25 April 2010

The Princess and the Frog

Of course I had to go see The Princess and the Frog. Who could resist the urge to see how Disney managed to pull off its first black princess? I went in with my critical faculties at ready, and left in a haze of warm fuzzies, utterly won over by the predictable charm of Disney. It's such a sweet movie. I am such a sucker.

So, to begin though, I should say that I've been skeptical of all the angsting over the whole race issue. I mean, I agree, it's a major issue, and Disney needs to be sure to get it right (I don't remember, though, quite so much angst over Mulan, or Princess Jasmine, or Pocahantas...). And obviously, Disney has a lot to apologize for, particularly in its depiction of black people. But people were critiquing the movie months before it even came out. She's not black enough! She's too black! Why isn't the Prince black? Oh, she can't have a white prince? She turns into a frog?!? From where I was sitting, it seemed like there was really no way that Disney could make everyone happy. No wonder they'd never tried this before. So while I was ready to be attentive to the portrayal of race in the film, I wasn't looking to be quite as hypercritical as some other people (her body language isn't black enough? come on.).

So, to begin with what for many will be the main point - I thought they did a decent job with the black characters. I think in terms of getting the voices authentic versus the dangers of caricature, they maybe played it a hair too safe. So that while Tiana and her family did have a touch of drawl, they sounded a wee bit artificial - especially Tiana as a little girl. But I think that in the interest of not taking it too far, they did ok. Meanwhile, some of the less central characters, like Ray the Firefly and Mama Odie, they felt a little more comfortable going all out on, and did well.

In fact, the only real caricatures in the film were the white hillbillies the heroes encounter in the swamp. They were definitely a fairly appalling caricature of white rednecks. But I doubt anyone really minds that, eh?

Next, the gender issue. This was actually a little heavy handed. Tiana is a hard-working young lady who knows that you can't just sit there and demand your desires of a star, you have to get off your ass and make shit happen. Cool. Tiana's big flaw, in fact, is that she doesn't know how to have a good time. Ok. There's an interesting sort of moment where she has to decide between her man and her career, and she kind of picks career, and then she's kind of sad about it, and then she decides she can maybe have both, and it works out fine! Luckily, her man doesn't have career plans of his own. One could pick on this, but why? It has its heart in the right place.

Actually, one of the most striking things about the movie is its reflection on class mobility. Tiana's father worked his whole life and couldn't rise above his position (but it's ok, because he had a family who loved him, the movie tells us), but he desperately wanted Tiana to. And she manages to save up her money, only to then be turned down in terms that subtly suggest racism/sexism. Ultimately (yes, I'm giving it away a little bit here), she does get what she wants, but the thing is - no amount of hard work will suffice. Ultimately, you DO need to wish on a star/marry a prince. This is a strangely pessimistic moral, but also one totally in keeping with Disney's overall message. In other words, it's good old Adorno again - you get the princess who could be you, and whom you can identify with and live out her fantasies, but all the same, you can't actually be her, because she got a prince. If you can get a prince, you too can join the upper class, but obviously that's not exactly easy.

Anyways. Enough of that. I really wasn't thinking about all that while I watched the movie. I was busy oohing and aaahing and being mushy over all the cute characters and their lovely stories. I didn't cry, but I did laugh, and generally quite enjoyed the whole thing. As a final note, I'd like to add that the movie is a pleasure, visually. Lush colors, lovely scenes, and a very nice nod to other animation in the restaurant dream sequences.

All in all, quite well done.

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