I really, really love The Princess and the Frog. Though it wasn't the Box Office sweeper Disney execs were hoping for, I think the story is clever (I think it was very smart and, dare I say it, “hip” of Disney to go off of the book The Frog Princess for inspiration instead of simply the story of The Frog Prince), the characters are engaging, and the animation is gorgeous. Disney certainly isn't crying over their Princess Tiana merchandise sales.
From my childhood, I have fond memories of The Swan Princess. While not a Disney film, it was a princess movie that entertained my naturally girlish fantasies that fit nicely next to my library of Disney VHS tapes. Watching it as an adult, I notice its flaws, but can still enjoy it, if not for nostalgia’s sake. And come on – the antics of the Pillsbury Doughboy before the film and the “Eternity” music video afterwards is classic entertainment!
It wasn’t until recently that I discovered quite a few similarities to these two films, and in fact one other film that links the two together…and upon some research, finding out how much backstabbing and one-upping is done within the entertainment industry.
Richard Rich, an Animation Director, used to work for Disney, but eventually left the company (The Black Cauldron was his final Disney project, which caused quite a bit of chaos with the company). He went on to create his own animation studio and beat Disney to the punch to make a film based off of the story of Swan Lake…obviously, Disney didn’t like that. They eventually dropped the idea of making a Swan Princess film (granted, this idea might eventually resurface after renewed interest from the film The Black Swan, but that’s only my musings), but old grudges die hard, and some remnants of this fight showed up in The Princess and the Frog.
It’s true that many fairy tales share similar details to each other. Companies like Disney are not at fault for this…these stories are thousands of years old, and through word of mouth and different interpretations, they might have stemmed from only a handful of stories but have taken up their own individual names at this present day.
|The queen bee of fairy tales.|
So I’ll ignore certain similarities, like the obligatory evil sorcerer/witch character. Magic easily justifies crazy transformations of characters and situations and dates back to the very beginnings of theatre. The ancient Greeks loved writing in their gods changing things to cause resolutions to major plot points, and later on playwrights such as Shakespeare used magic in all sorts of situations.
Instead, let’s compare Jean Bob to Prince Naveen.
|The teeth detailing here is interesting to say the least.|
|My colors are more refined, yes?|
Originally, Disney’s animators tried drawing frogs in all sorts of ways, even with a more realistic approach – but those images just didn’t measure up. Even in the teaser, Naveen didn’t have his final look set. To be honest, I do prefer the direction they eventually took. As the animators noted, having Naveen and Tiana (as frogs) have more human attributes in the form of a frog made them more pleasing to the eye, and were therefore more likable and relate-able for an audience. I also love Naveen’s accent…but with both of those pieces put together, it’s hard to ignore the similarities between Naveen and Jean Bob. Jean Bob, however, was not the prince in The Swan Princess, and only had the obsessive idea that he would turn into a prince if he was kissed by a princess.
|Disney's concept art for The Princess and the Frog.|
But let’s give Disney some credit here. They did not start this copy-catting process – at least in this particular situation.
The Swan Princess clearly took some ideas from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, and in fact, many general ideas for a classic Disney film.
And why should that surprise anyone? Not only has Disney paved the way and set the standard for animated films, but after all these years, they are still considered to be the best at what they do. And Richard Rich came from Disney…so why wouldn’t he “borrow” some ideas?
Odette and Aurora have quite a few similarities, from a design standpoint…even in key imagery. In both films, when the princesses are born, a huge party is held, and their betrotheds (Derek and Phillip) who look to be between the ages of 5-7, stand over the cribs of the future brides…one looks at theirs questioningly, while the other gives the baby a locket.
|Well...guess my whole life is planned out already. Yay!|
|True princesses always like shiny things.|
Eventually, however, Derek does look at Odette with disgust, as they go about their childhoods hating each other and hating the fact that they are forced to marry (a fact that both Phillip and Aurora despise, but they do not see each other and it eventually works in their favor as they fell in love without the knowledge that they were engaged in the first place). Both Odette and Aurora are tall, slender blondes with long wavy hair that hits at the same place, and their princes are tall, handsome brunettes (Phillip is a little more clean-cut).
And let’s not forget that in The Swan Princess, Odette’s prince is named Derek…which sounds an awful lot like Eric from The Little Mermaid, a film which would have been very influential to the Swan Princess while in its infancy of pre-production. This comparison is minor, but still a similarity.
This is the entertainment business, folks…it is give and take, borrowing, stealing, blackmailing, and getting even. With The Princess and the Frog, Disney just jabbed back a bit at Richard Rich…they were just waiting for the opportunity. And it made their re-entry into classic animation that much sweeter. But hey, they did try to be original…it’s the thought that counts.