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Poking at a delicate subject.

I wanted to try and make this count for a Lane's 30 Second Opinion, but I probably won't be able to make it that short.

I'm fond of kids movies when they're done right... but the lack of ones "done right" recently have kept me from actually seeking out ones that are in the works. But hell, The Princess and the Frog, on the surface, looks really cool. Come on! "Disney is doing another hand-drawn movie! Sweet!" you think.

Until you see how much asshattery has been circling around it. Here's the premise: In 1920s New Orleans, a prince visiting from a little European country for the jazz scene is turned into a frog by a malevolent voodoo practitioner. Knowing this story, the prince finds a beautiful girl(who - oshit - is black) to kiss him. Instead of turning him back, she turns into a frog as well and they set off with an adorable cast of animals to find the ancient priestess in the swamps to get her to help them.

I'm totally into this. 1920s? Jazz? Old-school New Orleans? FUCK YEAH. I was so psyched that I didn't even realize there was probably a shitstorm going around about the black girl. I'll give a quick rundown of the problems people had with the movie.

1) The original title was The Frog Princess. I personally think that sounds better, but people's reaction was "So you have a movie about the French Quarter and you're referring to the main character as a FROG? That is so insensitive to the French!" It sounded like a stretch to me too, but apparently there were enough complaints to make them change the title.

2) European prince. That means that the inevitable happy ending WILL HAVE THE BLACK GIRL MARRYING A WHITE BOY. Oh shit everyone, we can't have interracial couples in a kids movie! We're still recovering from when they did it on Star Trek!

3 and 4) I'm combining her name and her job into one. Originally, the character's name was Maddy - short for Madeline - and she was a chambermaid until she set off on her grand adventure. Oh. My. God. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING YOU CAN'T CAST A BLACK CHARACTER AS A MAID. This was actually a huge, pervasive complaint. Cinderella can scrub floors and cry about it, but a black girl can't be gainfully employed as domestic help in the 1920s because it's too demeaning. Also, the name Maddy? THAT NAME IS WAY TOO BLACK. Disney's response to the bitching was, clearly, to change the whole damn thing. The character is now "Princess Tiana". What the fuck is that?! For one, how the hell are they going to work a sterotypical-Disney-gown-wearing princess into a charming and evocative 20s New Orleans? They're not, that's how. I suspect there will be bullshit.

Let me take a moment to soapbox. The solution to social problems is not to violently pretend they didn't happen. This shouldn't even be about that. Having a character start out as an average chambermaid and journey her way to fame and love and riches is not a bad thing. Making the black girl lower class with a common name is not a snickeringly racist gesture. It is the setting up of a good story. In that place, at that time, a 19 year old black girl would probably have been a maid. You can't make that go away by refusing to suggest it in a movie. And by letting her STAY a maid, she would have room to grow, to prove herself, to show that she's more than her circumstances. Hell, she could have even earned the name "Tiana" by the end - have it be an old family name, or a word of power bestowed upon her by magic for her hard work or something. What we're probably going to get now is the world's flattest character because any character growth whatsoever would offend someone somewhere.

Good job, Disney. You should have stood your ground. The original idea was ballsy and awesome.

(Okay, I'm ready for people to get pissed now. To avoid having to say it later... no, I'm not black. I don't know what it's like - to be black, that is, not to be a minority. But I do know silliness when I see it.)

Comments

( 16 comments — Leave a comment )
moonymonster
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
You know, this movie DID sound awesome...until the part where they threw a wreaking ball at the plot. I mean, to me voodoo magic was more annoying than anything implied by the rest of this movie--come on, it's basically Cinderella with frogs in it. Cindy was 16 in her film, I think. But Heaven forbid you have a character in real-life circumstances and, like you said, have a chance to grow...well, the most character development I've seen in a Disney princess film was in Enchanted, and even there it only happened to two of the characters from Princessland. And how the hell is Madeline a "black" name? It's bloody FRENCH! Seriously. It sounded like the film was breaking the rules--that is, it was trying to aim for both an adult audience and a child audience, and God knows Americans can't handle that. I fully expect Tiana (...because that ISN'T a black name?) to be remembered as another stereotyped princess (haha, Mulan is CHINESE?) who was created solely so people think Disney is multicultural and ethnically diverse.

....*sigh* Okay, rant over. I'm just pissed they took a good movie idea and threw it to the dogs. Especially because New Orleans was awesome, especially in the 20s, God I would have loved to have lived then just to see it...it's like watching, watching, watching something that is horrible and should not be watched. Or something like that.
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 05:11 am (UTC)
Well, "Tiana" is a sparkly high class black name. Maddy is... well... the sort of name a black girl in French New Orleans would have. AND WE DON'T WANT THAT NOW DO WE.

I think, if handled respectfully in a historically accurate context(and yeah my hopes are set a little high for Disney but I can pretend) the voodoo could be pretty awesome. Mostly because they have it as both good AND bad.
moonymonster
Mar. 1st, 2009 06:16 am (UTC)
I think, if handled respectfully in a historically accurate context(and yeah my hopes are set a little high for Disney but I can pretend) the voodoo could be pretty awesome. Mostly because they have it as both good AND bad.

This is a very valid point. In all honesty, I think this would have made a good Pixar film--Pixar has a history of producing good films, especially if Brad Bird is directing, that generally say "fuck you" to screamers like this. I mean, just look at The Incredibles or A Bug's Life and tell me there aren't adult themes in there! And Wall-E has no pointed political commentary in it at all, NO SIR. It's strictly about robotic love (which is awesome in and of itself, but I digress...)

But yes. If they handled it well, it could have been awesome. As it is, especially in the state its plot is, I hope it handles being mediocre. God, I wish this movie was being directed by the same people who did Hunchback of Notre Dame...now THERE was a Disney movie with balls. Esmerelda went from being a shallow waif and symbol of purity to an awesome heroine out to kick ass and take names! And Frollo...oh, dude, FROLLO. That movie made me very, very happy.

....ANYWAY I CAN TOTALLY FOCUS AMIRITE?

...How have you been, anyway? XD
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 07:44 am (UTC)
Pixar has been pretty ballsy lately, haven't they? Which is why, I think, I've actually wound up seeing those with my family while shying away from the newer disney stuff like a vampire from the sun. =/

Oh god, I miss their old movies. Hunchback of Notre Dame was glorious - it was convoluted and didn't have a "perfect" ending and the characters grew and FROLLO MAN. It makes me sad that they can't get away with anything anymore. You remember the Fox and the Hound? People would throw epic shitfits if that was released nowadays. And it made me cry like a freaking baby, but it was a good movie.
moonymonster
Mar. 2nd, 2009 12:40 am (UTC)
Yeah, I remember the Fox and the Hound...oh man, I still can't watch it without tearing up. I think it's the only Disney movie I'm not willing to watch because it makes me cry every single time. It was a VERY good movie.

And I have to say that Frollo is quite possibly the best Disney villain, at least in the male category. I mean, DAMN. Lustful, murderous, judgemental, racist--and doing it all in the name of God. And 'Hellfire' is my favorite villain song ever, even though 'Poor Unfortunate Souls' was pretty much what made me love Ursula. The ending was great too--holy crap, the hero DOESN'T get the girl? Oh, and did you know in the director's commentary they say that the gargoyles were just in Quasi's imagination, so he's really just arguing with himself? The movie becomes like ten times more awesome when you see the mildly annoying sidekicks as Quasi pretty much talking to himself.

And I'm glad you're fabulous :D But yes, the world's been pretty asshat lately, hasn't it? I'm hoping this month will be better, personally. I'm glad February is dead.
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 07:45 am (UTC)
Oh, ballocks, I forgot to answer the last bit. ^_^; I've been absolutely fabulous, apart from frustration at the world's asshattery.
mistressindi
Mar. 1st, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
Disney, get your filthy filthy hands off the Jazz Age in New Orleans.

(If I were to tell you fully what I think of Disney, being a born-n-raised Floridian, I'd be here all night, so: fuck 'em. Put bull gators in their fake lakes. During breeding season.)
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 05:14 am (UTC)
Oh lord, my condolences. I've witnessed the california one once when I was little, and it was fun for a 6 year old, but living there.... aigh.

And yeah, my poor jazz age. ;_; I first saw some concept art where Maddy/Tiana was wearing an accurate 20s headdress and it was lovely and evocative of the "princess" image while also having that jazzy historical flair... but apparently they trashed it for THAT. -points to link to horrid dress-
mistressindi
Mar. 1st, 2009 08:12 am (UTC)
Carl Hiaasen has said it better than I can - the thing about the bull gators is his. Grab this and devour. It's a quick read.

The thing that kills me is how people assume Florida is (1) beaches and (2) theme parks. When people visit here, I take 'em out into the swamp, and to places with real Cuban food (hand over the papas rellenas if you want to live), and after that we'll hit up a crazy roadside attraction that belongs in Gaiman's American Gods. That is Florida. It's swamps and cultural mix-ups and crazy people with questionable senses of architecture. It's not Disney.

As for this movie.. ugh. If they'd kept to historical accuracy for setting the scene for the movie, I'd be fine with that. Like you said, it'd give Timaddy a character arc. It'd be slightly more believable, too. I'd love to see how they're going to explain a princess in New Orleans in the twenties. I'm pretty sure America doesn't have those.
moonymonster
Mar. 2nd, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
Ooooh, I want to see that picture if you still have it. Even if Tiana wears a ballroom gown, we can still see Maddy in her 20s glory, no?

...I'm so writing a parody where Maddy shows up to kick Tiana's ass. Only if the movie really sucks, though...
tilian3
Mar. 1st, 2009 06:34 am (UTC)
when disney had announced that they were closing all there hand animation studios I was in shock, so I'm pretty thrilled there going back to classic animation...but about the changes... I think it is really hard to know at this point. Just becuase the original idea sounded awesome, doesn't mean the new one wont be equally good. They made a lot of changes to Mulan through out its development, but the final products is one of my favorite disney cartoons :P
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 07:41 am (UTC)
I was so glad when I heard they were doing another hand-animated movie. <3 I had missed them so.

I suppose the new plot could be good - I just doubt it will have the earthy historical feel I was looking forward to.
tilian3
Mar. 1st, 2009 08:09 am (UTC)
There is this really awesome book called "Dream Worlds" that looks at Hans Bacher's production designs for Disney, and he talks about movies that were never made, and changes that were made to movies.

Hans Bacher gives a really intresting quote about Beauty and the Beast, he was disapointed with the changes that they made to the plot and imagery, he felt the final decision was just to make a generic Disney film:

The first 'Beauty and the Beast' treatments were very serious. Well, it's a serious original story. There is nothing funny about a beast. I always compared it to 'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' where you have a serious part with the witch and the dwarfs for comic relief. In 'Beauty and the Beast,' we wanted to do it in a similar way with the enchanted objects in the castle.


(So in) the fall of 1989 ... We just worked like crazy. And we finished a story reel in color in a very short time, about 50 minutes long. The First Act: It was not a typical Disney movie, more a European version. But we all believed in it.

Well, they didn't in LA ... When I heard that the plan was to change it into a musical, I was shocked. It's difficult for Europeans to understand how these ideas come up in the New World. We are very serious and would never even think about such an insult. I made jokes about a singing beast.

(But since the Disney executives) felt so bad (about throwing) all our work in the trash, they decided to send us to the Loire area in France ... Our trip lasted 4 days, maybe 20 castles ... We had good French food and even better wine ...

That reference trip could have created an incredible looking movie. We shot thousands of pictures, video, and did tons of sketches. Unfortunately, later in the movie it was decided not to use any of the reference and just do another generic-looking Disney film.

**
I find it really intresting, becuase I think beauty and the beast is a wonderful movie, but if you look at the what ifs, your constintley going to be comparing it to a movie that was never made.

...but then, on the other hand I'm still disapointed they never made Wild Life:

Wild Life was described as a retro-1960's New York version of My Fair Lady (1964), but this time around Eliza Doolittle is an elephant. A Disney insider also referred to this project as a computer-animated version of "Pygmalion."

A bunch of self-centered club-hopping kids get banned from their favorite night spot, a trendy club called "Wild Life." They are appalled when they get thrown out of this club -for they know that the only way that they'll ever get back into the club is if they're accompanied by a celebrity.

Unfortunately, these kids don't know any celebrities... Until -while moping around the Central Park Zoo- they notice a lady elephant who can sing and dance. The club hoppers then get an idea: they'll break the pretty pachyderm out of the zoo. Then, through clever use of hype and promotion, they will convince the world that the elephant is actually a celebrity. As members of her entourage, they'll then be able to gain entry to all the most exclusive night spots in the city -including their beloved "Wild Life."

But something unexpected happens: these heartless club kids come to actually care about the elephant, who has a rough time handling life in the spotlight, but hates it even more when her celebrity starts to fade.

it looked fucking amazing.

Sorry I think I just wrote a shit load :P


herr_feldwebel
Mar. 1st, 2009 09:24 am (UTC)
I hate it when people complain over the *STUPIDEST* things. 1920s New Orleans. It would only be realistic that if Madeline wasn't working in some kind of plantation or something, she'd be doing domestic help such as being a maid. That was still a common job for black women up even in the 50s and 60s, so...wtf? And "Tiana"?! That's a STUPID name! Madeline would've been more realistic as well...

It's stupid. I mean, Disney has never really had like, a main character black person in a movie before (that dude from Atlantis doesn't count), and then when they *FINALLY* put one in there, everyone complains up the Wazu about how racist it is. WTF?! That was American history. Slavery happened. Prejudice happened. Working as a maid happened. Girls named Madeline happened. Why deny your roots? Jesus.

Of course, it's from Disney, so of course I expected another giddy-happy-sing-a-long-fun-super-happy-go-lucky movie. That's why I don't watch them anymore except for the classics (and occasionally something by Pixar, but the last thing I liked of theirs was Monsters Inc.).
(Deleted comment)
xidiomaticlogic
Mar. 1st, 2009 05:41 pm (UTC)
I wasn't trying to say that Cinderella and slavery are really comparable, but the amount of fuss surrounding a character who's in pretty much the same circumstance(in the movie: she'd just be a girl working for someone who has a bratty daughter, without working in too much socioeconomic history of oppression) seemed a bit silly.

I'd be much more okay with the indulgent-movie-black-princess angle if they weren't TRYING for a historical setting. They wanted to evoke the feeling of the Jazz age, and I think throwing in an escapist fantasy for the main character is throwing a wrench in it.
forkeh
Mar. 3rd, 2009 04:41 am (UTC)
Ahhhhhhhhhhh noooooooooozzzzzzzzz!!!! They're gonna ruin it. And the frog prince was so epic too. Muppets kicked ass.

Now it'll forever be doomed.
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