The Princess and the Frog is not the runaway box office success that Disney was no doubt hoping it would be. As of this past weekend, the film had a total domestic gross of around 64 million dollars. To put this into perspective, James Cameron’s Avatar made more than that in less than a single weekend. Still, once international box office and home video revenues are added to the final stateside tally, “Princess” will have recouped its 105 million dollar budget and made a modest profit. While it’s not a success on the level of The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, the film is also not a disaster.
The critical reaction to The Princess and the Frog was generally favorable at the time of its release. In fact, the film garnered an aggregate score of 83% on rottentomatoes.com, which is an unusually high number. More recent reviews of “Princess” have been less favorable which is perhaps a reflection of the movie’s less than stellar performance in theaters. Attendant with these reviews, however, are some truly peculiar lines of thought.
In their recent critiques of “Princess”, both Mark Mayerson and Michael Barrier went on at some length about the rose-colored view of race relations in the 1920s New Orleans depicted in the film. While the movie does unquestionably gloss over some ugly truths of American history, it does so without malice, and more importantly, without obligation. Perhaps both Mayerson and Barrier wandered into “Princess” laboring under the misconception that it was not a cartoon musical, but rather a historical treatise. Leave us not forget that the film was designed for children and families — not for middle-aged animation scholars. If the movie side-stepped some difficult facts, it redeemed itself through its main character. Not only does The Princess and the Frog deliver the first African American heroine featured in a film of this type, it delivered one of the most admirable heroines — of any color — in any Disney animated feature to date. Tiana, the princess of the title, has a core set of values and a work ethic which any parent would be proud to have their child emulate. This is a refreshing change of pace from cinematic portrayals of black Americans which can still be cringe-inducing even in this supposedly enlightened age. While both Mayerson and Barrier do finally concede Tiana’s worth as a character, their apparent need for historical verisimilitude in a cartoon with singing frogs is strange.
Even more bizarre is Rod Dreher’s insistence that, through “Princess”, Disney is expressing an “aversion” not only to Catholicism but also to religious faith in general. Dreher asserts that, since the Catholic church is so entrenched in the culture of New Orleans, it should have provided the antidote for the villain’s voodoo. The fact that the film’s heroes gain assistance not from the Church but rather from a “white voodoo” priestess living in the bayou seems to offend Dreher. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t the Catholic church of the 1920s have been a primarily white institution? Further, doesn’t it make sense that black characters living in that time would seek a remedy for bad mojo within their own culture? To me, the fact that the evil witch doctor had a benevolent opposite was consistent with the mythology of the story. Had Tiana and Prince Naveen gone to Father Flannigan rather than a good-hearted swamp witch, I think I would have been downright confused — not to mention surprised that Disney had so blatantly cast its lot with a particular religious institution.