The Little Mermaid -- what a demeaning title.  Why must a girl be "little"?  And a "maid"?  Why not a "mer-young-woman"?

    Belle only wants to sit around and read books and pines for adventure while unhappily tending house for her father.  Why, she even does the GROCERY SHOPPING.  How insulting!

    Don't even GO THERE about Snow White.  Her idea of happiness is cleaning and baking for angry white men?  How do I explain THAT to my children?

    A few years back, I saw "Song of the South" with an audience of about 80 Disney employees.  A famous critic introduced it for us and moderated a discussion afterward.  There wasn't a dry eye in the house when the movie ended; everyone was genuinely moved by the story it told.  The audience was asked to close their eyes so no one could be judgmental and then raise their hands if they thought the movie was racist in any way, even mildly.  Then they were asked to open their eyes -- and we found that not a single person had raised their hand.  The discussion that followed centered around WHY people thought Song of the South might be racist, and it came down to this: No one wanted to watch the movie and judge for themselves.  Highbrow, elitist critics, meanwhile, say simply that Uncle Remus could never have been happy as a plantation sharecropper after being freed from slavery.  They fail to accept that a) this is a fictional story; and b) it's as likely Uncle Remus could be happy as it is that Anakin Skywalker could be swayed to the dark side because his mother was killed.  We accept the limitations of the story for the sake of enjoying the movie.

    Disney's (possibly) well-meaning PR department wasn't particularly far-sighted on this one.  Instead of ignoring blathering Idiots With Blogs and waiting for the "controversy" to die down, they have jeopardized the future of what could be quite a lovely little movie.

    (Oh, and as to the question of whether there were princesses in America, why does Disney continue to berate and demean little girls by insisting that all women with a dream must be "princesses."  Last I saw, Disney was even calling MULAN a "princess."  Now, THAT is insulting!)

  • There are so many things wrong here.

    Would it be a good idea to release a film like "The Song Of The South" which is sure to stur up controversy anyway as a  "Disney Treasure" ? Won't this upset even more folks?

    If that is indeed the case... why can't they release another little piece of historic Disney treasure known as "Captain EO". I'm serious.

    If there are people out there who don't appreciate the creation of the first african american princess then I say scrap the idea in favor of the story of Randy, the white montana ranchers doughter story about a girl who discovers for the first time she is more a prince than a princess. She goes up against the evil logging company tycoon in order to save a collection of cute forrest critter's habitat from destruction, all the while falling in love with her girlfirend Jo-Leen.

    I mean seriously, what a nice gesture for Disney to make all these changes to please these vultures.  They must care more about the young african american girls who will see this movie and see the girl as a champion regardless of her name, where she lives, or who she works for.  I think the princess is adorable and a fine addition just from the early photos. And the music intended for this New Orleans atmosphere is sure to be entertaining and etreamly easy on the ears. Who would want to complain about that.

    I don't mean to be harsh. But perhaps disney should create a story in Mexico, with the first Mexican princess first?

    And the complains about the villian? Whats next? Jafar was a muslim extreamist promoting terorism?

  • LOL, @ Epcot82 & Rluke1971..

  • I just don't get it...

    I'm a mixed-race (Black Caribbean/White Welsh) middle-aged bloke.

    When I was a kid my Black dad always took us to see Song Of The South when it came around.

    I bought him the Disney video for Christmas when it came out about ten years ago.

    My mixed-race nieces both love the film.

    I haven't met anyone either in my large extended multi-racial family or anyone in the Black community who doesn't love the film.

    Over here in the UK it plays regularly on television - the last time at 11 in the morning on a public holiday. No outcry, no fuss.

    Sorry, guys, but Political Correctness is a lot of apologetic white people wringing their hands over any offence they may cause to us darlin' people of colour.

    Hey, I'm not offended by this charming movie.

    Thinking about it, growing up I got more racism from non-whites than I ever did from Whites.

    It's a damn shame that such a fine movie has been hijacked by a bunch of political-agitators.

    By the way, I'm a scriptwriter by trade; specializing in children's TV and animation.

    The number of times I've been told to include an EM character 'for safety's sake... oh, and they can't be the villain.. or have any possibly offensive character traits...'

    Get over it folks!

    We're the same as you.

    We're not demons or angels.

    We don't need to be mollycoddled as if we're some precious little flower that'll break if you hold us too tight.

    We're just regular people who get frustrated at these stupid pc directives that seem to be dropping like flies around our feet every day of the year.

    The frightening thing now is, is that so much of our history is being propagandized into some myth of a pure black race being stolen by evil whites and forced into slavery.

    It just wasn't like that. I know from my own research that my own ancestors, slaves in the West Indies taken from Africa, were originally sold on by other Blacks to Arab traders, and then on to Whites.

    Slavery was a custom and tradition that ran for thousands of years in Africa before the Whites came calling and made it a truly international business.

    And the worst thing is, slavery is still going on. In Africa, in the Middle East, and even in Europe and the Americas.

    Slaves are being brought into our countries as domestic slaves all the time, but is there an international outcry about it? No.

    What happens if one of these slaves are found over here? They tend to be deported right back where they came from - where the whole thing starts again.

    That's why PC is so dangerous.

    People are afraid to speak out in case they are thought racist.

    Why?

    Because the slave owners are usually non-White you see.

    Chew on that.

    ..

    When my first child is born later this year, (and he/she is going to be a Black Caribbean / Welsh/ Greek/ Irish mix) I'm going to make sure they grow up on the Uncle Remus stories.

    In books and on film.

    If they let me.

  • So... it's ok to have a white servant girl menaced by a white villain, but once they're black characters it's politically incorrect? IT'S A FILM! For god's sake people, watch the Aristocrats and see if you can develop an open mind!

  • I had a long comment made, but my computer messed up.  I said nice posts, everyone, since you're all making great points.  I agree on the Cinderella thing- why is it alright for Cinderella to be a maid, but not an African American girl?  The 1920s was way past the Civil War, so, people- Maddy/Tiana is not a slave.  Get over yourselves.  I wondered if there was any outrage when John Henry & Dr. Sweet (from "Atlantis") first made their debuts, since I don't remember.  I also asked if any Chinese were offended about "Mulan", or any French about "The Aristocats".  I know that some Italians were offended about Pinocchio, just because he "doesn't look Italian enough".  Disney may be alienating their fans (and their stockholders).  I agree with empoor: " I can see why Disney is trying to do all this, but it is too bad they HAVE to do it. Guess that maybe if they weren't a publicly trading company it didn't matter so much, and they wouldn't have changed all the good elements"- how many of these complainers have any stock or care about the company at all?  They just want people to pity them or something...where, as empoor and welshjacky said, they're fine with SOTS.  It's a shame that certain people ruin things for everyone else.  And it's even sadder that Disney is catering to them.

  • Quite honestly, Disney should tell all these PC idiots to go straight to hell and make whatever movie they want to make.

    The truth is, this is like 1% of the population making a bunch of noise. Like most annoying things, if you ignore them eventually they'll go away. Listen to them and you only encourage them to stick around.

    There will ALWAYS be SOMEONE out there who can find SOMETHING to get offended about. Hell, I'm offended that Jim has those annoying pop-up ads on his site, but hey ... I figure I can choose to go somewhere else if I like, right?

    That's what these people need to do. GET OVER IT, SHUT UP, and if you don't like it .... DON'T SEE THE MOVIE!!

    That's what freedom is about ... the freedom to make your own choices, not the freedom to force your choices no other people. That's what PC does and that's one of many, many, many, MANY reasons why I hope that one day those two letters will revert back to meaning only "Personal Computer."

  • Song of the South is innocuous.  There is no controversy.  It's a little boring with the live action sequences, but the animation is fantastic.  When it gets released in the States finally, people will watch it and then be like, "That's it? Where is the frickin' controversy?"  

    And "The Princess and the Frog?" Seriously? How ridiculously generic can you get?  I have a few other issues about the changes that thheyu are trying to implement because the PC losers won't let artists do what they do best. Back to the title though, Ron and John ran into a title problem already with "Basil of Baker Street" when they had to change it into "The Great Mouse Detective."  Like the last time, here are a few alternate titles...

    Pinocchio - The little wooden boy who wanted to be human

    The Little Mermaid - The girl who wanted to see the surface world

    Atlantis - Deep Sea Exploration

    Aladdin - A Boy and his Genie

    See what I mean? They just don't work.  "The Frog Princess" has a much better ring to it because it is a play on "The Frog Prince."

  • Oh, something little I originally added before my computer messed up- Maddie is the name of the candy girl on "The Suite Life of Zack and Cody".  Is she supposed to be a reference to slavery (obviously not).  Geesh.

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