The Princess and The Frog: A more real princess, but not really
Note: In case it isn’t obvious already, big plot spoilers ahead, so you’ve been warned!
When it comes to Disney movies… actually, when it comes to most movies, I’m usually late to the party, preferring to wait for the reviews to come out, or until friends recommend them to me.
The Princess and The Frog, on the other hand, was different. I was introduced to the movie when I listened to its soundtrack on Spotify one day (Disney Hits, anyone?), and while I loved the jazzy style mixed into the music, I couldn’t help but feel like something was missing just from the lyrics.
One of the first songs I heard was ‘When I’m Human’, and this song gave me a little snapshot of what was. In it, 3 characters get to explain why they wanna be human so bad: First comes the alligator, who wants to be a human so he can toot his horn and show off how well he can play. Next comes the prince (who is also a frog), and he’s obviously got his flaws: All he wants to do after becoming human is to gallivant and party. Finally we have the titular Princess Teana (although she’s not a princess just then), and she just wants to… work hard and be good?
See, I didn’t quite recognise it at first, but that should have been a red flag , but I’ll explain that later. Let’s move on first.
Our second song for the day is ‘Dig a Little Deeper’, where the fairy godmother character, Mama Odie, gives her take on the prince and Teana. The prince she exhorts to have self-control as expected, but Teana? “You’s a hard one, that’s what I heard”.
Of course, there’s more to it than that, but let’s take this in stride for now.
Moving on to our third song, which bothered me the most: Almost There. In it, Teana sings about how there’s no time to dancing, because she’s worked so hard for what she wants. She’s had to endure plenty of trials and tribulations to reach this far, and she’s Almost There.
Can you detect the character flaw in Teana yet? I sure didn’t. Even before watching a single frame, I was already worried that Teana was going to be a Mary Sue, an impossibly perfect female lead, unimpeachable and immaculate.
And so with that in mind, I’m gonna try to sum up my experience watching the actual movie, 11 years after it was released.
I agree with most of the reviews online in that the animation is great, if not stellar. Only Disney could manage to make frogs adorable. The characters dance across the screen, perform impossible feats. and engage in hilarious shenanigans with the power of Disney magic. The plot flows like water, moving the story forward without a hitch. The scenes are wonderfully drawn, evoking what I must imagine to be the real Louisianan bayou, although having never set foot there I’ll just have to take their word for it.
My first criticism here, though, is that the premise of the conflict leading to Teana’s growth is shaky. She wants to have her own restaurant so badly, I get it. And she finds a wonderful mill which, with some work, can become the restaurant she so badly wants. Which is great!
She grows anxious, however, when she discovers that she risks losing it to a higher bidder. I found this bit bewildering, because something like this isn’t so cut-and-dried. Will her dreams turn to ash if she loses the bid? Will her money suddenly grow wings and fly away? She might mourn the lost opportunity, sure. But if anything, she would probably just move on and try to find another place. Her mum would be there to raise her spirits, and she, ever the go-getter, would soldier on.
But that’s boring, and this is a Disney movie, so that didn’t happen.
And it was that train of thought that derailed my appreciation of Teana’s ambitions, and actions in the movie. Near the end, the bad guy, Dr. Facilier, entices Teana with the restaurant she’s always wanted, which she, in a moment of what must be character transformation, refuses, ultimately triggering Dr. Facilier’s “death”. But since in my mind, Teana’s dreams were nowhere near jeopardy as the bad guy would have her believe, the lie beneath his words felt more bald-faced to me. Teana would have gotten her dream restaurant even if she lost her shot at the mill, just that it simply wouldn’t have been at the mill. Teana could have shrugged her shoulders, continued with dealing with the curse, and figure out how to get her restaurant elsewhere.
Anyway, in the end of the movie, Teana learned to love Prince Naveen, and with true love’s kiss, the froggy curse was lifted, transforming them to their former selves. After Louis the alligator intimidates the rival buyers into letting Teana buy the mill, Teana gets her dream restaurant, her prince, and her happily ever after. And that brings something interesting to mind. The story could have made even more sense if Louis didn’t strongarm the mill back into Teana’s hands. Why couldn’t they have done a Ratatouille and just had Teana discover another location instead? She wouldn’t have gotten her original dream, but instead discovered a greater dream fulfilled, with her love interest Naveen included!
And with the movie watched, I asked myself, “Did Teana learn anything throughout the movie?” Well, she was supposed to, but I didn’t end the movie understanding what exactly she learned, because while it was obvious that she was a go-getter, which by most people’s standards would be a positive trait, she was also supposed to be a go-getter at the expense of fun, family, and friends, which I had trouble gleaning because it didn’t feel obvious that this was the case to me. Teana’s mother was there when they viewed the restaurant-to-be. As far as I was concerned, mother and daughter were together on this. Throughout the adventure through the bayou, rather than being dismissive of the friends she has around her, Teana sounds like the only one in the party that has her eye set on the goal, trying to find Mama Odie or reach New Orleans to undo the curse.
I get that Teana is supposed to be more grounded and cynical as a character. She wants that restaurant so badly because the world should taste her dad’s gumbo recipe. If more folks adopted her can-do attitude, the world would be a better place. I just felt like her flaw of sacrificing her family and relationships in the pursuit of that wasn’t presented enough, and that moment of revelation before Dr. Facilier was weaker for it.
Maybe it’s just my bias talking, though.
It’s rather surprising, actually, that Disney tried to put this spin on a princess, because trying to tackle something like this requires a lot of nuance. Different cultures are going to answer this question differently. Coming from an Asian background, I would absolutely equate working hard to fulfilling my duty and validating my love for my family. I’m not intimately aware of how more Western folks might view this, but I’m willing to assume that they might adopt a more “enjoy the fruits of your labour” stance.
This could also just be my expectations of the ‘typical’ Disney movie talking. Of course, the good guys must go through a Hero’s Journey. Of course, the good guys must win. And of course, there must be some sort of redemption or reward waiting at the end, which did happen quite nicely.
Then there’s the whole bit about getting outbid for the restaurant. The writers probably wanted us to believe that Teana’s dreams would be crushed if she didn’t get the bid. And to be fair, it makes up the call for action in only the first act; the curse takes over as the call to action throughout the rest of the movie.
At the end of the day, this is just one point in a sea of good things to be spoken of this movie. It’s a welcoming change to see a hand-drawn animated feature among the sea of 3D rendered films. It’s something I hope to see more of.
Mark normally writes tech articles and tech-related opinion pieces, but still likes watching Disney movies and playing games. This is first movie review, and perhaps there might be more.