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...