Walt Disney’s new animation film The Princess & the Frog, which features their first starring role for an Afro-American Princess, will premiere with a limited run in New York and Los Angeles starting on November 25, 2009, followed by a wide release on December 11, 2009.
Originally scheduled for the top Christmas Day 2009 release slot, Disney has moved The Princess and the Frog’s premiere date in favor of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. This is possibly because they have had to fend off bitter controversy about racial stereotyping from the moment they announced the ‘Princess and the Frog’ project.
Despite being dogged by criticism for a lack of political correctness, the film has received full ‘A List’ backing with a voice cast including Oprah Winfrey and Anika Noni Rose who starred in ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’. The score is by Randy Newman.
“The Princess and the Frog” production marks Disney’s return to traditional hand-drawn 2-D animation. This is a major U-Turn after Disney previously said their ‘Home on the Range’ flop (2004) would be their last film to use the hand drawn technique. Ron Clements and John Musker who head Disney’s animation department, and direct this new animation venture are said to be responsible for the change, which many will welcome.
Despite this, Disney’s public relations department has had to counter criticism from a number of quarters.
First they had to change the film’s name from ‘The Frog Princess’ to ‘The Princess and the Frog’.
The name of the heroine Princess also had to be changed from ‘Maddy’ to ‘Tiana’ after charges that Maddy was a “slave name” and promoting a stereotype similar to Hattie McDaniel’s demeaning character in ‘Gone With the Wind’.
One of the first to weigh in with charges of racial stereotyping was the ‘Council for the Development of French in Louisiana’ (CODOFIL), a state agency charged with the protection and promotion of French in Louisiana. They said the portrayal of a Cajun character in the film, (a toothless, lovesick firefly) was a continuation of the inaccurate stereotyping of Cajun people. Warren Perrin, CODOFIL President was especially outspoken in his criticism:
“It has been done in so many movies over so much time, people think that’s the way we are – and it’s just wrong. I can list several other movies where they have portrayed us as backward, toothless, illiterate people who fart.”
One of the fiercest critics has been William Blackburn, former columnist at The Charlotte Observer who said; “Disney should be ashamed of what it is trying to pass off as its first black princess.” He also branded the setting of the film in New Orleans as “insensitive” because it was “the setting of one of the most devastating tragedies to beset a black community.” According to this logic filming in most places on earth would be out of the question.
There have also been complaints that the Prince isn’t black, although this means the film shows inter racial relationships in a positive light for a change. Prince Naveen comes from a fictional land named Maldonia, and is indeed white, but is voiced by Brazilian actor Bruno Campos.
One critic has called the film ‘animated racism’ while others have complained that the Afro-Princess will spend a lot of the film being a green frog, not a black Princess which they see as an insult. Perhaps some of this knit-picking is being taken to extremes.
Judging by the pre-release footage (see below) this film will rise up above all the accusations and become another Walt Disney fantasy classic. But there is still plenty of time for further complaints before the December 11th release date.