The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog PosterWhen a handsome prince is turned into a frog, and a princess kisses him, he’s supposed to turn back into a prince, right?  But what if the girl who kisses him isn’t a real princess?  That’s a different story.

It’s always been Tiana’s dream to have a restaurant of her own, and she’s worked hard to bring that dream to life.  But with only four days to buy the property, it’s not looking like she’s going to make it.  Then, as she’s getting ready for her friend’s costume ball, a frog hops into her life.

Not just any frog, this one can talk, and he claims to be the visiting Prince Naveen, transformed by an evil witch-doctor.  He promises her wealth, if she’ll just kiss him and turn him back. Unfortunately, since she only wears the costume of a princess, the spell backfires, leaving both Naveen and Tiana slimy green frogs.

Will Tiana ever make her dream come true?  Can she and Naveen reverse the spell and become human again?  And does wishing on a star really do any good?

The Good:

There were many, many things I appreciated in this film.  Tiana’s family relationships are beautiful, with her parents nurturing her, working hard to provide for her and imparting wisdom to her.  She catches her father’s dream of a restaurant to share their cooking with others, and works towards it faithfully after his death, with the full support and help of her mother.

The romantic relationship also shows more promise than other Disney films I’ve seen.  Rather than falling in love or running off with the prince after the first meeting, Tiana is forced by story circumstances to accompany him to the New Orleans swamps to try to reverse their curse.  Still not ideal, but an improvement over stories such as Tangled or Sleeping Beauty.  Other than the initial frog kiss, the only kissing between the two occurs after marriage.

In the beginning of the story, Naveen is basically a lazy jerk.  He’s practically broke, has never worked a day in his life, and has been disowned by his parents for his irresponsibility.  His growth throughout the story is full and beautiful, and by the end he is willing not only to work hard to help Tiana realize her dream, but even to sacrifice his own hopes and desires for her sake.

Tiana as well comes to realize that although her father’s dream was important, what was much more important was his love for people — for his family and friends.  In the end, she too is willing to lay down her dreams for Naveen, and decides to marry him and work alongside him even if it means no restaurant — and even though it may mean they’ll be frogs forever.

The Bad:

Unfortunately, the bad in the film may outweigh the good.  To start with the smaller issues; although I found much to admire in the relationships portrayed, I also had many quibbles.  In the beginning of the film, Tiana has several jobs as she works towards owning her own restaurant.  While it’s true she had no father or husband to provide for her, she could have provided for herself and her mother without working towards the dream of owning and operating her own mega-business.

This feministic attitude is carried over into the romantic relationship.  Even though I appreciated Naveen’s growth and his self-sacrifice, the fact remains that he was following Tiana’s vision rather than the other way around.  For most of the film, she’s the leader, the mature one, the working one.  The problem was not so glaring as to be obnoxious, and Navin does have moments of taking initiative and being a man, and they do end up working alongside each other towards a common goal — still, the goal originates with Tiana rather than Navin, which kept on bugging me throughout the film.

There is a somewhat bizarre storyline concerning a firefly who helps them on their quest — he’s in love with the evening star which he thinks is a firefly named Evangeline.  That fact itself is just a somewhat cute running plotline.  The strange part is that when the firefly, Ray, dies, he becomes a star himself and is finally with his true love.  I am not sure what was meant to be communicated with this, but I found it odd and possibly concerning.

Speaking of stars, the entire “wish upon a star” part of the film was very confusing.  Tiana is told early on that “wishing on a star will only take her so far” and she has to work hard to achieve her goals.  While this is partly true, such a mindset leaves no room for God’s providence in our dreams and desires.  Besides, the star theme continues to run through the film, characters continue to wish on the star, even though they keep reminding and being reminded that it’s really work that will get you where you want to be.  Since the characters do end up where they wanted to be, it’s unclear whether that was supposed to be by the star’s power, by their own actions, or a little bit of both, none of which is entirely biblical.

Last, but most assuredly not least is the reason that so many Christians have opted not to see the film — the element of Voodoo magic.  Unlike most Disney films where the “magic” is somewhat ambiguous and fairy-tale like, the magic in The Princess and the Frog is too close to reality for comfort.  A witch doctor named The Shadow Man is the film’s antagonist, and he is the one who casts the spell on the prince, in hopes of taking over New Orleans.  He speaks of “his friends from the other side,” who make very frightening appearances in the film.  While the darkness did not frighten me personally, I was very concerned with it and it would most likely be disturbing to younger children.

On the one hand, The Shadow Man is shown very clearly as evil and wrong, and his actions are shown to be not only wrong but foolish, as he cannot pay his debt to “his friends from the other side” and ends up being consumed by them.  On the other hand, however, the way that Naveen and Tiana seek to reverse the spell is by going to a “good” witch-doctor who they think can Voodoo them back to humanity.  This is obviously very confusing and problematic.  Mama Odie, the “good” witch-doctor, is seen as lovable, merely eccentric, and good.

Strangely enough though, the only magic we get out of Mama Odie is some images in her gumbo that tell us little or nothing new, and a bit of advice.  She actually ends up doing nothing for the pair of frogs except explaining to them the obvious way to break the spell — have a real princess kiss Naveen.  So there is actually no real “good” Voodoo or magic in the film.  However, having this element thrown into the mix is unnecessary at best, and potentially very confusing.

There is some very mild crude humor once or twice, other than that the humor is very funny, if a bit slapstick.  Some of Tiana’s dresses are sleeveless and very low-cut, and anther character, her friend Charlotte, has even lower necklines. Overall, I would be reticent to recommend this film to anyone because of the confusing and frightening magical Voodoo elements.

The Art:

The story is engaging and superbly paced.  It never lost my interest, and took me by surprise several times.  Other than the confusing elements mentioned above, everything is well-thought-out and shown clearly and interestingly.  The characters are fun, empathetic, and well-developed.  Tiana and Naveen make excellent heroes, arcing fully and satisfactorily without ever annoying the audience.  The sidekicks, Louis and Ray, are very lovable and have their own full and endearing storylines.  The more minor characters are also fun and well-rounded.

The animation is brilliant, with its own definite style, yet still able to hold its own alongside the legacy of Disney classic 2D animated films that come before it.  The framing is beautiful and well-thought-out, giving several moments throughout the film that left me in awe of the visuals.

I had mixed feelings on Randy Newman’s score.  On the one hand it is charming and simple and fits the emotion very well.  On the other hand, it seems more fitting for a 3D animated film than 2D somehow, though that could just be because it is very similar to his other work in 3D films.  It also seems to be lacking the necessary depth at times.  The songs, however, are pleasantly surprising.  They are catchy and enjoyable, tell the story well, and are consistent and well placed.

The Princess and the Frog is a film that I enjoyed immensely for so many reasons.  Sadly, however, because of the long list of problems it is not one I can recommend.  I wish that there were more films out there that could embody the beauty, fun, adventure and sweetness that touched me so much without the confusion and the evil.

I’m not even sure I can rate this film because of my mixed feelings on it.  For personal enjoyment I would give it a 4/5, for values I would give it a 2/5.

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    • Elly
    • December 5th, 2011

    I enjoyed The Princess and the Frog myself… though some of the witch-doctor things became annoying. 😛
    ~Elly from Holy Worlds

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