I finally got around to seeing Disney's The Princess and the Frog, which I missed in theaters last year. I liked it better than either Up or Ponyo, both of which I did catch in theaters. I wouldn't rank it among the great Disney animated features, and it surely was not the prestige picture that Disney needed in order to mark a momentous return to traditional animation after a five-year slumber. But I think it fits well enough within the whole Disney animated canon, and future generations of children, coming to this as just another in the vault of classics, should be able to enjoy it as exactly that. It's a good story, thoroughly entertaining, possessing both beauty and personality in its visuals, and it imparts a fine moral. . . . Or does it?
Bear with me, dear blog readers, for though I previously spared you having to take in my revulsion at Jake Sully sleep-banging some giant blue thing in Avatar, and I tried, for my own sanity, to think as little as possible about the prepubescent boy-fish romance in Ponyo, it was regrettably only a matter of time before another movie finally drove me to composing this post.
The Princess and the Frog tells the story (SPOILERS) of the romantic love between a young woman and a prince who has been cruelly voodooed into a frog. What I find icky about it is that they only fall in love after they have both become frogs. Perhaps you could argue that they are simply that confident that they will undo the curse, and so they are all along looking forward to their life together as humans. But the heroine, Tiana, only meets the prince after he has been transformed into a frog. She shouldn't even know what he looks like as a human. So her only image of her lover is of him as a frog. And that's supposed to be how she falls for him? What, does she have a thing for amphibians?
Perhaps you think I am taking things too literally. I know, the lesson is supposed to be simply that true love transcends all barriers, right? But I think there is a limit to the scope of the lesson--love shouldn't transcend all barriers--and this story crosses the line into perversion. Consider, what if this were not fiction, but the true story of a human woman falling in love with and wanting to marry a frog? Would that be a case of true lovers seeing beyond the surface into the soul? Or would that just be bestiality? I pray the answer is obvious, and I wonder, isn't that the story that The Princess and the Frog is effectively promoting, even if not intentionally?
I was similarly disgusted by Avatar and Ponyo. Ironically, the one story that truly gets it right is a much older Disney animated classic, The Sword in the Stone (1963). Recall that, at one point, Merlin transforms himself and Arthur (AKA Wart) into squirrels. The transformed Wart quickly attracts the unwanted advances of a female squirrel. He tries to turn her away, but she seems beyond reason in her infatuation. Then, when Wart reverts to human form, much to his own relief, he tries to make friends with the female squirrel, but she won't have it. She runs away, heartbroken but realizing at last that her feelings were a lie. She is not sad that she cannot be with the human Wart. She is sad that Wart is human, that the squirrel she fell in love with never really existed. There is no such thing as love between a squirrel and a human. That's what The Sword in the Stone says. That's real.