I confess! It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This despite the fact that it was a cold, rainy night in New York, and we had to wait outside. (Our wait was made slightly more tolerable by the doling out of wristbands and Mardi Gras beads… It's hard not to get excited when you start getting swag right away!)
Once inside the lobby, we were informed no cameras were allowed, so there was a line of people who had to check them at the door. (My shots are with an iPhone.) But upstairs in the stunningly gorgeous Ziegfeld theater, the mood was lively, excited: From where I sat (with my brother and mother) I could see at least five or six little black girls wearing tiaras; when I turned around I noticed that they were everywhere. It was obvious that large groups of friends and families — moms, dads, sisters, brothers, aunts, cousins — had made a night of it. And everyone had to get the special popcorn/soda combo with the collectible cup.
When the lights went down, I was ready to be focused, objective, critical. But the truth is this: The story swept me away. The movie is Disney at its best: fun, funny, but with a lot of heart, and a message. The animation is sublime — a dream sequence Tiana has stands out as being especially dazzling — and the characters are vibrant and lovable. As an audience, we experienced joy, laughter, sadness and satisfaction. Even the character I was most worried about — the firefly with poor dental care — turned out to be hilarious, charismatic and charming. What his teeth say to kids about the bayou, I don't know. I do know that I was moved, when I didn't think I would be, laughed more than I thought I would, and came away feeling, well, happy. That's what Disney does, isn't it?
After the movie, even organizers held an "Ultimate Disney Exprience" event at the Roseland Ballroom, which had been transformed into a "bayou." Standing around on little platforms were all of the Disney princesses… and Tiana was in the center, on a stage. Watching little girls line up to take their picture with Cinderella, Jasmine, Ariel, Belle, Pocahantas, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan and Tiana, I was reminded of the huge impact Disney has on children. Many of the kids there weren't even born when the most recent "princess" movie, Mulan, hit the screen. ( Snow White came out in 1937.) Children and parents snapped pictures, gushed over costumes and generally looked thrilled to "meet" all of the "princesses" who, obviously, are well-trained actresses. They're even schooled in what to say when a thirty-something single man with zero kids is giddy to take a picture with them — my brother had his photo snapped with every single princess.
But the best part, for me, was all the little girls playing dress-up. As you can see, the one in the photograph above already had the official dress, as well as a crown. Her name was Tiana, too, and it was clear that she — and her mother — were having a night they would never forget. For me, that makes it a success, whether the movie ends up a box-office smash or not. But whatever cash Disney doesn't make in theaters, I'm betting it will make in merchandise: One dad — after buying a dress, CD soundtrack and rhinestone tiara at the little gift shop in the lobby — asked the clerk, "What else ya got?"
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