I have a confession to make. I love animated films! Everything from classic Disney to Pixar, from Miyazaki to Wallace and Gromit, I love them all. Unfortunately, as one ages, it no longer is socially acceptable to attend animated films that are indented for children. Fortunately, I have a large group of friends, many of whom like animated films just as much as I do, who don’t mind going along.
I was recently snowed in at college and was not able to brave the long drive home to the mountains, so my friend and I decided to take in a showing of “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” at the local second-run theatre in town. Today I went to see “The Princess and the Frog” with Olivia and Emma, two of my friends from home. After reflecting on these movies, it is interesting to think about the message that these modern animated films send to young audiences.
“Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” tells the story of a young nerdy scientist. He constantly invents new contraptions which fail miserably, and is frequently teased and tormented by his peers. He never feels like he fits in amongst people his own age. His mother tells him that she will always love him and he should stay true to himself. The female lead in the film tries to hide her nerdiness by not wearing glasses and pretending not to like science, but by the end of the film chooses to embrace her inner nerd. Halfway through the movie, I turned to my friend and said, “I get it. This is all just an allegory for being gay in America in the twenty-first century!” She laughed and we continued to watch the movie. At the close of the film, we discussed the symbolic nature of the piece. While we first laughed off our initial thoughts about the films statements about homosexuality, in reality the piece did have something important to say to young people. Be true to yourself. Cheesy, I know, but this is an important message that young people need to hear. While I read the film as being about feeling uncomfortable about one’s sexuality, another young person might think the film speaks to their insecurity as a person of color, or as a non-able bodied individual. It’s fantastic that so many animated films of today send youth the message that they are perfect in their body, and don’t need to change.
I left “The Princess and the Frog” having an interesting discussion with Olivia and Emma. They are both in middle school, and the target audience for this film. As we left the theatre, Olivia commented that she preferred the movie to the usual Disney fair.
“It was more realistic.”
“No it wasn’t! People don’t turn into frogs!” said Emma.
“No, ok that wasn’t realistic, but I appreciated that she was rewarded for working hard.”
As many people have already commented, “The Princess and the Frog” depicts a heroine who is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work. Not only that, but the film also challenges our standards of beauty. In the film, Tiana and the prince visit Mama Odie, a vodo priestess who lives in the swamp who can help them become human again. Mama Odie tells them that they might be happy staying frogs. She comments that they may need to reconsider their priorities, commenting in her song Dig A Little Deeper that
“Don’t matter where you come from,
don’t even matter what you are!
A dog, a pig, a cow, a goat;
We got em’ all in here!”
Mama Odie’s message is something all young people can take to heart. It’s nice to see animated films that feature characters with large personalities, who grapple with, and are ultimately comfortable with their identities. We’ve come a long way from Snow White!