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After what seems like a decade of terribly clever Pixar feature films, Disney has finally gone back to its roots and made a proper Princess film.

The Princess and the Frog is the story of Tiana, a young black girl living in New Orleans, who dreams of opening her own restaurant, where she can serve her father’s gumbo and her special beignets. So far, so rags-to-riches set up. Add a spoilt but lovable best friend, and a visiting prince of indeterminate origin, and you have yourself a bonafide princess film.

And it is fair to say that The Princess and the Frog draws on all of the best-loved conventions of classic Disney films. There are elements of the old Princess films, such as Tiana’s mini-makeover for her friend Charlotte’s party, which is reminiscent of Cinderella, and Tiana and Naveen’s relationship has shades of Aladdin and Jasmine’s early exchange. But this only adds to the resonance of this lovely film. And it is not only Princess, or even Disney films that can be found in there. The journey down the Bayou combines the lazy drift of The Jungle Book and the quiet menace of creatures on the river in The Rescuers.

I was also reminded of the much overlooked and underrated Don Bluth film, Anastasia. One of the best things about that film is the way they treat Anastasia’s memories and fantasies. They are dreamy and romantic, and very touching because of it. In Princess and the Frog, there is a beautifully designed dream sequence, in which a dilapidated old building springs into life around Tiana, and become the restaurant of her dreams. The art deco influences in the animation of this scene show the evolution in the Princess film genre. It is a step forward from the “Be Our Guest” sequence from Beauty and the Beast, where the crockery danced, but the animation was clunky and slightly incongruous to the rest of the film. In The Princess and the Frog, the dream sequence contrasts, but also complements beautifully, as it captures the positive aspects of the era quickly and evocatively.

Discussing the ‘costume’ in this film is tricky, as frogs drive the narrative for a large part of it, but it is still definitely worth a mention. The animators have a relatively short amount of time for characterization in this film, as once the transformations start, they keep coming. Whether or not this excuses a bit of reliance on stereotypes, I am not sure, but that is what they end up doing. The best friend, Charlotte is spoilt and extraordinarily wealthy, and therefore obviously has blond curls, dimples and an oversized fur coat. And Big Daddy, her kindly and indulgent father, is rosy and rotund, with a bushy red moustache. Equally, the villain, Dr Facilier practices voodoo and is therefore dripping with skulls and talismans, and has particularly large, flagstone teeth, and a pencil moustache.

This is not the time to argue the rights and wrongs of Disney stereotyping; it does exist, it probably has the potential to compound some negative clichés, but there is far more to this film than the presence of a few easy assumptions. The songs are charming, the animation is gorgeous, and there is a princess. All in all, I think Disney’s back.


Haircuts shouldn’t be underestimated. Not the most profound thing I will ever write, but true. William Wyler, director of Roman Holiday (1953), knew this. Billy Wilder, director of Sabrina (1954), also knew this. And that is why, at pivotal points in both films, Audrey Hepburn’s hair gets fairly unceremoniously lopped off. In both films, the moment that we see her without her ponytail for the first time, is the moment she becomes the real protagonist of the film. Sabrina sitting in a tree gazing at David isn’t the real Sabrina. Humphrey Bogart didn’t fall in love with that Sabrina, he dragged her out of garage and made fun of her pitiful suicide attempt. The ponytail is a reassuring symbol for the audience, as we know that whatever happens to her before the chop will be resolved when she gets a haircut and some gumption.

In Roman Holiday, Hepburn’s haircut is her first real act of  rebellion. Of course, before that she hops over the palace wall  and into the real world, but she is loopy on sedatives, and promptly has to be rescued by the handsome and streetwise Gregory Peck. The next morning, however, she is thinking clearly again, and walks into a salon and tells the hairdresser to cut it all off. In fact, it takes two attempts to assert this independence, as the bob he gives her is a crashing anti-climax.

When he finally crops her hair and rolls the edges, she suddenly  becomes royalty. Not the little princess drowned in her ankle-  length nightdress and waist-length hair, dutifully drinking milk  before bed, but a regal and dignified woman.

Sabrina may cut her hair for the wrong reason, but it has the same effect. It takes a year at cooking school, a friendship with a wealthy octogenarian, and a haircut to transform Sabrina the chauffeur’s daughter, into Sabrina the woman.

When the Baron rightly identifies why Sabrina’s souffle is a flop, (“a woman happily in love, she burn the souffle…a woman unhappily in love forgets to turn on the oven”), he gives her the best piece of advice she could hope for. Her father may have sent her to cookery school in Paris, but the Baron told her she looked like a horse – the ponytail had to go. And just like that, on her return to Long Island, Sabrina and David are equals. Her appearance is the ultimate status symbol.

“Oh Sabrina, where have you been all my life?”

“Right over the garage.”