This parent-child discussion guide for Walt Disney Studios’ The Princess and the Frog is a supplement to The Princess Problem: Guiding Our Girls through the Princess-Obsessed Years.
The Princess and the Frog (2009): A parent-child discussion guide
by Lisa Owen
Lisa Owen is a writer and blogger at My So Called Glamorous Life and has been a featured blogger on Blogher.com. She is a mother/step-mother in a blended family with five children ages 6 to 23. Lisa has a B.S. in Journalism from Southern Illinois University and spent 15 years working as a corporate/transactional paralegal for law firms and corporations before becoming a stay at home mom and pursuing her passion for writing.
In the movie, inspired by the 2002 novel The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker and loosely based on the Grimms’ fairy tale, The Frog Prince, we meet the protagonist, Tiana, as a young girl with big dreams of opening her own restaurant in the city of New Orleans. Not one to wish upon a star and hope for the best, Tiana, inspired by her late father and encouraged by her mother, believes that discipline and hard work pay off and develops a strategy to reach her goal. After working hard and saving all of her earnings while growing up, Tiana finally has the money she needs to open her business and make her dreams come true.
Things seem to be going according to plan until she encounters some unscrupulous real estate agents and crosses paths with the playboy prince turned pauper, Prince Naveen of the fictional country of Maldonia. When a witch doctor’s evil spell turns Prince Naveen into a frog, he mistakes Tiana for a princess and believes that one kiss from her can reverse the spell. On the contrary, their kiss turns Tiana into a frog, also! This sets Tiana and Naveen off on an adventure through the bayou looking for a cure to reverse the spell. Along the way, with a little help from a saxophone playing alligator (Louis), a blind lady in the bayou (Momma Odie) and a friendly firefly (Ray), Tiana finds her happily ever after; and, as it turns out, she achieves her goal a of opening her own restaurant and ends up snagging her prince charming along the way.
Here are some suggestions for discussion, roughly categorized by age level. Use these as a rough guide: tailor them to your own child’s level.
- The Pretty Princess Mandate
While Tiana is a very beautiful woman, she actually spends the majority of the movie as a frog. This gives the viewer the opportunity to focus on other positive qualities about her besides her looks, and there’s plenty to admire in Princess Tiana. She is focused. In fact, she is so focused that she doesn’t allow a stint as a frog to deter her from her goal to be a restaurateur. She’s a hard worker. So much so that her friends and co-workers comment on how she needs to let loose and have a little fun. She’s adventurous and spirited. While on her wild excursion with Prince Naveen, she never played second to him. She was always up for the challenge.
On the contrary, her best friend Lottie is simply obsessed with her looks and will do just about anything to marry a prince. She doesn’t realize that there is more to a woman than looks and in fact, looks can be deceiving. This is a lesson that she learns the hard way when she thinks that she will be marrying Prince Naveen when in reality it is Lawrence, his personal assistant, who has been bewitched by the evil witch doctor, Dr. Facilier to look like the handsome prince.
With children ages 4 and 5, co-view the movie and talk back to the screen to model critical viewing. Your child will listen to what you say. Consider comments such as the following:
- “Lottie seems to worry a lot about being pretty. Tiana doesn’t worry about her looks as much. She’s much more confident!”
- “Tiana’s pretty, but she’s also really smart and talented. It’s great that she wants to own her own restaurant.”
With children ages 6 to 8, you can make these points while co-viewing, but later—perhaps over dinner or while in the car running errands—you can expand upon them and work towards a dialogue. Try something along these lines—questions that call for answers more robust than only “yes” or “no”:
- “Lottie and Tiana were both so pretty, weren’t they? But Lottie seemed to be really focused on her looks, while Tiana was more focused on her work. Do you think girls can be both pretty and smart? Why do you think that Lottie was only concerned about her appearance?”
- You may want to point out that because Tiana was a frog throughout the majority of the movie, it forced the prince to get to know her and fall in love with her based on qualities other than her looks. Their eventual romantic relationship was actually formed out of friendship and trust.
Give your child time to respond to the questions; listen carefully, encourage follow-up questions and respond accordingly.
Make it real: This would be a great time to point out to your children that looks are not the most important thing about a person. Emphasize that it is more important to develop their own interests, talents and skills like Tiana turned her love of cooking into a business venture.
- The Gender Stereotypes
There is nothing stereotypical about Tiana when it comes to gender roles. She is every bit as brave and adventurous as Prince Naveen (and far more ambitious!), often taking the lead while on their trek through the bayou to find Mama Odie to reverse the spell.
With children ages 4 and 5, be as specific as possible. Here are some examples:
- “Did you see when Tiana helped Prince Naveen fight off the men trying to trap frogs? She was pretty brave, huh? What do you think Prince Naveen thought of her bravery?”
- “Tiana was really courageous when she stood up to Dr. Facilier and wouldn’t give him the amulet, wasn’t she? She didn’t let her fear stop her from doing the right thing.”
With children ages 6 to 8, you can bring these things up as they happen, but you could also connect these dots in a later conversation. Try something like this:
“I think it’s really great that Tiana doesn’t really rely on Prince Naveen to help her all of the time while they are running from The Shadow Man (Dr. Facilier). She even takes time to teach him how to cook and encourage him to do things for himself instead of waiting for someone else to do it for him. How do you encourage your friends, boys and girls, to be better? Do you think that girls can be as brave or courageous as boys?”
Make it real: In honor of Tiana’s grand adventure through the bayou, you can use this time to introduce your child to other female explorers such as: Amelia Earhart (aviator), Mae Carol Jemison (the first African American woman in space), Sacagawea (the Native American guide for the Lewis and Clark expedition) and Sophia Danenberg (the first African American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest). Show them that there are indeed brave women and they come in all colors and ethnicities.
- The Romance Narrative: A Marriage of Convenience
In the movie, Prince Naveen, Lottie and Lawrence are all looking to get married for all of the wrong reasons. Prince Naveen who is less than productive has been financially cut off by his wealthy, royal parents. He has been instructed to get a job, but instead decides that the easiest way to riches is to get married to a rich girl. Likewise, Lottie, Tiana’s best friend, is a spoiled aristocrat who seeks to find the first prince she comes across to marry in order to keep her pampered lifestyle. Finally, Lawrence (Prince Naveen’s assistant) has grown tired of catering to the spoiled prince and wants his own life of leisure. He sells his soul to Dr. Facilier in exchange for a chance to look like the handsome prince in order to win over Lottie’s heart. None of these people are looking to give love or be loved. Their reasons for marriage are superficial and selfish.
With children ages 4 to 5, offer concrete points of criticism to let them know that you disagree. For example:
- “It’s not right for Prince Naveen to want to get married because he has no money. I think he should get a job and earn his money.”
- “Tiana doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get married. She’s focusing on her own goals and waiting to find someone that she truly loves before getting married.”
- “I really like the fact that Tiana and Prince Naveen fall in love while they’re frogs, cute frogs, but still frogs.”
With children ages 6 to 8, feel free to make these same observations while co-viewing, but plan a conversation about healthy relationships later on, when you’re not in front of the screen. For example, you might say:
“You know, when people get married, they should make sure that they are really friends, that they trust each other and really love each other. Like how Tiana and Prince Naveen fell in love in spite of the fact that they were frogs. It didn’t matter what they looked like once they got to know each other. Physical appearance, how much money they have or what position they hold really shouldn’t be a part of the decision on who to marry. Also, people who are willing to marry someone just for money, generally don’t learn to love you because of you.”
Make it real: This would be a good time to tell your children about the foundation of long lasting relationships or marriages. Use examples of couples in their family or friends of the family (grandparents, aunts, uncles or even your own marriage) to hold up as an example of how lasting marriages are built.
- The Race Representation and Race Stereotypes: Tiana, the First African American Princess.
Princess Tiana represented a lot of firsts for the Disney Princess franchise. In addition to being the first African-American princess, Tiana was the first fairly modern day princess with the movie being set in the 1920’s. Additionally, the Princess and the Frog was the first American fairy tale, being the first princess story set in the United States. All of this combined to create a story in which the heroine could have been any girl, but it just so happens that she is a Black girl with American sensibilities on work and family.
The movie being set in New Orleans gave filmmakers the opportunity to create a setting that honored a truly American city and was a rich back drop for African American culture in the south. New Orleans is known for its food which was Tiana’s passion, and its music which was played out in the sound track that highlighted everything from jazz to gospel to zydeco. It may be a good idea to purchase the sound track for your children to introduce them to different genres of music. Although several of the main characters of the movie are not human, it does offer ample opportunities to discuss the diversity of the characters, from Mama Odie to Lottie’s father, the King of Mardi Gras parade. When talking to your children point out beauty comes in all colors and that Tiana is indeed a beautiful princess like any of the other Disney princesses. Not to mention that she is just as graceful, elegant and well spoken. Indeed a princess in every way.
Additionally, and more importantly, the movie shows a hard working Black woman who’s aggressive, but nonabrasive. She’s smart, adventurous and courageous. None of this is how African American women are usually portrayed by the media. It is a welcome and much needed change from what has become viewed as the norm.
- Teaching Children About Media Creation
As our children’s pop culture coaches, we can help them become media literate by always reminding them that media are created by other people—people who are making choices about what to depict on screen. When a movie is introduced that is based on a book or a fairy tale, I try to read the book or story with them ahead of time so that my kids have an idea of what the movie is about. Also, this reinforces the idea that this is a fictional story and what they will see on screen is the result of someone’s interpretation of that story using their imagination. I often encourage them to use their own imagination to create their own story.
Point this out to your child with commentary like this:
“Disney cartoonists were really excited to return to hand drawing the characters for this movie. Each of these characters is the result of thousands of drawings for each and every movement each character makes on screen. They pick the colors of the characters clothes, their hair style, where they live, everything about them. Then they draw them and put it all together on screen. Can you draw some pictures showing me how you would tell this story?”