This Princess Has Power
Once upon a time, a girl's only hope of escaping a wicked stepfamily and a life of housework was to befriend a fairy and wait for a handsome prince to make everything better.
But not Tiana, the new heroine in Disney's animated feature, "The Princess and the Frog."
She may be the first African-American in the very powerful princess franchise, but her skin color isn't the only way in which she's different from Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.
Tiana, voiced by Anika Noni Rose, has dreams. And they involve a lot more than wearing pretty gowns and running off to some hillside castle. Unlike her fellow princesses, Tiana doesn't want to marry a prince, let alone anyone.
She wants her own restaurant in the heart of New Orleans. She doesn't come from money, but like her dad, she believes that anything can be achieved through hard work. So, Tiana holds down two jobs as a waitress, saving every penny she earns in tin cans.
For children and parents entrenched in all things princess, Tiana's go-getting attitude is more radical than her dark skin, especially when Sasha and Malia Obama are already living in the closest thing the United States has to a castle.
But no one's going to see "The Princess and the Frog" for its feminism. And, in the end, the movie's not about race, either. (Even if Ray, the Cajun lightning bug, is awkwardly stereotyped.)
In classic Disney tradition, the movie is a funny and endearing adventure. It's filled with beautiful hand-drawn animation that gives jazz-age New Orleans a golden-hued landscape that's as rich as its culture.
And that culture includes voodoo and dark magic, an element that may scare very young children in the audience.
When Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), the disowned son of a royal family, messes with "The Shadow Man," Naveen is turned into a frog. And mercifully, neither he nor any of the talking animals revert to the insidery pop-culture jokes used in films like "Aladdin."
At a Mardi Gras ball, Prince Naveen sees Tiana dressed like a princess and gets her to kiss him. But unlike the original Brothers Grimm tale, Tiana turns into a frog, too.
In order to undo the spell, Naveen and Tiana travel down the Bayou seeking the help of the blind voodoo queen Mama Odie. Along the way, they meet a jazz-loving alligator named Louis and Ray, the loyal lightning bug.
And along with the usual life lessons — it's what's inside that counts and don't let your goals blind you from what's important — there's a lot of great jazz, gospel and blues. (None of it's overly sappy the way the other princess songs can be.)
The issue of race may be subtle, yet seeing a mostly African-American cast in a princess tale is new. Yet it quietly allows those who don't have Snow White skin or Sleeping Beauty hair to have a princess all their own.
"The Princess and the Frog." Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. Rated: G. 2.5 stars.
To find out more about Nina Garin and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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