How to Become a Dreamer: The Princess and the Frog

1912. Louisiana. New Orleans. Aspiring chef Tiana meets Naveen, Prince of Maldonia, and they begin an exciting adventure together. Or will they wind up croaking together in the same swamp?

What does the era of jazz and foxtrot have in common with the old German fairy tale about the Frog Prince? A lot, thanks to the 2009 Disney animated musical fantasy comedy. It’s a distant interpretation of the story at first glance. Let’s see what it and the original have in common.

Welcome to the froggy fairy tale…

Tiana’s Role

Tiana is not as simple as a character as she seems. This heroine works hard to earn money to open her restaurant, which her father dreamed of. She’s a purposeful, strong-willed girl stubbornly pursuing her goal who thinks of nothing but work. She has no time for fun, meeting friends (ok, she has Lotti), dances (she has never learned how!), or men, much less romance. But at a really difficult moment in her life, Tiana turns to another force that exists in every child’s imagination. She wishes on the Evening Star for her dream to come true. Tiana wants and knows how to dream. Remember the scene when she sings “Almost There.” Tiana does not waste time on nonsense, but can dream. This opens that part of herself that makes her alive, vulnerable. For all her rationality, Tiana believes in fairy tales unconsciously, even if she doesn’t take this stance in her daily life.

In Grimm’s tale The Frog Prince or Iron Henry (published in 1812) a spoiled princess reluctantly befriends the Frog Prince, whom she meets after dropping a golden ball into a pond. He retrieves it for her in exchange for her friendship. Tiana isn’t a spoiled princess, but puts herself above others because she has a real purpose in life while others are busy with their entertainment. But the craving for the unusual, the inexplicable, still lives in her and blossoms after meeting Naveen.

Naveen’s Role

Naveen is a fun-loving Prince of Maldonia who doesn’t take life too seriously. There are servants for all serious matters. Naveen loves jazz, dancing and cute girls (and cute girls love a charming prince who plays the guitar and dances well). Naveen didn’t enjoy working (work? hard? I haven’t heard of it!). If your parents cut off your money, just find a rich bride. You can’t argue with his logic.

Naveen is one of the most realistic princes in Disney. Where have you seen a dreamy sailor drowning at the first opportunity (Eric)? Or a prince who fell in love at first sight and now rushes around the kingdom with the slipper of his secret lover (Charming)? How about a prince without fear and reproach, saving all beauties in the world for the sake of a kiss and an urgent marriage (Philip… or just Prince)? Most of their princes don’t need names because they’re an unrealizable dream.

But Naveen is a tangible and truthful prince whose motivation is clear. He believes in people without questioning their motives and is always open to adventure, even if these traits lead to evil magic playing a cruel joke with him. Or maybe not cruel. Perhaps a necessary joke for him to understand and accept himself? Naveen falls prey to the nefarious actions of Doctor Facilier, hungry for the money of the LaBouf family, and gets turned into a frog.

When Tiana meets frog-Naveen, her first instinct is to squash the slimy creature with ahuge book. Good thing Naveen jumps well or the story could have ended much earlier! In the original Grimm version, the frog’s spell got broken when the princess threw it against the wall. Wall, book… very close in meaning. The “kiss” that transforms the frog into a prince is present in this version as well, but comes with a twist. Her kiss is just… a kiss from Tiana, not a princess’ kiss. (“A waitress? Well, no wonder the kiss did not work! You lied to me!”) Only when Tiana and Naveen understand what constitutes the meaning of their life can they break the evil spell. It has no place where true (not false) feelings reside!

Louis’ and Ray’s Role

In Grimm’s story, the frog prince has a loyal servant named Henry (or Harry) with three iron bands affixed around his heart to prevent it from breaking in his sadness when his master fell under the spell. Naveen also has an envious servant, Lawrence. But Lawrence can’t stand his master and is hardly suitable for the role of a devoted friend.

So who is Naveen’s best friend? Maybe musical alligator Louis or romantic firefly Ray? Louis loves his trumpet, Giselle. His only wish is playing jazz, but the human musicians get scared when they see him. Naveen loves jazz too and becomes a perfect companion to a friendly crocodile. A talented jazz player encased in a crocodile shell, isn’t that an interesting interpretation? Iron bands or alligator guise? Who knows what is harder?

Then there’s Ray, a firefly with a truly big heart.He’s infinitely devoted to his true love, an Evening Star he calls Evangeline. In the fairy tale, when the frog prince reverts to his human form, Henry’s overwhelming happiness causes all three bands to break, freeing his heart from its bonds. In Disney’s interpretation, when Tiana and Naveen understand they love each other, the surrounding darkness slowly dissipates. Louis gets friends and the opportunity to fulfill his jazz dream. And Ray… Well, we believe somewhere far away in the evening sky, he reunited with his beloved star and found true happiness, because all other shackles broke. The story teaches us that to achieve our dream, we must wait.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marianna Kaplun was born in Moscow. She is candidate of philological sciences specializing in the first Russian drama and theatre of XVIIth century. She’s also a film and TV critic by calling. You can find her essays on her Lumiere page and on her blog.

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