While Disney animated movies tend to have homespun charm and timeless appeal - and are of course kid-friendly - The Princess and the Frog (in cinemas from 29 January) has a much different significance. With this highly anticipated release, Disney has its first African-American princess in nearly a century of making movies.

Behind the pioneering Princess Tiana is Anika Noni Rose, a Tony Award winner best known on the big screen for her work in 2006's Dreamgirls.

Rose talked with Moviefone about working on a film with such social significance, living her own fairytale and staying in touch with her 'Dreamgirls' co-stars Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce. While Disney animated movies tend to have homespun charm and timeless appeal - and are of course kid-friendly - The Princess and the Frog (in cinemas from 29 January) has a much different significance. With this highly anticipated release, Disney has its first African-American princess in nearly a century of making movies.

Behind the pioneering Princess Tiana is Anika Noni Rose, a Tony Award winner best known on the big screen for her work in 2006's Dreamgirls.

Rose talked with Moviefone about working on a film with such social significance, living her own fairytale and staying in touch with her 'Dreamgirls' co-stars Jennifer Hudson and Beyonce.

Tell us about Tiana.
I loved this character. I really understand who she is on a personal level. As a person who came from a small town and had dreams of becoming an actor, I know what it's like to have no support system for what it is that you want to do. A lot of people think you don't have a chance. I [also] know what it's like to have parents that would say, "Yes, you do. Do the best you can. Keep going." And working hard to get to a dream that is unattainable. I get that. That made it very easy for me to understand who she was.

Had you created Tiana in your mind before recording her?
The thing with animation is that you usually don't get the whole script. You get the script in pieces. The first day that I went to work for Disney, I did record the entire script: an eight-hour session. I read that script from top to bottom. That was exhausting, but wonderful. They would give me whatever scenes we were going to work on a couple days in advance.

What is it like to represent Disney's first African-American princess?

I'm honored to be the voice. It is amazing to me that I am that person. I always dreamed of being a voice in a Disney movie, and even in those dreams, I never once dreamed of being a princess. I just wanted to be a voice. I feel like what an honor that this is how the dream comes true, bigger and stronger than I had even imagined it. It is a movie full of firsts. I am also the first princess to voice the voice and sing the songs on the soundtrack. I feel like I am in such a beautiful spot right now. I feel like I'm living my fairytale in this portion of my career.

Do you think 'The Princess and the Frog' has a larger social significance?
It expands our picture of beauty. When I say our, I mean America. Disney is the ultimate in terms of representation of Americana. For little girls to be able to watch a movie and see themselves reflected in the message is wonderful. For children to be able to see themselves in fantasy is wonderful -- because that's where children live, that's where they create all of their dreams. They need to be able to see themselves. Not just little brown girls, but little girls with brown hair and brown eyes. We live in such an integrated time right now. Our families are so very integrated. For children to be able see their cousins, siblings and neighbors reflected in this young girl is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Usually, I think as a child, it is not something that you actively think of that you are missing. When you get it, it is such a boost to your sense of self. For these children and the world, and what comes after them -- these are the children that will rule the world. These are going to be the children who walk around with a clear feeling of inclusion and sense of self.



What was your experience like recording the Disney songs?
It's really about telling the story of the song. And I think that's one of the great things Disney does with their songs. It is very similar to Broadway. Every song has to be there for reason, not just because somebody was like, "You know it would be really great if there were a song here." Because you need to move the story forward. There is no other way to express it. The characters have gotten to the point where there are no words. They now have to sing because that is the next level of expression. Disney does that really beautifully, and [score composer] Randy Newman does that beautifully. Even in his albums, which are pop albums, they are storytelling albums, which is somewhat of a lost art.

What does the movie's New Orleans setting add to the movie?
Well, it adds to the movie the ability for them to take this fantasy world and lay it on a real location, without really changing the location that much. I think New Orleans is such a beautiful city. It looks like a fairytale when you walk through the French Quarter or the Garden District. There is such a lush sense of color, style, architecture -- and the people themselves. On the flipside, hopefully what it will bring to New Orleans is a reminder of the beauty and innovation that that city has. New Orleans is such an amazing melting pot. Also, it's the birthplace of so many things: amazing music, jazz, the food. It's like a hotbed of styles and creation. I hope that it's a way of bringing beauty back to New Orleans and to remind the people who lost so much that the city they come from has given so much to us as Americans. It is truly an American city.

Was it weird for you that you were a frog AND a princess in the movie?
No, it wasn't weird, because she is still a princess. You don't have to be in gown, shoe and crown to represent. It's about personality, this person, their spirit. I think it was actually fun to be able to do all that running and jumping, and being so physical with her. By the time they come back to their physical selves, there have been so lessons learned. The frogs themselves are so in love. I did not have a problem with that at all.

Do you still talk to Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson -- how are they doing? Do you have plans to work together again?
No, they're all off doing their careers. And doing wonderfully at it. Everybody has been so busy. We don't really see each other. Not out of dislike, but careers moving in different directions. Doing different things.
CATEGORIES Interviews