Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Princess and the Frog - The Power of Love and Food

Opening boxes from our move to our new home, I was pleasantly surprised to come across some movie passes that were gifts from a thoughtful friend a few Christmases ago. With most of the groundwork laid for Christmas Eve and Sunday, I decided to take my daughters to see Disney's latest animated film, "The Princess and the Frog." The trailers looked like it was going to be a light, fluffy film, but it had some pretty good lessons and subtle faith messages.

The film is an updated version of the Grimm's fairy tale, but instead of being set in Germany, it is set in early 20th century New Orleans. Tiana is the daughter of a hard working family that nonetheless has time for family and friends, especially with food as the centerpiece. Tiana shows skill at cooking gumbo, and her benevolent father invites the entire neighborhood, basically saying that food builds community (hence, its appropriateness for this food blog).

The years pass and Tiana is now a hard working double shift waitress, trying to make enough money to buy her own restaurant. Her childhood friend, the wealthy Charlotte, is vying to marry a prince, and one happens to be visiting New Orleans - Prince Naveen from country of Maldonia.

Into the picture comes Dr. Facilier, AKA the Shadowman, a voodoo magician who turns Prince Naveen into a frog and plots to have Naveen's crooked butler, Lawrence, help Facilier gain the fortune of Charlotte's father and control New Orleans.

Naveen convinces Tiana to kiss him so he can be restored to human form, but instead, Tiana turns into a frog. The rest of the movie is the resolution of this crisis and also the development and resolution of the relationship that develops between Naveen and Tiana.

This is a well made film that belongs in the pantheon of Disney classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Mulan, Pocahontas, etc. It probably won't be quite as beloved as those named, but I think it is one that will grow on you.

The characters of Tiana and Naveen are very well developed, and are very much appropriate to contemporary tastes. Tiana, for example, is bright, independent, and goal oriented - and the goal isn't a man and living happily ever after with him and doing what he wants.

The score is by Randy Newman, who is known to many as the composer of such pop songs such as "Short People" and the theme song to the TV series "Monk." Newman, however, comes from perhaps the most prestigious family of film score composers, beginning with his uncles, Alfred, Emil and Lionel Newman, and his cousins, Joey, Maria, David, and Thomas Newman, the latter the composer of the scores of such films as "The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile," and "Pay It Forward." Randy's score is playful, diverse, and appropriate to the jazz birthplace that is New Orleans.

The key themes are: that the love of others is more important than fame, fortune and ambition; that one can rely on good luck or even divine intervention only so far, that personal dedication and effort are key to realizing one's dreams.

One of the most important, but perhaps overlooked, subplots is the star that various characters make wishes to. The star is named Evangeline, which means "the bringer of good news." For me, it alludes to the star that shone over Bethlehem pointed the way to the ultimate definition of Good News: Jesus Christ, born in a manger, to give hope, joy, and peace to all, and taught that love is the greatest force in the universe, and transcends all other values.

May that Good News be brought to all of you during this time and always.

Merry Christmas.

Grace and aloha,


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