Disney’s upcoming animated pile of bull hooey, The Princess and the Frog, apparently takes my subject line as a thesis.
The film concerns two characters, Tiana and Naveen, who are turned into frogs by the powers of one Dr. Facilier, described by Naveen as “a dastardly witch doctor.” We can tell he’s evil because he wears skull makeup and also because he’s drawn in the pointy, angular tradition of Jafar, the elongated and sharp villain from Aladdin. He even has the same pencil mustache, so you KNOW he’s up to no good.
To revert to their human form, Tiana and Naveen must seek the help of Mama Odi, one of those stupid fat bouncy stereotypes who needs an Jive-to-English translator and apparently lives in a swamp with dancing alligators. Or maybe she is a a dancing alligator. The trailers are unclear on this point.
So, on the one hand, we have Dr. Facilier, who’s just a cheap version of the Haitian Voodoo loa Baron Samedi. Anyone who bothers to investigate Baron Samedi a bit will discover that he’s a lecherous, tricksy boozehound with a dapper flair and powers of life, death, rebirth and sex. In other words, he’s a classic Trickster, which means that he’s unreliable and somewhat scary in his unpredictability + great power, but he’s not evil. Anyone who thinks so is just subscribing to the following lyrics from The Mob Song in another one of Disney’s animated adaptations, Beauty and the Beast:
We don't like What we don't understand In fact it scares us And this monster is mysterious at least
Thanks, Disney, for using your great ignorance to reduce a powerful figure from a non-Christian religion to a smarmy villain. You certainly reinforce the popular U.S. concept that Voodoo is some strange, inherently sinister system of magic when it’s actually a religion.
The other representative of the bastardized crap that Disney tries to pass for Voodoo is Mama Odi. As I’ve pointed out above, she’s fat, and, like all fat characters in Disney animated films, that means she’s cheerful, bubbly, somewhat vacuous and not at all to be taken seriously. Hooray! So now we have one Voodoo practitioner who’s a power-abusing wizard who’s automatically evil because he has death-associated powers, and our other Voodoo practitioner is a trivialized and brainless moron. So, in this movie, Voodoo is either eeeeeeeeevil or stoooooooopid. God forbid Disney proffer a nuanced portrayal of anything, much less a religion that’s already so miscomprehended in the American public’s mind that many will just accept Facilier and Odi uncritically as representations consonant with what they “know” already about the strange, primitive, unholy practices of Voodoo.
And I’m not even going to get in to the disturbing prominence in the trailer of the highly suspect dancing scenes with Naveen, some kid and a street orchestra, scenes that look like they could have been lifted from one of those mid-20th century films where all the black people just suddenly bubble over with joy and start lindy-hopping.