Most little girls have seen at least one Disney Princess movie. Those movies then change the expectations of those young women eventually and unrealistically (and usually without notice). Arguably, most of the Disney movies before The Princess and the Frog (aside from Mulan) were rife with these ideas of love and chivalry. It was disheartening to realize, after becoming a mother myself, that The Little Mermaid was essentially about a mermaid who would rather be out of the water experiencing life, but doesn’t figure out a way to do so until after she meets gorgeous Prince Eric. Then, through some dark twists and mess (Ursula) she is given legs, she chooses to keep those legs and leave her family behind forever. I find myself becoming angry with a cartoon character. Why, Ariel? Why leave your entire family, your world, your life behind – just for a man. I am not mad Ariel chose to become human; I am mad she chose because of a man. Now that I have girls of my own I am cautious about what they watch. They do watch the princess movies and love the princesses, but they also know that those are just stories. In fact, we watch The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and the Harry Potter movies, too. It is incredibly important that children see that life is full of possibility. If they are going to have unreal expectations, I would rather those expectations be put on Hogwarts letters, or being just like Hermione Granger.
And then there was Tiana.
Finally, Disney made a princess whom let me be a little more comfortable with the cost of ALL THE MERCHANDISE. Tiana is a young African American girl in early 1900’s New Orleans, her mother, Eudora, is a seamstress. Her father, James, is a practical man who loves to cook. His dream is to one day own his own restaurant. This is a dream that Tiana also shares with her father. They are a working class family who are happy. Tiana’s best friend, Charlotte, comes from money. She’s white. Eudora often makes dresses for Charlotte. The movie opens with Eudora reading The Frog Prince to both girls. Charlotte cannot wait to meet a prince and become a princess. She would kiss any frog that comes across her path in hopes of finding a prince. Tiana, however, finds the story gross. She proclaims that she will never kiss a frog. She could not care less about being a princess.
Unfortunately, in basic Disney style, Tiana’s life is not happy. She loses her father when she’s young. She grows into a formidable woman, who refuses to forget her father or their dreams. Tiana is working several different jobs in order to save up enough money to buy her own restaurant. She isn’t sitting around waiting for some man to save her. She has no time for something that silly. She also does not sit around feeling sorry for herself. She misses her father in a noble way, by working hard in order to achieve her goal, even if that means being dead tired and weary. I believe this practicality is what made me love Tiana.
Charlotte, who is now a rich young woman, still has the same dream as well. She wants to marry a prince. The two are great friends who support each other fully. So, when Prince Naveen of Maldonia arrives in NOLA, Charlotte decides to throw a huge party in his honor – so she can get her prince. Charlotte asks Tiana to make her special beignets and in return Tiana will finally have enough money for her restaurant. Hooray! None of this happens the way it should, though, considering that Prince Naveen is in New Orleans in order to run away from his royal duties. His parents refuse to give him any more money until he marries, but Naveen just wants to play music and have fun. Unfortunately, Naveen runs into Dr. Facilier, a voodoo witch doctor, with plans of his own. The bad doctor offers to give Naveen his hearts’ desires, (Facilier has no good intentions) but he is tricked and turned into a frog and cannot be turned back into his human self until he finds a princess to kiss him. Tiana finds Naveen and through a series of misunderstandings and false promises; Naveen thinking Tiana is a princess, asks her to kiss him in exchange for money for her restaurant. Tiana, who has had a bad day, reluctantly kisses the frog and finds herself turned into a frog as well.
Now, both are frogs, and both are mad. Instead of falling apart and waiting for someone to save her, Tiana takes control of the situation and goes in search of a cure. Obviously, this cure will have to be magical, so, guided by Ray, (the sweetest lightning bug ever) the group goes in search of Mama Odie, a good voodoo priestess who can undo the curse. Tiana and Naveen meet some other friends and foes along the way, but she never gives up. Mama Odie tells Naveen and Tiana that the only way to break the curse is for Naveen to be kissed by a proper princess, and he is running out of time. The two travel back to find Charlotte, who is the closest option to a princess they have. Unfortunately, they do not make the time frame, and are now stuck as frogs. The two are able to be content, however, because both have learned from the other. Tiana has learned that there needs to be time for playing and having fun, while Naveen has learned that hard work is more valuable than a party. Tiana and Naveen fall in love and ask Mama Odie to marry them. After kissing his bride Naveen and Tiana are turned back into humans.
After becoming human again, Tiana buys her restaurant. With help from Naveen, they have the coolest spot with the best food and music in New Orleans. She is able to fulfill her dreams with her man by her side, not because of the man by her side. Neither has forgotten their frog experiences, though. Tiana has made her restaurant a fun and happy place, while Naveen works hard with her and the band every night.
We love Tiana for her confidence. We love her for her determination and her work ethic. She is smart, sassy, courageous, and strong-willed. She could have and did have every opportunity to fall apart and give up. She didn’t. She never forgot her father and the dream they shared. In the end, Tiana’s heart is given what her mind does not understand, love. We love Tiana for not settling. We also love her for never forgetting where she came from. Tiana is our very deserving woman of June. We just hope that we can have a bit of her resilience and work ethic.