Critics who are comparing Disney’s The Princess and the Frog to Disney’s Song of the South are smoking crack. The new film is doing something completely new; the old did something completely old. Song of the South was in the tradition of the pastoral; The Princess and the Frog is about reinforcing current middle-class values of family and hard work within (and here is the new part) a working-class black-American context. The middle class, of course, believes that it possesses the best of all possible worlds, and that everyone in the other worlds (above and below) wants, in truth, to be in their world: saving money, working long hours, committing the extra energy to building a strong marriage, raising children, and so on and so on. What more would a person want out of life? Nothing else but this middle-class satisfaction is at the core of The Princess and the Frog.
The film does, however, contain a lot of good music, as it is set in the ’30s, in jazz-loud New Orleans. Also, it makes several references to the art of Aaron Douglas, a Harlem Renaissance painter. If there is something that is horribly racist about the movie, it has nothing to do with blacks but poor whites. The order of things, according to The Princess and the Frog: rich whites? Fine. Middle-class anything? Great. Poor blacks? Fine. Poor whites? The worst. The white swamp characters in the middle of the movie are closely related to those hillbillies in Deliverance. Their whole sad business (small dumb brother, big dumb brother, nasty-as-flies father) brings to mind a rhyme that’s in the pages of Richard Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy: “They may call me a nigger, and they may laugh/But I ain’t seen nothing worse than poor, white trash.”