Anika Noni Rose, Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce’s co-star in “Dreamgirls,” will be Disney’s first black princess in the animated musical “The Princess and the Frog,” an adaptation of the classic tale The Frog Prince that comes out next Christmas. Rose provides the voice for the main character Tiana, Princess of America, in this story that takes place in New Orleans’s French Quarter in the ’20s.After Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos) is transformed into a frog by an evil Voodoo magician, he asks Princess Tiana to break the spell by kissing him. But she turns into a frog, too, and the two must travel into a mystical bayou to find Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), a good Voodoo priestess who will reverse the spell. On the way, they befriend a trumpet-playing alligator and a hopelessly romantic Cajun firefly, and, of course, Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen fall deeper in love.
“Not only is she the first black princess, she’s the first American princess. We’ve never had an American princess,” Rose told People about the Disney character. “So, the scope and the significance is larger than people even realize.”
Although Disney takes a significant, albeit late, leap into the twentieth century with this project, it’s not without controversy. Initially Disney planned to name the heroine’s “Maddy,” a stereotypical slave name. The character also originally worked as a maid for a rich white person. Since the story is set in the 1920s, that scenario is historically plausible, but it is a little insensitive and trite. I mean, this is a fantasy after all. Disney changed the character’s name, and spokeswoman Heidi Trotta issued this statement: “Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney’s rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity.”