Fast forward eleven years after the release of Mulan and we encounter Disney’s first African American princess, a move that set tongues wagging both before and after the film. To me, Tiana is one of the best Disney princesses. She’s a girl grounded in realism: she might wish upon a star but at the end of the day she knows that without hard work her wishing will go nowhere. As with all princesses so far, Tiana is once again approached by a handsome prince that ends up being her love interest. However, his existence as a possible husband is completely off the radar for Tiana. She doesn’t admit the possibility of anything as initially frivolous as love until the very end, where Disney teaches an important lesson that whilst it’s good to be fixed, driven human being, you still need to find balance in all aspects of your life.
She’s very much a woman in today’s world. She’s not perfect and doesn’t have it all sorted out: as levelheaded and determined as she may be, she can still make mistakes, but this doesn’t make her any less of a person. Tiana also has some of the most costume changes out of all the princesses: ironic given her humble beginnings. Her closest friend is the spoiled daughter of a rich man but as opposed to the culture clash we expect, they are loyal and good friends to one another. She’s kind and giving, placing her family and the values of food close to her.
The Princess and the Frog has oft been criticised for not addressing more deep and serious issues considering Tiana’s racial heritage, but I personally disagree with this stance. None of the Disney princess films are lessons in culture: the recent smash hit Frozen was meant to be set in Scandinavia, but how much Scandinavian culture did we really feel? Exactly. I feel Tiana’s characterisation is all the stronger because she’s not depicted running from a lynch mob or forced to endure stone pelting. Disney feature enough in the film to inform us that Tiana doesn’t have the charmed life. After all, her mother works for the rich white man. But by letting the character strengths of Tiana play out on their own her merits – and by extension the merits of how her race is depicted – are made all the more significant.
i generally have nothing but high praise for Tiana, the last of the hand drawn Disney princesses and the first ethnic princess since Jasmine to actually have a lot of facetime on merchandise. This again was before the Merida dress saga and yes, Tiana is still depicted in her fancy wedding gown, but we’re getting there readers, we’re getting there. We haven’t yet got to the point where Disney has dispensed of princes altogether, but Tiana’s hard work ethic and three-dimensional characterisation make for a compelling woman who I hope little girls love watching.