Every Gender Studies 101 course contains a mandatory re-education seminar on animated Disney movies. It goes a little like this: you know all those movies you, as a red-blooded American child, were raised to love and cherish? Well, they are SEXIST RACIST AND CLASSIST. Your 18-year-old heart, a little fragile at having so recently exerted itself with flying from the nest, flutters and stutters. Was your whole childhood a lie? YES IT WAS, your professor assures you. THERE’S NO TURNING BACK! the professor then yells, just in case there was a wistful, Bambi-like glint in your eye.
Fast-forward to cynical, post-college young adulthood. You joined the anti-Disney coalition, fo sho, and think those movies are SEXIST RACIST AND CLASSIST. But you also admire the gorgeous animation in Mulan, still find Aladdin a charmer, and, one boring afternoon, you happen to rent The Princess and the Frog.
There was a lot of hullabaloo about this movie before it came out, because for the first time in all of history, this movie would portray a BLACK DISNEY PRINCESS. But in the end, I think this movie is not racist. The movie takes place in New Orleans, during the jazz age. Of course, the movie contains a smattering of Louisiana archetypes–a gaggle-toothed “Cajun” firefly named Raymond, a horn-tooting bass-voiced alligator, a totally awesome Voodoo man not unlike the nefarious Jaffar in mien and m.o., an exuberant Southern belle whose papa is a captain of industry, etc. But these parts are all lovingly or at least enthusiastically portrayed, and there were no obvious Jarjar Binks-types. (I mean that in all senses: there was no obviously racist role, and no annoying side-kick irrelevant to the plot.)
Unfortunately, like all lively musical comedies, the center of this colorful cast is the appallingly boring star-crossed lover pair of Prince Naveen and Tiana, the frog and the princess, respectively.
Tiana is a pretty and hard-working girl. Her dream is to own a restaurant; she is an instinctive, wonderful cook, we see, as she makes gumbo from the time she is a toddler. The secret to great gumbo, apparently, is adding two tablespoons of Tabasco. Every time. I was not satisfied with this facile manner of showing culinary expertise, but I guess the movie is for kids, and not foodies. One other gripe: the beignets have icing on them. I know beignets are often compared to donuts, but they ARE NOT DONUTS.
Anyway, through various shenanigans, arrivals of hunky princes, voodoo magicks, and a couple of okay songs, we discover that the narrative arch will follow Tiana and Prince Naveen in their froggy incarnations. The two would like to return to their human forms, and are told by a blind, snake-charming Bayou woman that in order to do so, they must “dig a little deeper,” (<— video link!) and find out what they are missing from the big picture of their life. The prince, a ne’er do-well kicked out and cut-off financially by his parents, is clearly missing many things. But Tiana, besides being boring, is not lacking for anything. And yet, according to the movie, she is lacking A HUSBAND.
She needs love! She needs to make time for fun! That’s what we learn. What does achieving your life-long dream give you, anyway? Emotional satisfaction? A sense of purpose? Pride? Financial security? No, according to the movie. It would give you a nagging sense of emptiness and meaninglessness if you didn’t have a husband to share it with.
Unsurprisingly, Tiana finds love in the prince. He learns, over the course of their adventures, that he has indeed led a life of privilege and leisure. And while Tiana is rightfully skeptical of him at first, she then teaches him how to mince a mushroom and POOF! Through a magic stronger than any voodoo curse, the underachieving male is forgiven of his ways, lent a flexibility of identity rarely afforded to women (fictional or real), and is transformed into a desirable marriage material.
Obviously, I am like wtf. Disney, of course, is a great propagator of many domestic myths: happily-ever-after, eternal love, soul mates, shit like that. But it’s taken me forever to dismantle these myths within myself, and so I am just trying to look out for girls: the next generation.
Tiana clearly marries beneath her, even if Naveen is a goddamn prince. Not that there isn’t a certain charm to being connected to men beneath you (in terms of financial standing). There’s even an enjoyable song about the topic by Robyn: “Bum Like You. ” But this phenom is for another blog post, or perhaps, more appropriately, my journal.
The point is, girls, working women, all: DON’T MARRY A GUY WHO HAS NEVER MINCED A MUSHROOM! And don’t be so sure that a momentary interest in work is going to last!
There, I feel better. Exorcism done. Disney, you really fucked us all.