When 'The Princess and the Frog' came out last December, there was a huge marketing push to have the studio's first African-American princess tale connect with audiences and perform at the box office.

But while the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, the cast stellar (Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, John Goodman, Terrence Howard and Queen of All Media Oprah Winfrey) and the music Jazz-Age catchy, the movie itself didn't conjure any box office magic.

That's a shame, because 'Princess,' which is available on DVD now, is a fantastic pick for young children, especially girls. When 'The Princess and the Frog' came out last December, there was a huge marketing push to have the studio's first African-American princess tale connect with audiences and perform at the box office.

But while the reviews were overwhelmingly positive, the cast stellar (Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, John Goodman, Terrence Howard and Queen of All Media Oprah Winfrey) and the music Jazz-Age catchy, the movie itself didn't conjure any box office magic.

The traditionally animated musical didn't even break $100 million until its 10th week in theaters. To put things in perspective, other recent Disney films like 'A Christmas Carol,' 'Bolt' and 'Enchanted,' -- to say nothing of Disney/Pixar blockbusters 'Up' and 'WALL-E,' which outsold 'Princess' in their first two weeks -- all passed the $100 million mark in half that time. For a Disney movie, a Disney princess one at that, 'Princess' was an underachiever. That's a shame, because 'Princess,' which is available on DVD now, is a fantastic pick for young children, especially girls.

Tiana (voiced by Rose), like Belle and Mulan before her, isn't your typical Disney princess. She's not a damsel in distress waiting to be saved by a dashing prince. She's driven, ambitious and hard-working. She's tireless in attempting to make her own dreams (owning a restaurant as a tribute to her father, a popular New Orleans cook) come true. In fact, when Tiana is in distress, it's because of a prince named Naveen (Bruno Campos) -- whom she's trying to help turn from a frog back into a man. Instead, she ends up a frog along with him and discovers that love needs not royal carriages and enchanted balls or even a gorgeous human face to blossom.


Another reason 'Princess' is worth checking out is that Tiana and Prince Naveen aren't instantly love-struck like Ariel and Eric or Snow White and Prince Charming. They're more like Belle and the Beast or Fiona and Shrek. They bicker and talk and push each other, become friends, and somewhere along the line, fall in love. Yes, that too is a cliche, and yes, there's a happily ever after ending, but "My dream wouldn't be complete without you in it" is a far better message about love than "One day your prince will come."

What's more, Tiana and Naveen act as equals, and they save each other. In the canon of Disney princesses, that's an important distinction. It's not just Naveen who comes to the rescue; Tiana is willing to sacrifice everything she's worked so hard to achieve to set a trapped Naveen free.

Since they fall for each other as frogs, what Tiana and Naveen actually look like and other superficialities are rendered irrelevant (she's black, working class and from New Orleans, he's of indeterminate race, rich and from an exotic fictional country). That's the kind of lesson I can get on board with -- even if it means dealing with a daughter who goes around singing and kissing a stuffed frog.


Moviefone Mama's Three to See: Princess Stories for All
Kids: 'Beauty and the Beast' (G, 1991)
Young girls and boys will delight in this tale as old as time, and the singing housewares are perfect for little ones.
Tweens:
'The Princess Bride' (PG, 1987)
Not-quite-teenagers are the perfect audience for Rob Reiner's classic fairy tale about Buttercup and her true love Wesley.
Teens: 'Princess Mononoke' (PG-13, 1997)
Hayao Miyazaki's masterpiece isn't about a royal princess, but it's still a stunning anime adventure best appreciated by teens.