Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Disney Princess Analysis - Part 9: Tiana

Click to read Part 1 (Snow White)Part 2 (Cinderella)Part 3 (Aurora)Part 4 (Ariel)Part 5 (Belle)Part 6 (Jasmine)Part 7 (Pocahontas), and Part 8 (Mulan).

At long last, it's time to return to my analysis of the official Disney princesses. Rest assured that the long break I took from this series was not due to a lack of interest: the next princess, Tiana, is one of my favorites. If I were to put together a list of my top three Disney princesses it would probably be (in the order that their movies were released) Aurora, Belle, and Tiana. The last time I watched The Princess and the Frog I realized anew how much I deeply admire Tiana and genuinely want to learn from her. People talk about animated characters being potential role models for children, but Tiana is a role model for adults, too.

The Princess and the Frog came out in 2009, eleven years after the last princess movie, Mulan. Yet rather than being the long-awaited film, it was the movie that held onto the past by being the last one done with traditional animation (I'm so weird that I still miss traditional animation) and also introduced possibly odd elements that audiences just didn't know how to respond to (the fairly modern New Orleans setting and the great amount of time that our prince and princess spend as frogs). So I think all of that perhaps distracted from the wonderfulness of Tiana's character.

That is, it's also a possibility that Tiana was less popular than 2010's Rapunzel because Tiana is black and Rapunzel is blonde--even though everybody clamors about wanting representation for all types of people. I mean, we all hope that that isn't the case. (Note: The Princess and the Frog was, I believe, well-received. I'm talking here more about how much demand there is for Tiana merchandise or character meet and greets with Tiana or people dressing like Tiana, that sort of marker for popularity.) I think it was certainly exciting to have the first black Disney princess to follow after the previous racially diverse additions of Jasmine, Pocahontas, and Mulan. It seems possible that the filmmakers didn't just want to design this character visually; they also wanted to include race in the film itself. Instead of just choosing a fantasy setting, they chose the early-ish 20th century New Orleans setting so that they could show the contrast in social settings of Tiana's family and Charlotte's. 

Other than this being probably the first instance of a Disney princess film making note of race affecting a person's social situation (I'm not counting Pocahontas because that was two established cultures meeting for the first time, rather than showing the later results of that meeting--aka. reservations), this is also the first time that a princess is poor and lower class. Mulan wasn't a princess and I don't think she was upper class, either, but her family had a higher social class than Tiana's. Tiana's family is just barely making ends meet by working from sunup to sundown. I can't decide whether or not it was necessary to create this background for Tiana, but it is interesting and it does set up a wonderful character that I suppose wouldn't have existed if she had come from a different background. (I'm almost forgetting to state one obvious fact: once again, Tiana isn't born a princess and doesn't become one until she, like Belle, marries a prince.)

This brings us around to my reason for admiring Tiana so much. This movie came out during my first year of college, that time when I was getting myself used to a thorough method of studying and analysis while also looking forward to where all this work could bring me. So to hear Tiana talk about dreams and about working hard to achieve dreams did speak to me. Snow White and Cinderella teach us virtues, Belle and Mulan teach us the importance of sticking up for ourselves and for the people we care about, and Tiana teaches us to persevere. She is truly untiring, working all of her jobs and saving her pennies so she can reach her dream of opening up a restaurant. 

But it's a Disney movie, you say, where's the magic in that? That's exactly the point. Tiana did so much right, trying to stay positive even when she was tired, just like her father taught her to do. But along the way, all her hard work was leaving something out. Her father kept on a smile for her; this shows that our relationships with other people are important, more important than all of these goals we set up for ourselves. Of course, the goals are important and we should work on those. But not at the expense of finding reasons to smile. Tiana never goes out with her friends. She just works. This is why her relationship with Naveen works out so well. Naveen shows her not to forget about the magic.

Naveen is the opposite of Tiana: he seeks entertainment all day and has no idea what work is. The theme is not entirely unlike that of Chocolat (more the book than the movie): the contrast between asceticism and hedonism and the question of how it is possible to balance them. Naveen reminds Tiana that she can smile and not just because she's trying to be positive but because she wants to smile and have fun and enjoy a moment just for the moment's sake. Tiana, in turn, reminds Naveen that these moments of joy or pleasure only truly matter if you have done your part to earn them. So it's nice that this Disney relationship truly tries to have each character offer something to the other; they don't just fall in love, they complement each other. It's that concept of don't ask what you can get from a relationship, ask what you can give to it.

Add to that Anika Noni Rose's fabulous voice and Tiana is a terrific character. I prefer the less pop-sounding music in animated films, so while I'm not overly fond of Randy Newman and some of the music in this movie, I do really like Tiana's singing voice (actually, I guess I do like most of the music now). She sounds elegant and classy (as compared with the pre-teen pop sound of Rapunzel's voice, but I'm getting ahead of myself). 

Tiana is a character who stands utterly independent. She speaks for herself, she makes decisions for herself, she works for herself and her dreams, and she always takes charge of a situation. She's always positive and kind to the people around her because she knows that this is a part of achievement. She's patient and diligent. And yet she's not perfect or designed as perfect (like Snow White and Cinderella). I genuinely want to learn from Tiana, and for that she receives high marks in this analysis series. 

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