Finally recovering from my miserable cold, and hoping to get back to a regular posting schedule. During my illness, I took time to watch lots of Netflix streaming movies: Sleepless in Seattle (how had I not seen this movie before?!), some European subtitled lesbian coming-of-age stories of varying artistic merit, and the most recent (and some say final) ‘real’ Disney animated feature film, The Princess and the Frog.
I was skeptical going into this movie. I grew up with the ‘Disney Renaissance,’ and was raised on films like The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. Needless to say, I have high expectations for my animated musical Disney films. I was also nervous about the race issues surrounding Disney’s first black princess. Fortunately, The Princess and the Frog surprised me: the songs were good, the animation quality high, and while it mostly sidestepped issues of race (particularly interracial interactions in the 1920s American South) there were occasional nods to racism. I don’t feel well-versed enough in race theory to really comment, other than to say that – as an admittedly privileged white woman – I enjoyed the film.
What really threw me for a loop was the issues of ‘passing’ brought up by the alligator, Louis.
(Warning: Beyond here be – minor – spoilers.) I know, I know: I look for gender issues everywhere. I look for trans characters (or characters with trans themes) where none exist. It’s the lens through which I see the world. So sue me.
For all that, I couldn’t help but see Louis – a trumpet-playing alligator who longs to be human so he can join a band in New Orleans – as a character longing to transition. Maybe I’m reading too much into Louis…at the end of the movie, when Tiana (the ‘princess’ of The Princess and the Frog) opens her restaurant, Louis takes his place as the trumpet player, and no one is able to argue with a trumpet-playing alligator. So perhaps Louis doesn’t really want to be human, he just wants to have some of the privileges (like playing in a band) that go with it.
Here’s Louis’s big song:
It’s called “When We’re Human,” and involves Louis singing about how wonderful things will be when he’s a human being, and Naveen and Tiana singing about how wonderful things will be when they’re back to being human beings. From the song:
If I were a human being
I’d head strait for New Orleans
And I’d blow this hprn so hot and strong
Like no one they’ve ever seen
You’ve heard of Louis Arsrong,
Mr. Sidney Bechet?
All those boys gonna step aside
When they hear this old ex-gator play, Listen… (trumpet solo)
I admit, rewatching the song does make me think Louis is more interested in privileges than actually being human. But it bummed me out when, later in the movie, the Voodoo priestess who is looking to help Naveen and Tiana basically says, “Yeah, you’re never going to be human” to an unhappy Louis. Why are the magically transformed English-speaking frogs first in line to turn back into humans, but the English speaking, trumpet playing alligator is told to be happy with who he is?
As a viewer of many Disney films, I’m forced to admit Louis probably isn’t trans. (Ariel from The Little Mermaid still takes the cake for my trans character in the Disney canon.) But I do think Louis’s story is a queer narrative, of being told who to be and who not to be. Of ultimately refusing to allow society’s guidelines on acceptable behavior dictate passion.
And that’s good enough for me.