There is a great deal of excitement and anticipation about Friday, December 11, when Disney’s 49th animated feature film, “The Princess and the Frog,” will officially open at theaters everywhere.
I’ve seen the film, and it is truly delightful to watch. One of the things that I immediately loved, besides the fact that it would feature Disney’s first Black princess, was the actress who was chosen for the role: Tony Award-winner Anika Noni Rose. Rose starred on Broadway in “Caroline or Change” and walked away with a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.
She then went on to distinguish herself on the movie screen in “Dreamgirls.” That role brought her to the attention of those casting the Broadway revival of the drama “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a production that marked the first time an all-Black cast had performed this play on Broadway. Rose was on stage with James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Terrence Howard, just to name a few of the outstanding cast members.
Now she is starring in the Disney movie “The Princess and the Frog” where, she is once again working with an outstanding cast mainly comprised of African-American actors, including Howard, Oprah Winfrey, Keith David, Jenifer Lewis, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings and John Goodman.
Rose came to New York last week and spoke about the movie and this new experience with Disney.
When this actress/singer was on Broadway and in the movie “Dreamgirls,” she worked surrounded by other actors, but working on “The Princess and the Frog” was a much different experience.
“It was a bit of a challenge because on a technical level, you are in there [the recording studio] by yourself, so if you are not familiar with the little person inside of you, it will be very difficult. As a vocalist, it was challenging because I had to access the horror movie scream. As a singer, it’s my instinct not to scream in a way to hurt the cords.”
Of course, Rose was willing to do whatever it took to be part of this film. She shared, “It’s always been a dream of mine to be a Disney voice. I feel very blessed and very honored to bring this young woman to life and lucky that I’m here at this time to be able to do this.”
Besides the joy that Rose hopes children experience watching the movie, she spoke of the joy that occurs while it’s being created. “One of the surprises in doing a Disney movie is the amount of joy that takes place in that building, making these pieces. It’s joyous to go to work.”
Rose’s journey toward her dream of making a Disney movie began in the winter of 2006, when she first auditioned. It continued into spring 2007 with more auditions.
“I was chomping at the bit, because I really wanted this. Every time I see a child watching the movie with saucer eyes and I hear the laughter, it moves me. It’s such an amazing thing to be able to give a child joy, to touch a child in their fantasy world. It’s really beautiful. These children growing up now will never know anything was different. They’ll see a princess who looks like them or their cousins, sisters, best friends. I think every little girl should feel themselves the princess and that every little girl should be able to have a princely young man.”
Tiana is a waitress who has dreams of one day owning her own restaurant and cooking gumbo. She is a very determined, hard-working young girl. The character is very down-to-earth, and Rose shared, “I very much liked who she was. I really understood this young woman and her journey and what she was trying to do. I come from a very small town in Connecticut; when I walked around saying I wanted to be an actor, who supported me? No one but my parents. I get that. I get wanting to do something that is bigger than your environment. And seeing the wall come up and saying, ‘Well, I’ll just go to the left of that.’ I got this girl and I like her very much.”
Rose was pleasantly surprised to see that the Tiana doll is made in her likeness. “When I saw it, I was a weeping mess. What an honor. I was blown away. I was just excited to make a noise in a Disney film. I just wanted to be there because it’s so a part of our culture. I feel honored and blessed to be part of this major part of America.”
Describing her favorite scene in the movie, Rose said, “I love the opening of the movie, that you get to see this beautiful, complete family. I love the fact that you get to see this baby being loved on by her father. I love the fact that you see a little girl being encouraged to reach for the stars and she feels that she could touch [them] if she reached out.”
“The Princess and the Frog” features a wonderful range of music styles, including jazz, blues, gospel, Dixieland and zydeco. The songs were created by Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman. The film is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker and has an original story by Clements, Musker, Greg Erb and Jason Oremland. The screenplay is by Clements, Musker and Rob Edwards.
Go and enjoy the performances of Rose and this amazing cast.