'The Princess and the Frog's' Tiana: A more modern heroine

By Mari-Jane Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010

There's a new princess in town, and she's not the Disney princess of old. Gone are the blue eyes and blond hair, the helplessness, the yearning for romance and a handsome prince to rescue her, and nothing more.

Tiana of "The Princess and the Frog," who is Disney's first African American female lead character in an animated feature film, dreams of owning a restaurant and is confident she can do that on her own, thank you very much. But she turns into a frog, and while trying to become human again, falls in love with the initially insufferable Prince Naveen. Of course, they marry: It is Disney, after all.

But what message will little girls -- who are inundated daily with images of happily ever after, perfect beauty and thin bodies -- take away from the movie? Tiana, working hard to achieve her career goals? Or Tiana, falling madly in love with a handsome and charming prince? Or, dare we say it, that you can have it all? How should parents handle such messages with their own pint-size princesses?

We recently spoke by phone with Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown, authors of "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers' Schemes" (St. Martin's Griffin, 2006). We wanted their opinion on Disney's Tiana and on raising strong, confident girls in a world of glamorous but sometimes distressed damsels. Here are excerpts from those conversations.

How does Tiana compare with Disney princesses past?

Brown: She has more personality, and more opinions and drive and focus than some of the older princesses. She's more like Mulan or Belle [from "Beauty and the Beast"] in that way.

There were some things I liked about it for sure: . . . The advice she got from her dad about having a whole life was different.

How does Tiana's character seem too much like the typical Disney princess?

Brown: As far as looks, she's a very typical Disney princess in every way except perhaps race.

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