Disney movies are known for having some of the best taught life lessons in the entertainment business. Some of this originates from the classic fairy tales that they’re famous for adapting into feature films. These classics were written centuries ago with valuable life lessons, like Pinocchio with the importance of listening to your conscience or , in the case of Cinderella, the motivating lesson that your wildest dreams can come true even in the most dire circumstances. As a father of a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old, we watch a lot of Disney films around our house. Recently, we took a family road trip with New Orleans being one of our stops, and I wanted to introduce them to Disney’s The Princess and the Frog as a way to prepare them for the significance of the culture and architecture we were going to see there. As anyone with young children can probably attest, you usually end up watching your child’s favorite movie over and over (and over and over) again. It’s no secret that The Princess and the Frog contains a valuable life lesson of the importance of hard work and perseverance, but it wasn’t until this point in my life, as a father, that I really understood just how important it was to make sure my children grow up, not just learning, but committed to this life lesson. It’s one that I was taught early in life and, although I may not have been receptive to it at a young age, it’s one that has stuck with me and become an integral part of what makes me the person I am today. This film has some great insight on this lesson and provides a great commentary for our children, and I thought it would be great to delve into this and “dig a little deeper”.
“That old star can only take you part of the way”
Disney is notorious for magic and wishing on stars. Part of what makes the Disney brand what it is today is that it allows us to escape reality and never lose hope in the seemingly impossible. We all remember Gepetto wishing on a star for Pinocchio to become a real boy, and somehow that scene became a part of cultures all over the world. With The Princess and the Frog, Disney sets the record straight that, while some of us may continue to wish upon a star for our dreams to come true, it’s still up to each individual to play an active role in going after those dreams. With a society of an increasing segment of the population wanting things to happen for them as easily as possible, it’s nice to see Disney promoting, not only the obligation that each person has to make their own destiny, but also the responsibility we all share for our own outcomes in life.
“I ain’t got time for dancin'”
My grandfather used to stress the importance of hard work to me all the time. He was from a different era in life where hard work and sacrifice was a daily occurrence. He believed that no one was ever going to give you anything in life and you were going to have to toil and sacrifice in order to get what you wanted. Tiana understands the importance of working day and night. In fact, perhaps Tiana even works a little too hard. I find this to be a very fine line that I walk. I, naturally, am wired to overload my plate with commitments, while foregoing rest and leisure. Periodically, I have to remind myself that a healthy amount of rest is what allows us to work as hard as we do without reaching the “burn-out point”. While I think the film might suggest that maybe Tiana has gone a tad bit to the extreme in her “all work and no play” lifestyle, I think she comes across as still being on the right track.
“What you want and what you need……It’s the same thing, no!”
I can remember my mother stressing to me, on multiple occasions growing up, the difference between what you want and what you need. This is a lesson I am happy to see Disney promote in The Princess and the Frog, and it goes hand in hand with the lesson of hard work. Tiana and Naveen go to Mama Odie and tell her that they want to be turned back into humans again and proceed to ask for her help. She responds by acknowledging what they want, but then asks them what is it that they need. Knowing the difference between wants and needs will give you perspective in your life and allow you to be thankful for what you have. We see this corollary elsewhere in the film as it pertains to Tiana’s desire to open her own restaurant. Tiana worked so hard all her life for her restaurant that her father never saw come to fruition. It’s the only thing she is focused on in life, and she doesn’t take time to enjoy the real treasures she has in her family and friends.
I think this is an important lesson for the generation of young people today, because too often people get discouraged when they put in a little bit of hard work and don’t reap the reward they are expecting. They either give up and settle in life or they become jaded and develop a sense of entitlement. This lesson teaches us that, just because you work hard all your life, it doesn’t mean you’re going to end up with fame and fortune. Don’t give up and keep working hard, because your reward may have already presented itself to you; it’s just not what you expected.
Beware of your “friends on the other side”.
There are two alternatives to hard work and sacrifice. One of them has been mentioned already; settling in life for something far less than what you’re capable of achieving. The other alternative, on “the other side”, is looking for a shortcut or an easier road in life. These paths in life are often filled with unintended consequences and even villains waiting for you to come along to be taken advantage of. Naveen and Lawrence both make a deal with Dr. Facilier to obtain different things, but neither one of them want to put in the hard work and sacrifice to achieve these things. Naveen wants money and ends up being turned into a frog. Lawrence wants respect and power. The plan doesn’t work out well for him in the end, and he ends up being thrown in jail.
By the same token, Tiana has just been devastated to have her dream pulled out from underneath her just as all of her hard work and sacrifice was about to pay off. In a state of desperation, she remembers the tale of “The Frog Prince” and, when Prince Naveen introduces himself to her in from form, she kisses him in a last ditch dubious effort to get what she wants out of life. She ends up being affected by Dr. Facilier’s dark magic, and she finds herself being turned into a frog as well. Often in life, the easiest path is not the best one to take.
“Blue skies and sunshine guaranteed”
As a father of 2 young children, I am committed to stressing the importance of hard work and sacrifice and the importance of never giving up. Too often, today, you see young Americans disenchanted with the environment they live in and resentful of others who have more than they do. Some people seemingly obtain success in life easier than others, but we are all responsible for our own destiny. A long time ago I came to accept the fact that I will probably never experience the kind of wealth that most people dream about, but I don’t resent the people who have it. I’m also not going to give up on my dreams in life. My dreams evolve from time to time as I grow older and go through life, but I don’t feel like I am settling for anything less than what I’m capable of achieving. We all need a healthy balance of virtues and lifestyle habits to be successful. Hard work and sacrifice is only part of the equation. If we keep an open mind and differentiate the things we want from the things we need and remain committed to give 110% each and every day in everything we do, you are guaranteed a successful life. Now, success might look differently to different people at different points in their lives. I am a long way from having everything I’ve ever dreamed of in life, but I would say, right now, my life is filled with blue skies and sunshine. Wants and desires is what keeps us from being complacent and committed to continuing to work hard in life.
The Princess in the Frog is an excellent movie with an amazing soundtrack (I had to give major props to the music somewhere in this post), but I wouldn’t say it is my favorite overall Disney film. There are far too many other wonderful Disney films to choose from for me to say this one is my favorite. However, I will say that the message in this film is probably my favorite message in any Disney film and, if it helps my children to learn the value of hard work and sacrifice, I’ll gladly continue to watch it over and over (and over and over) again.