(SIDE-NOTE: Tomato here, filling in yet again for one of my fellow ScratchPad-ers, chdr. Can I just say how much all of you guys totally owe me one?)
Welcome to the ScratchPad, your top source around the nation about comics and animation.It’s occurred to me recently that Disney’s new film, the Princess and the Frog, is a gutsy move. For one, it’s had quite a bit of controversy, and for two, it’s a 2D animated musical.
Notice how I haven’t mentioned anything about the film’s lead princess being black. We’ll get to that later.
Let’s tackle the 2D thing first. This is the first hand-drawn animated movie to come out of the Mouse House in five years. Yep. You heard me. Five years. After coming out with the moderately profitable Lilo and Stitch in 2002, and the also less-moderately profitable Brother Bear in 2003, Disney decided to take another go with Home on the Range in 2004. I wouldn’t use the word bombed per se, but let’s just say that people tended to steer clear of this movie because, in my humble opinion, it was a bunch of bull. This caused Disney execs to think that audiences were no longer interested in 2D animation, which is, quite frankly, stupid. Y’see, folks, 2D animation is a medium by which stories are told. Therefore, the success or failure of the story portrayed in that medium depends entirely and wholly on the quality of the story, NOT on the medium it’s told in. In other words, saying people don’t like 2D animation because Home on the Range bombed is like saying that people don’t like movies anymore because Shorts bombed.
John Lassater, creative director over at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation, seems to agree with my sentiments. From the way he phrases it, it seems like he and I may be in a small minority.
It’s very easy, now that I’m thinking about it, for the Mouse House to be sitting pretty on top of a mountain of Pixarian prosperity. I don’t blame them at all. This isn’t a jab at Pixar in any way. I, as you’ll be able to tell, no doubt, in future columns, think their stuff is excellent, heart-warming, and years ahead of what anyone in the medium within the past half-decade or so has produced. I’m just saying that I can see completely why some at the Mouse House would consider it an unneeded risk, all things considered. Pixar has proven to be a grade-A animation cash cow, and assuming they can keep being brilliant, the money will roll in ’till the cows come home. There’s so much more potential in Disney, though. They have places to go. Frog, more than anything, is a chance to prove “we’ve still got it” and “we don’t need a crutch”. It’s a mouse-eared This Is It, a chance to remind people of what makes Disney, even sans Pixar, the finest kingdom in animation-land.
But, alas, as with everything remotely gutsy, there shall be controversy.
The original plot was about a 1920′s New Orleanian (?) maid named Maddie who, with the help a crazed fairy godmother/witch doctor and an amphibian frog prince named Prince Naveen.
The critics of the movie seem to have any or all of the following qualms:
1. Her name is Maddie, which sounds too close to Mammy.
2. She’s a maid.
3. Prince Naveen is white.
All of which are totally stupid. Let’s address them, shall we?
The first qualm is just ASKING for trouble. C’mon. To make that big of a leap, from Mammy to Maddie, you have to be looking for something to raise a stink about.
Secondly, of COURSE she’s a maid. This is a period piece, and like it or not, that’s what the most common profession was for African-Americans then. And plus, all of the princesses were in crappy situations before they became princesses. Cinderella cleaned the castle, and there was nothing wrong with it then. We all knew it was wrong, but it didn’t matter as long as she came out on top.
Thirdly, Prince Naveen is white. Whoopdedoo. Seriously, this almost sounds racist in and of itself. What message are we sending here? Black people aren’t good enough for white people? You should consider your race in a marriage? How about this: People are allowed to marry whatever race they want to, because it’s only a difference in pigment.
All of this hurts the notion of even considering putting a black person in a lead role, because you’ve got a bevy of controversy along with it. It’s a PC minefield. If you put a black person in a lead role and they marry a black person, suddenly blacks aren’t good enough for other blacks. If you put a black person in the prince role, suddenly blacks can’t marry whites. It’s a lose-lose situation for the writers of the film and Disney to have a black princess if they’re staring down the barrel of a gun every time she sneeezes. How are we, as a society, supposed to be inclusive if it means opening Pandora’s Box every time we are?
Disney, as a result, has downplayed Prince Naveen’s role, change Princess Tiana’s (note the name change…) occupation, and downplayed the role of Ray the Firefly because they deemed his diction sterotypical.
If we want this film to succeed, we have to accept it with open arms, and not jump to conclusions with cynical eyes, especially considering the film hasn’t opened yet. Only when film-makers are free to make films without PR being involved will we be able to be truly acceptant as a public conscience a fim as grounbreaking and risky as this one. In other words, we must accept the Princess and the Frog, warts and all.
EDIT: I was just informed by TZ member TheVileOne that Ray retains a sizable role. These posts, aside from breif skimmings of newspaper articles and official sources, are done from memory, and I don’t intend to purposefully mislead you guys.
Sorry for the mix-up.