I was planning on watching all of the Disney films in chronological order, but our copy of Pinocchio apparently came from the factory scratched (and we didn’t open it for over a year so there’s not sending it back now–we fail at commerce) and I don’t have easy access to Fantasia, Dumbo, or Bambi, so I’ve decided to say screw chronology. And if I’m going to skip forward, I might as well skip all the way forward.
The Princess and the Frog was released in November 2009. It features Disney’s first black princess and is set in New Orleans in the 1920s. It’s a return to traditional animation for Disney, and they added musical numbers back in, which makes me very happy. It’s a great film, and if you haven’t seen it, you really should.
Really. Go right now. I can wait.
Welcome back. From here on, I’m going to assume that everyone’s seen the movie and my review is going to be unabashedly spoilerrific.
My favorite thing about this movie is how they wove thematic elements through it without being heavy-handed or preachy. All of the characters grow and change in real ways that feel completely natural.
The story opens in a flashback that introduces us to Tiana, our heroine, her high-society friend Charlotte, and Tiana’s parents. Her dad dreams of opening his own restaurant and instills Tiana with independence and drive.
The timeline flashes forward. Tiana’s father died in World War I, but she’s working to keep his dream alive. She works two jobs, and she’s slowly saving enough money to buy an old mill that she plans to convert into a restaurant. She’s close enough to her dream that she can taste it, and she doesn’t have time in her life for anything else.
Charlotte, her rich friend, serves as a great foil for Tiana. Charlotte is very blonde and silly and rich, but she’s also incredibly sweet and thoughtlessly generous. I think she’s one of the big strengths of the movie. It would have been easy to make her petty as well as spoiled, but she isn’t, and that lets her character transcend a very tired trope. Charlotte’s dreams are more along the lines of marrying a prince and living happily ever after.
And of course, there’s a prince. Naveen of Maldonia, whose irresponsible ways have forced his noble parents to cut him off financially. He lives to sing and dance and generally have a good time. Unfortunately, all of that costs money that he doesn’t have. He’s looking for a rich girl to sponge off of, and Charlotte decides to throw him a welcome party so she can snag him. She asks Tiana to cater the event, and the pay will allow Tiana to buy her restaurant.
However, before he can make it to the party, Naveen is betrayed by his long-suffering servant and turned into a frog by Dr. Facilier, who uses voodoo to transform Naveen and disguise the servant as the prince.
At the party, Tiana learns that someone has put in a counter bid on her restaurant space and she suffers major wardrobe mishap. Charlotte spirits her up to her room and dresses her up in one of her many fancy gowns, then rushes back to the party to flirt with the fake prince.
Tiana, alone on the balcony, makes a wish on the evening star. Naveen, in frog form, sees Tiana and assumes that she’s a princess. He smooth-talks her into kissing him (after all, what can one kiss hurt?), but he doesn’t transform back into a man. Instead, Tiana changes into a frog.
The party isn’t a safe place for two frogs, and they escape to the bayou. Tiana is furious with herself. She knows that wishes are no substitute for hard work, and now one moment of weakness is going to cost her her chance to put a counterbid on her mill.
Naveen and Tiana team up with Louis, a trumpet-playing alligator, and Ray, a firefly who’s in love with the evening star. Together they travel to see Mama Odie, who might be able to lift their curse. Along the way, they have some kinda silly adventures (a pretty lame chase scene, I guess for the kids, could have totally been cut) and Naveen and Tiana start falling for each other.
Mama Odie tells them that Naveen needs to kiss an actual princess, so they head back to New Orleans so he can kiss Charlotte, who’s the Mardi Gras princess. But Naveen realizes that there’s more to life than just doing whatever you want all of the time, and puts someone else’s desires above his own for the first time in his life. He decides to tell Tiana that he loves her, and that he doesn’t want to kiss anyone else, but before he can, he’s kidnapped by voodoo spirits sent by Dr. Facilier.
Louis and Ray manage to rescue him, and then there’s a climactic fight scene in a graveyard.
Big spoiler here. You’ve all seen the movie at this point, right? Ray is mortally wounded, and he dies. Disney doesn’t often do character death. I was very surprised when Ray wasn’t saved at the last minute, or something. I cried, especially when a second light appeared beside his beloved evening star. It was very well done.
Naveen and Tiana both choose each other over what they’d previously thought that they wanted, and they get married as frogs. But when they kiss, they’re transformed back into people, because after they married, Tiana really was a princess.
She gets her restaurant in the end, as well as the prince.
Through the course of the movie, Tiana realizes that she’s been so focused on her dream that she’s missing out on everything else around her. That’s a difficult moral to get across without undermining the value of her drive and hard work, but I think that the movie manages to pull that off. Naveen’s lesson is simpler. He learns that hard work isn’t a waste of time, and only focusing on his own happiness can’t really make him happy. They both learn being happy isn’t so much about what you do as it is about who you’re with.
Disney has come a long way from Snow White to Tiana, and possibly even farther from Prince Charming to Prince Naveen.