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Will showing selected scenes from “The Princess and the Frog” finally silence this film’s critics?

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Will showing selected scenes from “The Princess and the Frog” finally silence this film’s critics?

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Is it just me? Or does it seem like – every other week – someone new is inventing yet another reason to go after “The Princess and the Frog”?

Almost from the moment that this Walt Disney Animation Studios’ production was officially announced back in March of 2007, there have been individuals & organizations lining up to take a swing at this project. First there were those folks who allegedly took issue for this film’s original title, “The Frog Princess.” Which was reportedly offensive to people from France.

Then there were those who were supposedly upset with the name that WDAS had originally selected for “The Frog Princess” ‘s title character. Evidently Maddy was thought to be a slave name. Which meant that Maddy wasn't a proper moniker for Disney’s first ever African-American princess.

Princess Tiana from Disney's Princess and the Frog 2009
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

To its credit, The Walt Disney Company did move quickly to address any concerns that were initially raised about “The Frog Princess.” First by changing that film’s title to “The Princess and the Frog” and then by changing the name to this movie’s title character from Maddy to Tiana.

Unfortunately, the complaints kept coming. With some people now suggesting that Tiana was far too ethnic sounding a name for Disney’s first African-American princess. While still others insisting that the “Princess and the Frog” ‘s love interest (i.e. Prince Naveen from Maldonia) was much too light-skinned to be a suitable suitor for Tiana.

And this past week, it was the film’s supporting cast that suddenly found itself thrust into the spotlight. All because the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana (CODOFIL) took issue with Ray, that comic relief firefly who made a quick appearance in “The Princess and the Frog” ‘s teaser.

Ray the Lovesick Cajun Firefly from Disney's The Princess and the Frog
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

According to Warren Perrin, president of CODOFIL, Ray is …

“ … a continuation of the stereotyping of Cajun people, which is inaccurate. It has been done in so many movies over so much time, people think that's the way we are -- and it's just wrong. I can list several other movies where they have portrayed us as backward, toothless, illiterate people who fart."

Which makes you wonder – given the intense scrutiny that “The Princess and The Frog” production team have been under for 2+ years now – how they’re holding up. Which is just the question that I asked the film’s co-directors -- Ron Clements & John Musker -- last month during a press roundtable at Comic-Con.

John Musker and Ron Clements talk about The Princess and the Frog at Comic Con International 2009
(L to R) John Musker and Ron Clements answer questions at Comic-Con 2009.
Photo by Nancy Stadler

The guys who brought us “The Great Mouse Detective,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” quickly brushed aside any PC-based questions that I brought up. Insisting that – in spite of any race-related concerns that may have been raised over the course of this production – their ultimate goal here was just to deliver a truly entertaining animated feature.

“ ‘The Princess and the Frog’ isn’t finished yet,” said Ron. “But this film is still in finished enough form that we’ve been able to screen it for a number of groups now. And the response from those who have seen this movie so far has been very, very positive. “

“That’s what kind of ironic about this whole situation,” added John. “Most of the concerns that have been raised about ‘The Princess and the Frog’ have been expressed by people who haven’t ever actually seen this movie.”

Tiana rides a streetcar in Disney's The Princess and the Frog
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which brings us to The Walt Disney Company’s new plan for deflecting any further race-based criticism of “The Princess and the Frog.” Clearly believing that the best defense is a good offense, WDAS has begun screening selected scenes from this new hand-drawn animated feature at events where African-American opinion makers are sure to be in attendance.

Just yesterday, 30 minutes of “The Princess and the Frog” was shown at the Roxbury Film Festival. Where Bruce Smith (i.e. an industry vet who’s one of the lead animators on this new WDAS production as well as being an African-American) was on hand to answer audience members’ questions as well as lead an animation workshop after this screening.

And this coming Thursday, a selection of footage from “The Princess and the Frog” will be shown at the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ)’s annual convention. Which is being held this year in Tampa, FL. at the Waterside Marriott Hotel and Marina. And as part of this presentation, Anika Noni Rose (i.e. the Tony Award-winning actress who voices Tiana in this film) will perform a song or two from Randy Newman’s score in front of all of these African-American opinion makers.

Tiana as a little girl with her parents in Disney's The Princess and the Frog
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

So will this new strategy ultimately make a difference? To be honest, Ron & John don’t seem all that concerned. They sincerely believe that “The Princess and the Frog” is a strong enough animated feature that it will eventually rise above any race-related concerns that may still be associated with this project.

“We’ve created a movie that – I think – will be embraced beyond color lines,” Clements concluded. “That’s why we’re now screening footage from ‘The Princess and the Frog’ at events like Comic-Con. So that people can then see what this film is actually about. And – once they do – any concerns that may still be out there will then quickly become non-issues.”

That said, The Walt Disney Company still plans on enlisting the biggest African-American opinion maker of them all in an effort to effectively silence “The Princess and the Frog” ‘s critics once & for all. When – just before this animated feature begins its exclusive engagements in New York and Los Angeles on November 25th – Oprah Winfrey will reportedly devote an entire hour of her daytime talk show to talking up this new WDAS production.

Tiana's parents James and Eudora from Disney's The Princess and the Frog
Copyright 2009 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Which – given that Oprah is voicing the role of Eudora, Tiana’s mother – shouldn’t seem all that surprising. But even so, if the most influential woman in all of media expresses her enthusiasm for “The Princess and the Frog” just prior to this film’s opening in NYC & LA … Well, that will go an awfully long way toward undercutting any critics who may still be out there, voicing their concerns about this WDAS project, don’t you think?

Your thoughts?

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  • I'm really excited to see this movie, good article Jim.

  • Your story was featured in DisMarks! Here is the link to vote it up and promote it: http://dismarks.com/Media/Will_showing_scenes_from_The_Princess_and_the_Frog_silence_the_films_critics

  • I really can't wait to see this film.  Everything I've seen just looks amazing.  The PC police just need to shut up and quit whining.  This is all about mooching off Disney for attention and power, nothing more.  

  • I also can't wait to see this film. As for concerns about it, I think this will jus be another "Small World." In other words, a non-issue. However, I do understand Disney's concerns, what with Disney's history with "Song of the South." Which by the way is still a favorite film of mine, even with the admittedley racial stereotypes.

  • Her "inspirational father"?  Ut oh--does that mean he's going to die?

  • Really, it makes you wonder why Disney even bothers. It's been a target of the politically correct police since Walt was in charge. I could not care less what Oprah thinks, what the NAACP thinks, what anybody thinks. I'm going to see "The Princess and the Frog" (lousy title, by the way, Dis should have stuck with "Frog Princess" and the HELL with the French!) because it looks like a great film. Period.

  • I'm with Gigglesock on this one. Disney should have told the naysayers to stick it in their ear and made the movie THEY wanted, instead of trying to appease these PC boneheads.

  • Based on what I saw at Comic-Con, my only problem with "The Princess and the Frog" is that, well, it's just not all that good.

    The song that was shown was visually cute but not spectacular and certainly not at ALL memorable musically.

    The revelation that Tiana is not a princess but a waitress dressing like a princess at a masquerade ball is cute for the story ... but also smacks to me of Disney just force-feeding us another princess and actually blatantly CALLING her a princess even though she's not.

    The characters don't look all that interesting, and the animals are almost a throwback to "The Rescuers" -- and that's not really a complete compliment.  (Remember, Disney's done the bayou before!)

    But more than anything, the story seemed convoluted and a tad dull, the music seemed completely flat, and the whole thing seemed ... well, not BAD exactly, just not great.

  • Good article Jim!

    It's really been tiring listening to all the critics of this film, BEFORE it's even finished. I reall, REALLY hope it does REALLY well so all those who were so critical can eat a healthy dose of crow.

    If I were in charge of animation at Disney, I would've been real tempted to just pull the plug on it out of complete frustration.

  • You know, the cartoonist Berke Breathed, in one of his early Bloom County strips, coined the perfect word for the kind of criticism this film is getting:

    "Offensensitivity."

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