Ode to the Most American Princess of All

This Fourth of July, I'd like for us all to take a moment to appreciate the most American princess of all--Tiana from Disney's 2009 feature, The Princess and the Frog. Disney decided to put a very unique spin on the story of "The Frog Prince" by having it take place in 1920s New Orleans instead of medieval Germany and turning the spoiled princess into a studious entrepreneur who also happened to be their first animated black heroine. The risks they took paid off greatly because the movie is incredibly entertaining and unique, even if it wasn't a huge box office hit like they were hoping. There are so many reasons I love and relate to Tiana. I was glad to see her return briefly in the final season of Once Upon a Time as Jacinda's best friend, Sabine, even if they didn't do the best job with her fairy tale counterpart.

The Princess and the Frog celebrates many of the same ideals of freedom that we do for America on the Fourth of July both literally and metaphorically. It represents the freedom to continue creating beautiful hand-drawn artwork even though Michael Eisner claimed five years earlier in 2004 that Home on the Range would be Disney's last hand-drawn movie. It taught audiences that every girl is free to feel like a princess no matter what race she is, a very important message in our diverse and changing times and one that Tiana's talented voice actress, Anika Noni Rose, got the most attention for when the movie was released. The movie itself focuses on the archetypal American Dream that anyone can achieve success and fortune in the new world even if they were not born into power, a concept that the smash hit, Hamilton, the Broadway musical about the founding of America, revolves around. Tiana teaches us that being an American princess means being devoted to your dreams and not necessarily just being born into money like her best friend, Charlotte, as America was founded on the principle of getting rid of the monarchy.

Tiana had a big impact on my own life because her movie came out just one year after I had graduated from college and entered the professional world. I understood the struggle of being in a fast-paced work environment and wanting to do anything I could to get ahead, even if it meant turning down social invitations in favor of putting in overtime hours. Nobody understood why Tiana wanted to work two grueling waitress jobs in order to save up money to open her own restaurant, just as some people couldn't understand why I was so obsessed with my job at the time. I got the transfer I had been working toward shortly after the movie came out and celebrated it with the Disney Parks versions of Tiana and Naveen, so Tiana truly had a big impact in helping me chase after my career goals. Another thing I was able to relate to was how studious she was and how she couldn't get into Naveen's silly pranks and goofing off after they became frogs, as demonstrated in "When We're Human." I have never able to relate to most people's humor either, so it was great to have a princess I could share that with.

I did read some critical reviews at the time The Princess and the Frog came out that it withheld some important feminist ideals by having Tiana only kiss Naveen's froggy form for the promise of money to open her restaurant, implying that women need rich men to get out of their difficult lives like in the oldest and most famous princess story of all, "Cinderella." To this criticism, I argue that Tiana needed to be able to accept help because she refused to admit that she was wearing herself out. Up until that point in the movie, she had tried to do everything on her own and was still struggling in spite of her optimism. By the end, her willingness to accept Naveen's love and assistance for the extra to achieve her dreams and happiness shows growth in her character, not weakness. Teaching girls that they have to be capable of doing everything on their own, which is so common in today's world, can put them in a very lonely and sad place. There is only so much that one person can do without being brave enough to swallow their pride and ask for help. I still think that Naveen needed Tiana far more than she needed him since she was ultimately the one who broke the curse and taught him the responsibility to ensure that he wouldn't get himself into trouble again. This makes Tiana and Naveen one of the healthiest and most stable relationships in any Disney movie.

This Fourth of July, I'd like for us all to remember the principles that America was founded on and the lessons that Tiana taught us by being the first American Disney Princess. It doesn't matter where you come from or who your family is as long as you have love in your life and passion in your heart to work hard and chase after your dreams. Being a princess means being pure of spirit and believing in yourself. Here in the new world, all girls are free to be princesses.


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