Over the past year there has been a lot of buzz about the Princess and the Frog which premiered in December. People were encouraged to see an African-American princess, but many were also disappointed that her suitor was not white (I value the multi-racial/ethnic aspect, but also hope that at some point we do see a black prince, more on that in another post). Some were also a little disappointed (spoiler alert!) that the princess spends most of the time as a frog (A concern I share, but I also believe there is so much fervor around the film and the New Orleanian African-American culture is portrayed so strongly that no one will forget she is Black)
Since the release there has been a new slew of critique considering the usage of Voodoo. From my perspective this has come mainly from mothers and/or evangelical Christians (which for clarification sake, I am not the former and only partially the latter).
I had no problems with the Voodoo given Disney’s propensity to use magic. Disney couldn’t use a witch or warlock because the film wasn’t in the context to use Wicca, it was in the context to use Voodoo. The reality is, the witches that we so readily view as “acceptable” evil characters are the white-European equivalent to Voodoo. There are various similarities in the way the spirit world is engaged and interestingly enough the Christian – mainly Catholic – response to these two sets of beliefs.
If you have a problem with magic or witches, you should also have a problem with Cinderella, the Little Mermaid and most of Disney’s Princess films. What I think made the difference with Princess and the Frog is that this was a depiction of a culturally unfamiliar, but geographically close magic. Americans talk more readily about witchcraft, which makes it not as shocking. We have TV shows – including kid’s shows – about witchcraft, can you imagine having a TV show about Voodoo? Even the magic in Aladdin had been primed by years of I dreamed of Genie. Voodoo is a partly American magic, but we don’t discuss it, thus when it is portrayed illicits more fear due to its unfamiliarity. Like with most things, we fear that which we don’t understand or is unfamiliar to us.
Perhaps the magic was a little more intense than what Disney has previously produced, but for whom? Children today are more used to intensity and reality than they were a generation ago. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes adults and especially Christian adults can be a little overprotective of our children. Remember the days when children could actually walk to the park, have adventures in the woods, not have to put on hand-sanitizer every time they stepped out of the house or do anything without helicopter parents swooping in? I believe children are much more imaginative, independent (not individualistic) , confident and mature when they are given the freedom to be themselves, be with friends, and be responsible for themselves and their thoughts. I am not saying we throw our children to the wolves. There is some mid-point. Watch a child who learns anything, they have to be guided through the process. As adults we have to help children to become human beings who think, feel, critique etc. We are called to “raise” our children. Which may at times mean protect, but those words are not synonomus.
Truthfully, I would rather magic be presented realistically, because whether Wicca or Voodoo, it is real. I would rather have children realize the gravity of Magic as opposed to taking it lightly. Would I take a four-year old to the Princess and the Frog? No. But I wouldn’t take a four-year old to most Disney movies. Would I debrief with an eight year old? Yes. But I would do so for ANY movie we went to.
* By the way, things were intense in the Lion King. Remember that dark musical scene with Scar and the hyenas and the fact that Mufasa was murdered? Talk about evil. And there wasn’t even Magic involved . . . oh yea except for the illusions via Rafiki.