The Princess and The Frog
Spending so much time in airplanes recently, I had a chance to catch up on several of the movies I missed in theatrical release. I was particularly enchanted by Disney’s The Princess and the Frog. This delightful animated film is the best romantic comedy of the last couple of years. It hits three of the most important emotional beats that make Romantic Comedies so emotionally satisfying. In addition, t’s funny, has a lush gorgeous design and a wonderful New Orleans score. The film was nominated for 3 Oscars. It won 6 other awards (including a number of critic’s awards and image awards) having 24 major nominations in all.
Fundamental RomCom Elements
There are a number of fundamental elements that make successful romantic comedies emotionally appealing. (These elements are just as important in a romantic subplot or any other emotional partnership or buddy relationship.) Despite some terrific performances, the other films released in the genre fell short in these key areas. Here is how The Princess and The Frog hit the most important three and scored a big hit:
1. There must be a real “battle” for a “battle of the sexes.”
In classic romantic comedies, the love interests take an instant dislike, have a deep distrust or are separated by major philosophical or personal differences. Love interests should have opposite World Views and views on what life and love is or should be. They should not agree on anything. Their values and views should be diametrically opposed.
A character’s World View is how the character believes the world works, his or her perceived role in the world, the character’s philosophy of life and love and a definition of what constitutes a personal goal worth pursuing.
The heroine in The Princess and The Frog, Tiana (voiced and sung by Tony-winner Anika Noni Rose), is a Power of Conscience character. She is the daughter of a seamstress, Eudora, (voiced by Oprah Winfrey) and James, a day laborer (voiced by Terrence Howard). Tiana believes in hard work, personal responsibility and setting the bar high for herself. She is a dutiful daughter and is single-mindedly persistent in the pursuit of the dream she and her father shared.
Tatiana’s Frog Prince Naveen of Maldonia (voiced by Nip/Tuck‘s Bruno Campos) was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has never worked a day in his life. He is a playboy Power of Excitement character who loves parties, music and dancing. He is handsome and witty and never met a responsibility he couldn’t charm his way out of, avoid or dodge. He is angling for a prize that will help him maintain his carefree lifestyle.
CLICK HERE to read how recent RomComs The Proposal, It’s Complicated and The Ugly Truth fell short in this regard.
2. The lovers must have a goal other than just falling in love or finding love.
Each of the character must be in pursuit of something other than love. They both must have an over-arching ego-driven goal (one that benefits each personally). Unless the character wants something specific for themselves there is nothing to give up or sacrifice for the love of the other person.
Tiana’s goal is to open her own restaurant, the dream she and her father shared. She works double-shifts. She forgoes parties and dates. She saves every dime to make her dream come true. Tatiana never allows herself any fun or frivolity. She doesn’t have time for romance or falling love.
Prince Naveen’s parents have cut off his funds and he needs to find someone else to finance his amusements. He is looking for a a wealthy American wife to bankroll his fun-loving spendthrift ways in exchange for a royal Princess title. Naveen’s goal is to avoid responsibility and look good while doing it. He has never allowed himself to care for anything (or anyone) enough to really work or sacrifice for it.
3. Both love interests must grow or change through their relationship with one another.
Something profound should be missing in each love interest’s life, character and or personality. This missing piece is an important personal deficiency leading to overall unhappiness. The problem isn’t just that the character is missing someone to love. It should be key to his or her difficulties in life.
In contrast to this major deficiency, each character has an abundance of some other over-developed trait. This should be something the other love interest has “to a fault.” One person has too much of one thing and gives a gift of a bit of that quality to the other.
In The Princess and the Frog, Naveen falls under the black-magic spell of the evil Dr. Facilier (Keith David). The kiss Naveen cons Tiana into giving him turns her into a frog as well. (After a catering accident Tiana puts on a spare princess gown and left-over tiara from her childhood friend Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody) and Naveen mistakes Tiana for the princess he seeks.)
The quarreling amphibians flee into the bayou to escape Facilier’s nefarious scheme and evil clutches. Among the swamp denizens they meet in the murky swamp-land are a cowardly lion-like, trumpet-playing alligator, Louis (voice by Michael-Leon Wooley); a gap-toothed hopelessly romantic Cajun firefly, Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings); and the old-as-the-bayou-herself blind seer and witch doctor Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). It is the seemingly vague lessons that Madame Odie teaches that have the power to restore Tiana and Naveen back to humanity.
Along the way, Tiana learns to relax and to value what is really important– a balance of love and work. She is ready to give up her goal to save the man/frog she loves. Naveen learns to work like a sous chef, slicing and dicing, and offers to sacrifice himself and his own happiness to rescue Tiana’s dream. A clever twist at the end involving a missed kiss and true self-acceptance, completes the exchange of gifts that sets the story and the lovers right.
CLICK HERE to read how The Proposal, It’s Complicated and The Ugly Truth fell short in the gift-giving department. In contrast, this simple story of The Princess and The Frog hits three of the most crucial elements that make frothy RomComs such a satisfying emotional experience.