As the mother of a 7-year-old daughter, I knew I’d have to see the film. I went to the theater prepared to deconstruct troubling racial images, which Disney has a history of producing, and distorted notions of womanhood, which Disney makes its fortune creating. But I was mostly delighted by the music, characters, and plot. I found neither race nor gender the driving concerns of this animated film.
I read The Princess and the Frog as a forceful and insightful allegory about the restoration of New Orleans.
Like many children’s stories, this one is a morality tale. Parents read to our kids not only to encourage their literacy, but also to impart lessons about our shared cultural and social values: kindness, honesty, courage, thrift, hard work, normative heterosexual relationships that result in lifelong, happy, state-sanctioned marriage. The basics.
This particular morality tale conveys lessons about the city where it is set: New Orleans.
The Princess is Tiana. She grows up in a shotgun house, in a tight-knit, black community, the child of laboring parents. Together they dream of owning a restaurant. Tiana works night and day toward this goal.
Tiana represents the spirit of the people of New Orleans. She lives in the Big Easy, but her life is hard. She has family, community, sharp wit, tremendous talent, and the willingness to labor in grueling conditions. She works and saves her money, but local lenders refuse to honor her bid on a location for her restaurant. (A historic building she hopes to restore.) She is childhood friends with a wealthy family, and while they give her opportunities to work and earn, it never occurs to them to underwrite her dream of owning her own business. Everywhere she turns her dreams are blocked by a system that appears benevolent, but is actually stacked against her.