I’m a child of the 90’s. I was a Disney kid. Sure, I remember the day that my mother gave us the ultimatium: you can keep The Disney Channel or the Sega Channel and we chose the snazzier, more interactive option, but regardless, I was at just the right age during the era fondly known by some as “The Disney Renaissance.” I remember singing “Hakuna Matata” on the way home from the movie theater after “The Lion King” and I couldn’t tell you how many times I rewound my VHS tape of “The Little Mermaid” so that I could memorize the words to “Under The Sea.”
But as much as I loved those films, and as colorblind as I was to them when I was a child, I can still remember my mother express her disappointment upon seeing trailers for “Aladdin.” The film featured some of the first Disney characters with darker skin, and they weren’t what she considered ‘black’. Of course, “Aladdin” was (and still is) an amazing movie, and I still respect the film for what it is, but as a child, Disney had yet to get around to creating a Disney Princess who looked like me.
And then Disney stopped making traditionally animated movies altogether. When Dreamworks started churning out Shrek movies and Pixar enjoyed year after year of both critical and box office successes, Disney’s contribution to the market were films like “Chicken Little” and “Meet the Robinsons”. While they were still decent kid movies, for me, the name Disney no longer brought to mind yearly mini-musicals, chock full of as much thinly veiled adult humor as kid-friendly sight gags.
That is, until about a year and a half ago, when I caught wind of “The Princess and the Frog.” With Disney now under the creative control of Pixar’s John Lasseter, and the news that the movie would be helmed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the team responsible for “Aladdin”, I was looking forward to the movie before I even knew the cast, the plot, or that Randy Newman would be creating the music. Even as the inevitable racial controversies emerged over the title of the film (then, “The Frog Princess”), the heroine’s name (then, ‘Maddy’) and station (then, chambermaid), and the fact that a ‘black princess’ had coincidentally emerged just as America embraced their first black President (though some people forget that animated movies take far more than year to make it from conception, to script to actual theatrical release…) I had faith that Disney had the right pieces in place to become the creator of quality and classic animated film that I remembered so fondly from my childhood.