A tale as old as time, The Princess and the Frog is a story that’s been branded into our memories from childhood. Let’s be honest, we’ll probably forget to use the pythagorean theorem eventually, but those classic fairy tales will always be with us. With news of Disney revamping one of their parks’ classic rides (hoping to shake the ride’s racist history), to a ride dedicated to Princess Tiana (her first ride at either theme park); we’re beginning a very timely conversation. A conversation about diversity, the importance of representation, and the impact representation can have; so let’s look at the origin story of this beloved tale and how it transformed into Disney’s first African-American princess.
Like many of our favorite Disney films, The Princess and the Frog derives from a story centuries old. The Frog Prince by the Brothers Grimm laid the foundation for the story we all know today. In The Frog Prince, a spoiled princess reluctantly befriends the Frog Prince, whom she met after dropping a gold ball into a pond, and he retrieves it for her in exchange for her friendship. With the help of magic, the Frog Prince transforms into a handsome prince. In the original Grimm version of the story, the frog’s spell was broken when the princess threw it against the wall, while in modern versions the transformation is triggered by the princess kissing the frog. Sounding familiar yet?
When it was announced that Disney’s 49th animated feature film would have a black princess as its protagonist, a first let me remind you, it became a historic moment in pop culture. Growing up as a black woman there wasn’t a princess who looked liked me, my features nor my culture stared back at me on my television; and let’s not even begin with Halloween. However, 2012 came and everything changed. Here comes Princess Tiana and she’s unapologetically black; her rich skin tone, her nose, her lips, it was like seeing the animated version of myself. At fourteen, I needed to see Tiana way more than I even realized. That’s what representation in films does, it showcases marginalized groups that they too are seen and heard.
The movie depicts a hard working waitress named Tiana who dreams of opening her own restaurant. After kissing a prince who has been turned into a frog by an evil voodoo sorcerer, Tiana becomes a frog herself and must find a way to turn back into a human before it is too late. Now there are many aspects in the film that are amazing; such as the fact Tiana actually works for a living, not to mention struggles to balance her personal life and professional goals (same girl). Tiana’s determination, relatability and resilience translated to the box office ranking first place on its opening weekend in North America, and grossing around $270 million worldwide, becoming Disney’s most successful traditionally animated film since Lilo & Stitch in 2002 (not to mention three Oscar nominations).
However, there are some things that could’ve been executed better; for example, making the first black princess a frog for majority of her own movie wouldn’t have been my call. Not to mention having Tiana grow up without her father (due to his passing) plays into a very old absentee father stereotype. I don’t believe these creative decisions were done maliciously, but they don’t help the story. Also Tiana being the only princess of color without a sequel, or live action doesn’t go unnoticed; but please mail your letter to Disney after reading this article. The Princess and the Frog having a ride to represent Princess Tiana is long overdue. Princess Tiana deserves to be represented at her home, just like little black children deserve positive representation on their screens at home. We must always request and look for diverse stories.