The Princess and the Frog has been a hit with viewers, but Christian groups are calling it "offensive" because of its supernatural references. And it turns out that Disney films have been pissing off evangelicals for years.
According to Mark Pinsky in the Wall Street Journal, Christian website Hollywoodjesus.com criticized The Princess and the Frog for its references to such things as voodoo and Ouija boards, calling it "too dark and extreme for this kind of kids' film." Christiananswers.net took issue with a Tarot card scene, among others, and called the film "offensive" and "demonic." And Christianity Today accused the animated feature of having a "hollow, thoughtless core."
Some may see a racial undercurrent to criticism of voodoo in Disney's first film with a black heroine. However, Christian critics have actually been objecting to magic in Disney films since Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and according to Pinsky they were none too pleased "with the films that showcased different belief systems, all in positive, respectful lights: "Mulan" (Confucianism), "Pocahontas" (animism), "Hercules" (paganism) and "Brother Bear" (shamanism)." Still, Walt Disney himself felt that explicit Christianity would turn kids and foreign viewers away from his films, and so he established early on a "Disney Gospel" in which good always triumphs over evil and characters have faith both in themselves and in something outside themselves. Pinsky says The Princess and the Frog is no exception:
The movie embodies the full canon of the Disney Gospel: dreaming, wishing, hard work, love and self-sacrifice, aided by strategic magical intervention. Believers in the Judeo-Christian tradition will also recognize the saving grace of selfless love and good works.
It's a little hard to critique evangelicals' position from outside the Church, but from a narrative point of view it's easy to see why Disney (who was Christian himself) chose to exclude explicit religious messages from his films, and why those who followed him have continued to do so. Kids are generally pretty allergic to explicit didacticism in entertainment, and the religious stories that reach the broadest audience have often been those in which the religion is thickly veiled (I know I'm not the only atheist kid who was shocked to learn that Aslan was supposed to be Jesus). Disney films do have their own "Gospel," which I'd argue is actually one of the things that makes them predictable, and less enjoyable the older you get. In the original fairy tales on which many early Disney movies are based, good doesn't always triumph — the Little Mermaid doesn't marry the prince. These stories are indeed "dark and extreme," sometimes even "demonic" — which is what makes them more exciting than many Disney movies (especially as Disney became more formulaic in its choice of sidekicks, villains, and songs). As a non-Christian, I can't really evaluate whether The Princess and the Frog has a positive religious message — but I do know that kids are smart consumers, that they know a good story, and that a good story needs a little darkness.
What Walt Wrought [Wall Street Journal]