For Disney's New Princess, Short Courtiers Swarm
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. There is a new princess in town, at least in a few select cities this week. Disney is introducing its latest heroine, Tiana, in the animated feature, �The Princess and the Frog.� In a few weeks, she'll be in theaters around the country.
INSKEEP: The movie is set in 1920s New Orleans, where a visiting prince gets turned into a frog. He's well versed in the fairy tale cure for his condition, so he shows up at a Mardi Gras ball, hoping that a kiss from a princess will make him human again. The strong-willed young lady is also Disney's first African-American princess. NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports that a lot of black parents and their children are greeting Tiana with high hopes and open wallets.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: They have been waiting at the Westfield Culver City Mall for hours now, mothers and daughters and even some dads all eager for the double glass doors of the new Disney store to officially open.
(Soundbite of cheering)
BATES: Denise Ross and her daughter Alana waited three hours for the store to open.
Ms. DENISE ROSS: I'm just excited.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSS: I'm even having my own Tiana princess party. Yes, we are. I'm having�
Ms. ALANA ROSS: And we're going to go see the movie.
Ms. ROSS: And I'm taking a group of kids to the movie - to see the movie after the party.
BATES: In fact, Tiana fever is much more apparent among black parents, especially mothers, than their daughters. There's a deep emotional satisfaction in finally having someone who looks like them as a lead Disney character.
Ron Edwards came with his four-year-old Morgan. He thinks it's important to buy Tiana merchandise to send a message to the Disney Company.
Mr. RON EDWARDS: Especially because it's one of the first characters, you know, African-American characters that Disney has really given a whole, you know, marketing campaign to. So it's good for little girls such as mine to see themselves in, you know, a positive light.
BATES: Cydra McLauren agrees, but has one reservation.
Ms. CYDRA MCLAUREN: I'm disappointed that the prince is not African-American.
BATES: The interracial romance between Tiana and Prince Naveen has been controversial. Many black women worried aloud, on the Internet and in the press, that pairing Tiana with a non-black prince sends a discouraging message about the possibility of black couples finding their own happily ever after.
But that concern aside, black consumers have invested in Tiana with a joyful ferocity that's making cash registers ring like crazy.
Ms. MARY BEECH (Vice President of Franchise Development, Walt Disney): We're selling out of individual items, particularly the dolls and the role play. The dresses are doing incredibly well. And this is before the movie's even come out. People are loving this product before the movie comes out.
BATES: At Disney's corporate headquarters in Burbank, Mary Beech, vice president of franchise development, is giving a tour of the Tiana-palooza of merchandise that's being released.
Ms. BEECH: We have cymbals.
(Soundbite of cymbals)
Ms. BEECH: The Ray maracas here, which I love.
BATES: Ray is a lightning bug, the movie's Cajun Jiminy Cricket. Bath products were contracted out to a black beauty company, Carol's Daughter.
Ms. BEECH: Sometimes the beauty products come later. They want to wait to DVD or wait until another time to make sure the film hits.
BATES: Beech says this company wanted in right away. Disney hasn't always felt such love from black consumers. Many baby boomers remember their parents' angst at movies such as �Song of the South.� Then there were the crows in �Dumbo.�
(Soundbite of movie, �Dumbo�)
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) But I be done seen about everything when I see an elephant fly.
Unidentified Man #2: What'd you say, boy?
Unidentified Man #1: I said when I seen an elephant fly.
BATES: Those lazy, no-account crows made black parents cringe. This is different. Back at the mall, even Disney staff are amazed at the turnout, which stretches the length of the complex. Awestruck children of many ethnicities are lined up to be greeted by Disney's newest princess and have their pictures taken.
Unidentified Woman: Now come on over, so I can get some big old hugs. Oh, thank you so much, sugar.
BATES: Disney store manager Barbara Williams gets a little emotional when she talks about it. Williams is proud of the Tiana launch as a Disney employee and as a black consumer. She says at the close of a black cultural festival recently, a man came by just as the festival was ending.
Ms. BARBARA WILLIAMS (Manager, Disney Store): And he saw the Disney booth, and he turned and he said, tell Disney they did good.
BATES: With Tiana, Disney is banking goodwill and its more tangible byproduct.
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
(Soundbite of song, �Down in New Orleans�)
Unidentified Man #3: (Singing) There's magic in the air tonight.
Unidentified Woman: (Singing) And anything can happen. I suppose you want a kiss.
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