Moms Review 'The Princess And The Frog'

Disney's new movie, The Princess and the Frog, won the weekend box office haul, taking in $25 million. The movie stars Disney's first black Princess, Tiana. A group of moms - Jolene Ivey, business owner Shawn Spence and Mommylite blogger Sarah Maizes - discuss the movie's message. Ivey says the first black princess may have been more important for the parents than for the kids in the theater.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice.

Now, when's the last time you wanted to have your picture taken with a cardboard cutout? Now, you Obama and Sarah Palin fans, we're not talking about you. But if you went to the movies over the weekend, you might have seen this: little girls cuddling up with Princess Tiana and their moms and dads carefully recording the moment for posterity.

What's the big deal? Well, Disney's latest heroine, Princess Tiana, is making history as the Magic Kingdom's first black princess, and she's proud of it, and with good reason. Tiana was number one at the box office this weekend. "The Princess and the Frog" took in $25 million. So we wanted to know: Is this too much ado, or just enough ado? Who better to ask than the moms?

So I'm joined by TELL ME MORE regular parenting contributors Jolene Ivey -she's one of the co-founders of the parenting support group the Mocha Moms and the mother of five. Shawn Spence runs a home-based business in Baltimore. She's also the mom of five. And Sarah Maizes is an author and founder of the parenting blog Mommylite and the mom of three. And we're happy to have them all with us. Welcome ladies, moms.

Ms. JOLENE IVEY (Co-founder, The Mocha Moms): Hey, Michel.

Ms. SHAWN SPENCE: Thank you for having me.

Ms. SARAH MAIZES (Author, Blogger): Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So we've all seen the film in recent days. I'm just going to go around and ask everybody: So Shawn, did Disney do right by its first black princess?

Ms. SPENCE: I loved it. I took both of the girls, my 15-year-old daughter, as well as my seven-year-old daughter. I was a little upset they didn't want to wear tiaras. I don't know...

MARTIN: I don't understand. I don't know. Any excuse to wear a tiara.

Ms. SPENCE: And trust me, they were one of the few who did not have them on when we went. But more importantly, my 15-year-old daughter, definitely a Disney veteran, was excited, really looking forward to it, also even wrote a review for her literary arts class. My seven-year-old daughter didn't understand what the big deal was.

What we loved was the New Orleans jazz aspect of the movie. We loved the environment. I thought the actors were so apropos. It was so much fun. And, of course, my 15-year-old and I stayed afterwards so we could hear Ne-Yo close it out. So we were just excited all the way around.

MARTIN: So you not only watched the film, you studied the film. So you definitely did love it. Sarah, I'm going to go to you next. Jolene, I'm coming to you last because you have boys, and you might have a slightly different feeling about it. But Sarah, what about you? What'd you think? And I also want to mention that you have a background in entertainment, because you used to work for the Mattel company and also did entertainment vehicles centered on Barbie. So that's one reason I think you have kind of a particular view about how these kinds of kid-based entertainment, what it's like, and what it can be. What did you think?

Ms. MAIZES: I just thought it was a really good movie. I actually brought my two daughters and my six-year-old son. I was watching their faces as we were watching the movie, and I kept sort of checking in with them: What do you think of this part? What do you think of that part?

But they stuck to their formula, which works for them. And I know, Michel, you know I'm a big fan of the glamour and the fun and allowing these movies to just be entertaining.

MARTIN: But the social meaning, I think you - both Shawn and Jolene are African-American, and you are not. And I'm wondering whether...

Ms. MAIZES: I am not.

MARTIN: ...the history of it and the meaning, the social meaning of it, did it matter to your or not? Or to your kids?

Ms. MAIZES: I think it didn't matter to my kids. And to me, it just felt like a wonderful historical piece, something that rang of a beauty and a history of something I was interested in and I wanted to be seeped in what was going on on the screen.

MARTIN: Jolene, what about you?

Ms. IVEY: I thought it was a great movie. I didn't think it was a perfect movie, but it was a great Disney movie. I could not get my boys to go with me. I confess. They wouldn't go, but I did get my husband to go with me.

What I thought was really great about it is although they did certain things that, to me, really meant they were trying to make sure that they did the right thing by black people, they made a big deal about prominent wedding bans on her mom and dad. They made sure that you knew that this was an intact African-American family, which was cool. But, I think if it had been a white girl, they wouldn't have made such a big deal. In fact, her little girlfriend, did we ever see the mother? I don't think we did.

Ms. MAIZES: No.

Ms. SPENCE: No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That's true. There is a white character in the film that she kind of grows up with.

Ms. IVEY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Tiana's mom is a seamstress, and her dad does - work. He does labor, or whatever he does, he works hard. He seemed to work hard, and quite handsome.

Ms. IVEY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: It has to be said. And she has a little girlfriend who is white and her mother - Tiana's mother sews for her family. And you're right. You see the dad, but you don't see her mother. Anyway, so it's interesting. So did it feel important to you? Did you feel like that sense of moment that a lot of people in the theater that I saw, I mean, they were taking pictures with the poster and just really seemed to be savoring the experience. Taking pictures of each other.

Ms. IVEY: This is Jolene. It was more important for the moms and even the dads than it was for the little girls. I think that the older the girls got, the more important it was for them in that way. I just kind of thought, wow, here we are in the year that Barack Obama becomes president, and then we have our first Disney - a black princess. So that was kind of cool. Even though it wasn't intentional, I think it says something about our time.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit with the moms. We're visiting with Jolene Ivey, Shawn Spence and Sarah Maizes. We're talking about Disney's new movie "The Princess and the Frog."

Let's talk about the story itself. A lot of female critics have been particularly taken by the story. The story is that Tiana is a hardworking young lady. And I want to play a short clip of her telling her mother, Eudora - whose voice is played by Oprah Winfrey, by the way - that she wants to open her own restaurant, Tiana's Place. And she's really working hard to make that dream a reality. I'm just going to play a short clip. And this is Anika Noni Rose as Tiana.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Princess and the Frog")

Ms. ANIKA NONI ROSE (Actress): (as Tiana) I don't have time for dancing.

(Soundbite of music)

(Singing) That's just going to have to wait a while.

Ms. OPRAH WINFREY (Actor): (as Eudora) How long we talking about here?

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROSE: (as Tiana) (Singing) Ain't got time for messing around, and it's not my style.

Ms. WINFREY: (as Eudora) I want some grandkids.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. ROSE: (as Tiana) (Singing) This old town can slow you down, people taking the easy way. But I know exactly where I'm going and getting closer and closer everyday. And I'm almost there, almost there. The people down here think I'm crazy, but I don't care.

MARTIN: I did like that song. I liked that song. I liked that song.

Ms. IVEY: That my favorite song on the soundtrack.

MARTIN: Shawn, I'm going to ask you, did it matter to you that Tiana had her own things going on? She was not waiting for anybody to save her?

Ms. SPENCE: You know what? It matter to me. At the same time, I'm not sure if it mattered to my seven-year-old. I think I'd like to concur with Jolene in that regard. My 15-year-old and I were really excited. We were really into it. My seven-year-old was kind of like, eh, OK.

I did love the fact that she had a dream. I love the fact that she wanted to own her own business. I don't know - again, if you compare it to other Disney movies, I'm not sure if it was that big of a deal. I think if you look at Cinderella, all right, I mean, she worked hard.

MARTIN: She did work hard. That's true.

Ms. SPENCE: In a different way, right?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Yeah, but Cinderella had no escape plan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: She had no plan.

Ms. SPENCE: Right. Right. Right. Right. Now, Cinderella didn't have no great vision.

MARTIN: She never had a plan.

Ms. SPENCE: I'm just saying that she did some work, Michel. She did a little work.

MARTIN: But OK, now I'm going to ask Jolene and Shawn - this is an issue for some people, the fact that her love interest, Prince Naveen, is of uncertain ethnicity. I personally thought he was cute. He was kind of a ne'er-do-well. I mean, he was a rich ne'er-do-well, and he had to be taught a lesson. Spoiler alert - I'm not going to tell what happens, but she - well, let's just play a short clip. Let's play a short clip of Taina's love interest, Prince Naveen. They're meeting for the first time. He has already been turned into a frog.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Princess and the Frog")

Ms. ROSE: (as Tiana) I suppose you want a kiss?

Mr. BRUNO CAMPOS (Actor): (as Prince Naveen) Kissing would be nice, yes.

(Soundbite of scream)

Mr. CAMPOS: (as Prince Naveen) I am Prince Naveen.

(Soundbite of reverberating springs)

Mr. CAMPOS: (as Prince Naveen) I'm not done yet.

Ms. ROSE: (as Tiana) Prince.

Mr. CAMPOS: (as Prince Naveen) I was cursed by a dastardly witch doctor. One minute I am a prince, charming and handsome, cutting a rug. And then the next thing I know, oh, I am tripping over these.

MARTIN: His character undertakes a nice transformation in the film, apart from the whole frog thing. So, Jolene, did it bother you that her prince was - may have been an African-American prince, but wasn't as obviously so as she was? Did you care?

Ms. IVEY: No. I didn't care at all. I thought that whole thing was just plain old silly. I thought the more important thing is that we saw her father, that he loves her, that he had the right work values and the ethics he passed on to her. I care a lot more about her father than I do about her - the boyfriend-to-be. And actually, I didn't quite get it that she really fell for him. I didn't see that really coming because he did nothing, except for be cute. But beyond that, I didn't see why she would fall for him head-over-heels.

Ms. SPENCE: Michel, this is Shawn. That didn't bother me, either. I do see why she did fall head-over-heels, and maybe this is my own little romantic spin, Jolene. But I think she saw the transformation in his - from being shallow to having some kind of interest. And I liked the fact that it was unknown ethnicity. I love that. Because you know what? It's - besides the fact that it's New Orleans, besides the fact it is in and of itself a very diverse community, he also loved jazz. And that, in and of itself, was huge.

Ms. MAIZES: This is Sarah.

MARTIN: Sarah.

Ms. MAIZES: I just wanted to say, I think I agree with Jolene. I had a problem with him. He played two roles. And traditionally, when you're creating these sort of films, you have the character who's the humorous character, the comedian, and then you have this handsome prince. And I was sort of sorry that Tiana didn't get to fall in love with this amazing man. The only thing about him that I saw that was personal or intimate about him was his love of jazz. But by the time - no, spoiler alert...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He didn't earn it.

Ms. MAIZES: ...she falls in love with him...

MARTIN: Yeah. He didn't earn it.

Ms. MAIZES: He didn't earn it.

MARTIN: He didn't earn it.

Ms. MAIZES: And he wasn't worthy. I wouldn't date him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: He did not work for it. Do you hear that, ladies? He did not work hard enough for her.

Ms. IVEY: Uh-uh. No.

Ms. MAIZES: He didn't. He mixed some vegetables. Big deal.

Ms. IVEY: Exactly.

MARTIN: Well, let me just say, he was the yin to her yang. Shawn, what about your kids? Did they notice the ethnicity of the two parties, that they were apparently different, and did they care?

Ms. SPENCE: This Shawn. My 15-year-old and I laughed, actually, because at some point in time she said: Now where's that country that he was from? And where exactly is that? Do I need to look that up?

My seven-year-old, she didn't at all. I do feel that she really related to her, her relationship with her mother, her having to work hard. I think she definitely related to her having an independent dream, which I loved. But other than that, I don't think that the ethnicity of the prince really stood out or made a big difference with her.

MARTIN: Sarah, what about you? Did your kids even notice?

Ms. MAIZES: It wasn't even something they even thought about. It was another Disney movie. The bigger deal to them was the kissing. There was too much kissing, apparently.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAIZES: My nine-year-old said it was disgusting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAIZES: There was so much kissing. And my little boy was very funny about it. All he cared about was getting to the frogs and the insects. And he was bored out of his mind until they all were on the bayou and the gator comes in, and that's when he started getting interested in the movie. And then he said OK, mom. This one's OK.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I understand. Well, finally, ladies, I want to ask about - and Sarah, you can start here, if you don't mind. There are some who just don't like the whole Disney experience at all. They think it's too commercial. It encourages too much consumerism, because, of course, there's a Tiana doll and there'll be endless Tiana products that we can buy.

And also, people still think even though this is a princess with her own agenda, as we know, and has her own goal, there are some people who just think the whole princess thing is not something we should be encouraging in girls, that - the idea that somebody's going to sweep you off your feet. Some people just have a problem with it.

So Sarah, what's your take on that?

Ms. MAIZES: Well, I think - you know, I'm very old fashioned. I love entertainment that sweeps me off my feet, and my girls enjoy it. I think we are all born with an inner chip. I can throw trucks at my girls and I can throw Barbie dolls at my boy, and the result is the same, and that's that boys enjoy more of an experience about fighting or the insects or the action, and the girls love gowns and dress up. And I think what Disney does, and I think what a lot of entertainment does when we see these females in the lead roles who are not as motivated internally as we would like to see them be, I think they look glamorous and are fun for the girls. It's wish fulfillment.

But I don't think we're sending the message to our children that a man's going to come and sweep them off their feet. I think that all comes down to parenting and what we teach our children and what they see in us everyday. I certainly don't think my children - I'm a single mother - look at me and say she's been swept off her feet...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MAIZES: ...because I haven't been swept off my feet, and I think they're entitled to a little wish fulfillment and a little princess fulfillment in the movies.

And seeing a glamorous, fantasized female lead and being able to just enjoy it in the moment and walk away with a pretty fantasy, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

MARTIN: Shawn, what about you?

Ms. SPENCE: I am - I have both boys and girls. My son said to me, well, why didn't we go to the movie?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPENCE: Well, actually, I am with Sarah in the sense that I think people need to get over themselves in the regard. Sometimes I think we're just too deep. To this day, I cry when I hear the words to the Pinocchio song, when you wish upon a star, it makes no difference who you are. It warms my heart to the core, because it really doesn't in the bigger scheme of things.

It doesn't say that we don't have issues and challenges, but my gosh, if we're not dreaming, if we're not thinking about bigger things other than our situations, where are we? Where's the creativity? Where's the opportunity do something different, bigger? It's in the dreams. It's in the imagination.

And although I am similar to some of those people who talk about the commercialism of Disney, my daughters didn't play with dolls, ladies. My daughters still don't. But they are entitled to dreams, and they are entitled to fantasy. My goodness, can kids just be kids? I mean, can we be kids sometimes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SPENCE: ...and not try to look at every little detail?

MARTIN: Jolene, final thought from you. What do you think?

Ms. IVEY: Definitely, that's a plus.

MARTIN: You're a princess.

Ms. IVEY: I am a princess, and I was a princess when I was a little girl. And "The Princess and the Frog," it's really a product of our times, if you think about it. I mean, way back in the '40s when we had "Snow White" as the first Disney princess - first white Disney princess - she definitely needed to be rescued. And then the years have gone on, we've had, you know, "Beauty and the Beast" and "Pocahontas," "Aladdin," "Mulan," and now with "The Princess and the Frog," the girl is no longer waiting to be rescued. She's part of the rescue operation. And I think that that's important. There's nothing wrong with fantasy, but why can't the fantasy be that I get to be the hero? So...

MARTIN: And she was. She was.

Ms. IVEY: And she was. And she was.

MARTIN: And she had a fabulous gown, too.

Ms. IVEY: She had it all. I think that that's a cool thing.

MARTIN: Jolene Ivey is a mom of five. She's one of the cofounders of the Mocha Moms, a parenting support group, and she's a Maryland state delegate. And she joined us from our studios in Washington. Sarah Maizes is a mom of three. She's an author and founder of the parenting blog Mommylite. She joined us from NPR West in Culver City, California. And Shawn Spence is a mom of five, and she runs a home-based business. And she joined us from Baltimore.

Ladies, moms, thank you. And Happy Holidays to you.

Ms. IVEY: Same to you.

Ms. MAIZES: Thank you. You, too.

Ms. SPENCE: Thank you. Same to you.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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