Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The "Princess and the Frog" trailer is some shameful s***

Disney's already had some problems with civil rights activists about the upcoming 2-D animated musical "The Princess and the Frog." Turns out the advocates weren't just happy with Disney finally getting around to creating an African-American princess for the very first time. They also wanted the storyline to be, um, less offensive. Oh the nerve! A chronicle of the drama is here. But it seems that oodles of changes have already been made.

Well, the trailer's out and if it's not too late, perhaps they want to go back to the drawing board once more.

I'm only going to talk about two things...

1) The f***ing firefly. Sorry. We're talking about a kids movie here, so I shouldn't be swearing. But that's reflective of how visceral my reaction was to the last 10 seconds of the trailer. After 50 seconds of a pretty princess with at least vaguely racially specific features -- i.e. she isn't just Bella, Ariel or Amy Adams from "Enchanted" painted dark -- not smooching a frog, out of nowhere comes this jive-talking, toothless bug speaking with the thickest bayou accent imaginable. And I have to say that my instant reaction was "Oh my God, this is going to be like 'Song of the South' and this movie will have to be buried forever." My immediate read was that Disney was milking every imaginable stereotype of uneducated -- but inevitably WISE!!!! -- aged black masculinity imaginable. Give that fly a corncob pipe and a pimp walk and he could be Scarlett O'Hara's man-servant or one of the crows from "Dumbo." I mostly forgive the "Dumbo" stereotyping in that quaint "They didn't know any better, but at least they were trying" way. I went back and watched a second time and even though the firefly still looks like he's the sort of caricature of a cracked out bum Dave Chappelle might have parodied, I'm now figuring he's meant to just be Cajun, which may be just as inappropriate. Moreso, actually, because obviously Disney's people are cautious about offending African-American groups, but I'm skeptical the Cajuns have as strong a lobby. The character is [apparently] voiced by Jim Cummings, who is deservedly a huge star in the voiceover world. All respect to Jim Cummings. But Jim Cummings is also a white guy. Wikipedia tells me he spent extensive time in New Orleans, but again... I dunno if that makes it better. In fact, I'm pretty sure it doesn't. The problem here is the character and the direction, though, and not Cummings, who's just doing what he's being paid to do... We've just reached a point at which Disney should know better, particularly on a film on which they're so clearly trying to be progressive.

2) If I'm telling a story about the African-American 1920s New Orleans and I want somebody to do the score and songs, you know who I'm NOT going to? Randy Newman. Yes, nobody does cornball Americana like Randy Newman, but might this have been a good time to, you know, hire a musician actually FROM New Orleans? I seem to recall New Orleans having a tradition with indigenous -- i.e. not written by a nice rich guy from Los Angeles -- music. Or was I misinformed? Even if you were bound and determined to have the story of a black girl in New Orleans musically transcribed by a white dude, couldn't you have at least hired Harry Connick, Jr.? He's at least born and raised and somewhat trained in New Orleans. He's middlebrow and mainstream, but I've seen his commercials for the city post-Katrina. I buy him singing the song of New Orleans. He wouldn't be my top choice. But still..

Am I being hyper-sensitive? Maybe?

And I over-reacting just to get a blog post up since I haven't posted anything in a couple weeks? Possibly...


  1. this have been a good time to, you know, hire a musician actually FROM New Orleans?

    I think you're over-reacting, Newman's family is from New Orleans (many of the relatives on his mother's side still live there) and he spent much of his childhood there and has visited quite often throughout his life. In interviews when he talks about it, it's clear he loves the place, and he frequently states there's no other city like it on earth.

    Besides, the song in this trailer is a collaboration with *Dr. John*! He sings it! In the only other song I've heard from the movie, Randy is playing with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and my understanding is that the sound track is going to be filled with other musicians from New Orleans. I'm pretty sure Newman would have insisted on that.

    Give him a break until you actually HEAR the music; personally, I'm betting it's going to be wonderful.

  2. Of *course* I'm over-reacting! It's fun.

    But I still maintain that hiring somebody from New Orleans to do the songs and score might have been a better touch than hiring somebody who likes New Orleans a lot and has visited frequently... Newman's ties to New Orleans may run deep into his blood, but there are dozens upon hundreds of born-and-raised musicians in the city who might have liked the opportunity to represent the Crescent City... It comes down to perception as much as anything else.

    Just my over-reacting opinion, though!

    Thanks for stoppin' by...

  3. Anonymous6:05 AM

    I can't believe you got all of that out of a one minute teaser trailer! At least Disney is trying to diversify their cartoons and I'm glad to see them doing 2-D animation again. But it's still a Disney movie. Of course we're gonna end up with Randy Newman.

    As for any stereotypes, it could be worse. Imagine what Disney's take on the Jewish Princess would be...

  4. We were all gaffawing in horror / disbelief at this teaser trailer today at work. Imagine Jimminy Cricket with that firefly's mannerisms. You can't!

  5. To me it's not a case of over reacting. It's a case of making something out of nothing.
    It's because of people like you complaining that Disney changed the original name of the character(Maddie) to the dreadful Tiana, and her previous job description from maid, to princess.
    What exactly is racist about hiring a voice artist to do an exaggerated impression of an accent? Do you also think it's racist for Jim Cummings to do an exaggerated australian accent as Monterey Jack in rescue rangers? Or does racism only apply to black people?
    Also,could you explain what precisely is it about the crows from Dumbo that is so racist? the fact that they speak in colloquialism?
    I am so sick of everyone getting their knickers in a twist because "we might offend someone".
    Who the hell is getting offended by this stuff apart from you anyway? The Black Panthers?

  6. I think that people are upset because of the legacy we have in this country. We can all agree that we have been marketed and socialized to feel certain ways about people with darker skin tones and people with lighter skin tones.

    Just look at mainstream media. Aside from Slumdog, when was the last time you saw a major motion picture with a leading man and woman on the silver screen that were darker toned individuals.

    Because we don't see these things we are socialized to think that they are rare or uncommon or don't even exist. Young kids who are darker toned look at lighter tones as better and vice versa. We all know that we are the same, except for the media which continues to propagate the legacy stereotypes.

    Its not about racism or hatred or lobbyists. Its about laziness. Its about fear. Hollywood has been riding these stereotypes for years and its made them millions. Why change now? Hollywood is scard of change.

    So, I think that peoples concerns are warranted. Disney has a chance to leap us into the future and continue shifting the paradigms that have stagnated our views of one another. Although, we may have to kiss a frog or two before we finally get there.

  7. Incredibly offensive. You are not overreacting. I realize this post is old, and maybe Disney's made some improvements, but all your points are completely spot-on.

  8. Umm ... no offense to anybody, but I do believe a lot of people are, as martinus put it so well, making something out of nothing. Why does everybody have to turn this film (which looks awesome and hell, look how beautiful the drawing is!) into a black and white (no pun intended) issue? Who CARES what they sound like, if the prince is white or black, or where the composer is from? I mean, Alan Menken - a musical genius, in my opinion - composed the music for 'Pocahontas', and nobody to my knowledge complained that he wasn't Native American. Or that the score for 'Aladdin' wasn't composed by an Arab person. I am happy that Disney tries to represent characters of varying cultures, and here we have an African - American princess. Now when people get what they want, they keep finding new reasons to complain. Can't people just sit back, relax and enjoy a film nowadays? Why always the whole politically correct thing? As long as it's not downright insulting or derogatory then people should just keep quiet and get a hobby.

    And with that said, I apologise for my overreaction. :)