Rewind With Disney for Black History Month
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In 2001, Atlantis the Lost Empire featured the first black character in an animated Disney film. It would be eight years later that the House of Mouse would have an African American cast in its 49th animated feature film: The Princess & the Frog. In usual Disney tradition, it’s a modern retelling of a familiar fairy tale, here being The Frog Princess. Tiana works as a waitress with hopes of opening her own restaurant. One day she meets a frog who claims to be the royal Prince Naveen who has been cursed by “the shadow man,” a voodoo witch doctor named Dr. Falicier. In an attempt to break the curse Tiana gets transformed into a frog herself. Now on a journey to lift this spell, our amphibious duo make their way through the bayou and come across Louis a trumpet playing alligator and Ray, a Cajun firefly, who tag along.
Controversy arose when it was announced that Tiana would be the first African American princess, it didn’t help when she was originally named Maddy who worked as a maid. Once that was fixed not only did we finally get first African American Disney princess, but one of the best female role models in a Disney film. She’s hard-working, independent, kind, and intelligent. She has no time for fun until she meets the laid-back but charming Naveen. Despite being the complete opposite of each other they have something to offer one another; with Naveen it’s showing Tiana to have fun once and awhile, and Tiana teaching Naveen a few tips of responsibility.
Randy Newman (Toy Story and Monsters Inc.) does the music and is great in that Disney way from the jazzy streets to swampy creeks of New Orleans. Among the diverse cast are Anika Noni Rose as Tiana and Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis whose previous roles were in Dreamgirls; Oprah Winfrey and War Machine avenger himself Terrence Howard voice Tiana’s mother and father. For those who grew up in the nineties many might recognize the smooth vocals of Keith David as the villainous Dr. Falicier as he is also the voice of Goliath in Disney’s Gargoyles.
Among the accolades it received were three Academy Award nominations (Best Animated Feature and two for Best Original Song), a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature, winner of three out of eight Annie nominations including Best Animated Effects and Character Animation (Think of it as the Oscars in animation), two NAACP Image nominations, and winner of the Best Animated Female for Anika Noni Rose as Tiana at the Women Film Critics Circle Awards.
This was back when Disney had ceased production in hand-drawn animation due to its box-office disappointments. After Home on the Range, the entire studio shut down all that was classical animation and jumped on the bandwagon on computer animation. Just when traditional animation was thought to be dead, The Princess and the Frog was the film that revived it and proved that old-school Disney was here to stay.
Fun Fact: Louis the alligator is named after the jazz legend himself Louis Armstrong with both being well accomplished trumpet players.