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Why’d it Bomb? The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Back in October, I wrote a couple of articles about how the Frozen phenomenon kind of left the other modern animated Disney movies in the dust.  For the first article, I focused on the merchandising aspect of Disney and didn’t really talk about what I thought was really interesting, which was not only that the other movies lacked merchandise but it felt like Frozen was the only one that really had any staying power while the other movies were pretty much forgotten after a while. In the second article, I talked more about my feelings towards this (as well as the lack of merch for the other films) but I feel like I might have underestimated the popularity of some of the movies I mentioned in that article as I later realized that some of the movies that “used to be popular but have been forgotten” I mentioned in the article (like Up or Inside Out) aren’t really forgotten and are still pretty popular. However, today were going to talk about a Disney movie whose merchandise sold pretty well yet Disney still found to be a disappointment because hardly anyone went to see the movie itself.

I am of course talking about The Princess and the Frog. Even to this day, Tiana can still be found on the Disney Princess line (I even saw her on a Disney Store bag a lady was holding the other day) so it seems like the merchandise sold well enough. In fact, according to this article, this movie did actually sell a lot of merchandise . Plus you can still meet Tiana and Naveen at Disney World.

But at the box office? It was not only a disappointment but it gave Disney cold feet about future Disney Princess movies. Both Tangled and Frozen‘s Disney Princess elements were downplayed in the trailers and they were portrayed as Dreamworks-style comedies, when they were anything but.

They even gave the movies vague titles that more or less hid they were Disney Princess movies while this movie pretty much made it clear it was a Disney Princess flick.

But why did this movie underperform at the box office?

Some people think it might’ve been because of two factors: they think the princess title might’ve turned off boys from the movie, as it made them think it was a little girls movie, and the second reason is some people think the movie might’ve turned people off because Tiana is black. They might have a point with the former thing but I’m not sure that Tiana being black had anything to do with it. Yes that probably did turn off a lot of very racist people (out of all the Disney movies, Trump is probably not going to show Barron this one) but, seeing as Tiana dolls sold well despite her race, I don’t think that had a huge influence on the movie’s box office.

Instead, I think it might’ve been these things:

4. People thought the movie was racist

While I doubt racists themselves affected the movie’s box office gross, there were rumors about the movie that turned some people off and made them think it was racist. Some of these things were changed (like Tiana was changed from a chamber maid to a waitress) but, even when the movie’s trailers started airing, there were still things that people found to be problematic of the movie, like the fact that the first Black Disney Princess spends most of the movie being a frog. It didn’t help that many Disney movies in the past have had racial stereotypes in them. In their defense, most of those movies happened back when racial stereotyping was the norm but, at least back then, people still gave Disney a hard time for it.

3. Maybe Disney didn’t do enough to promote the movie

If you read the article above, you’d think this movie had a lot of promotion. Yet, I have to be honest, I don’t remember that many commercials for it airing on TV. Oprah, who was in the movie, didn’t even promote it on her show. And many audience members probably find out what movies are coming out through either trailers or commercials. As a result, some people might’ve not even known there was a new Disney Princess movie out. It probably didn’t help that it was released during the Christmas season, when a lot of successful movies were coming out, which meant that it couldn’t help but get lost in the shuffle.

2. Children have become too used to animated movies being comedies

In my article about Epic, I said that animated comedies seem to sell better nowadays than other types of animated movies. And that is pretty much true. I think it has to do with the fact that it’s been a decade since Shrek and, in that time, many studios have tried to ape Shrek’s success by making all of their animated movies comedies. As a result, I think that many children have grown up with more goofy animated movies and expect every animated movie to be a joke fest like Shrek was. Yet The Princess and the Frog was not only trying to be like an old fashioned animated movie but it was promoted as such.

However, seeing as kids have grown up with comedic animated films, they probably weren’t interested in seeing something that was more akin to The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast and, therefore, they stayed away.

1. It came out around the same time as Avatar, a movie praised for it’s technological advancements

The Princess and the Frog was an attempt by Disney to bring back 2D animation. Unfortunately, at the same time, Avatar came out, which was being praised by people for making special effects look even more realistic than before. Having The Princess and the Frog come out around the same time as Avatar might’ve made it look more old fashioned and out of date by comparison, which might’ve turned many people off and caused them to flock to Avatar instead, where they could oogle at how cool the Na’vi looked and how far we’ve come in terms of special effects.

These are all possible reasons the movie’s box office intake was…mediocre to say the least. Could it also be that people just didn’t want to see a 2D animated movie in 2009? Maybe. Although, who knows, in a less busy time, the movie might’ve done better, even in 2009. But we’ll never know and, unfortunately, it did not revive 2D animation for Disney like everyone thought it would.

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Posted on March 21, 2017, in Movies, Why'd it bomb? and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. While I think your above reasons probably played a part in making Princess and the Frog less successful than it could have been, there are other factors that should be considered.

    #1 is word of mouth. The movie just isn’t as good as Disney’s best. It can be accurately described as “less than the sum of its parts.” The movie suffers from sidekick overload and some painful character tropes. The wise but eccentric old lady and the flat stupid rednecks left some audience members rolling their eyes.

    #2 the awful teaser trailer seemed preoccupied with the frog getting the heroine to kiss him and was then interrupted by that annoying firefly character. This trailer was off putting enough that I waited until the movie was at a “B” theater before seeing it.
    I’m glad Tiana is still in the parks, but I kind of blame her mediocre movie for killing traditional hand drawn animation at Disney. That’s a shameful legacy.

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    • A few points:

      1. The Princess and the Frog didn’t bomb. It underpeformed Disney’s high expectations.

      2. A lot of people make the movie out to be an under-rated masterpiece. It’s not. As Daffy points out, it’s a mixed bag. Remove the firefly sidekick and I bet the movie improves a lot.

      3. According to John Lasseter, Disney did a lot of research into why Princess and the hand-drawn Winnie the Pooh underperformed. The answer they got was that most audiences though hand-drawn animation was “old fashioned”. I don’t blame Tiana’s movie with killing hand drawn animation. All she did was fail to resurrect it – and it’s possible that even a better movie couldn’t have done that.

      4. The movie had a terrible release date. It got crushed by the unforeseen juggernaut that was Avatar. Ironically, I bet if you rereleased both movies today, PATF would outperform Avatar.

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      • Yeah, I know the movie didn’t exactly bomb but it’s not the first time I covered a movie that underperformed rather than outright bombed on this blog.

        Also, I’m not sure Disney should’ve also blamed Winnie the Pooh for killing hand drawn animation. The theatrically released Winnie the Pooh films have never been huge box office successes plus it came out the same time as the last Harry Potter film, which also hurt it in the long run.

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    • http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MinorityShowGhetto

      One of the theories as to why The Princess and the Frog wasn’t as successful as it was expected would have been because of the protagonist’s ethnicity. However, other factors from lack of advertising, to being released at the same time as Avatar, to the use of traditional animation have also been blamed. Mind you, the movie was still successful as far as animated movies go. Still, it would take seven years for the Walt Disney Animation Studios to release another musical about a royal of color — the predominantly-CGI Moananote , which fortunately turned a larger gross.

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  2. Really you bring TRUMP into this article about a Disney movie. Wow, and I thought this was a blog about movies. Why does everything have to be political these days.

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  3. Did I say I was offended? I just ask a simple question. You have the right to write what ever you want. That wasn’t my point. Try not to get so offended by people that ask you something.
    Thank you.

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    • I’m sorry about that but when you capitalized Trump, you did come off as a bit defensive so I couldn’t help but be defensive back

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  4. I’ve never seen this film, but I remember the marketing for it being rather odd: I recall a GEICO commercial that was a tie-in to the film as really standing out on that front.

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  5. I’m a Black woman who loves fairytales, Disney and cartoons – and I’ve yet to get around to seeing TPATF. I think the thing that bothered me was the fact Tiana was a frog at one point (although a cute enough one) – and I can’t remember if there’s been another Disney where the princess has been an animal (well, besides Ariel of The Little Mermaid). Also, the storyline didn’t have that “oomph” — enough for me at least — to want to race to see. And speaking of race, I believe that’s precisely why it did “bomb.” Realistically, how many white little girls or little girls who are non-Black / brown – really want to see this? Or rather, how many of their parents would want to take them to see this? During its release, I do remember seeing however, the Tiana dolls in stores, which was refreshing. I think if it was released in the 80’s – 90’s it would have done way better – bc Disney cartoons were at their peak then and kids couldn’t wait for the next cartoon — no matter if the starring character was Asian (Mulan), Native American (Pocahontas) or Arabic (Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine). Anywho, good post! And nice blog!

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    • While I still don’t think Tiana’s race played a major part in the box office, you do make a good point about it coming out when Disney’s cartoons weren’t doing too well, as most of the Disney cartoons from the 2000’s bombed domestically (with the exception of Lilo & Stitch, The Pixar films and, to a much lesser extent, Dinosaur). I think what also hurt it, which I should’ve mentioned on this post, is that, after Pocahontas was met with a divisive reputation to say the least, there was a bit of a Disney backlash from audiences and, after a while, their films started bombing domestically and sometimes internationally and, when this movie was released, there was still a bit of a backlash going on towards the company. Hell, considering Tangled was only really a huge hit thanks to the international BO (it really bombed domestically), you could say the backlash has really only ended recently, starting with Wreck-it Ralph, which was a modest hit both domestically and internationally, and Frozen which, well, we all know how that turned out.

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  6. Well, TANGLED grossed $200 million domestically. Not a bomb for an animated movie even at that time. It didn’t pull SHREK numbers, but nothing had surpassed SHREK 2 until FINDING DORY. TANGLED might have done better (it was certainly a better movie than FROZEN) if it had had a big hit song like FROZEN’s “Let It Go”. That song alone probably contributed half of its domestic box office.

    THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was fun. I enjoyed it a great deal and bought the Blu-ray. I think the hand-drawn animation was its biggest roadblock (unfortunately), with race playing a not small part as well. There was some vocal dissatisfaction among some blacks about the racial aspects of having a voodoo priest as a villain, and about Tiana being a frog, and a waitress, and not a “real princess”. They must have forgotten that Cinderella wasn’t a princess before she found her prince. She scrubbed her step-mother’s floors and did the laundry. Meanwhile, on the other side of the race divide, some whites considered Tiana “other” or a PC capitulation created to mollify black movie-going audiences who often felt excluded from Disney’s typically lily-white princess flicks. Both sides could have just shut and seen the movie and they might have been as entertained as I was.

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    • Sounds to me like there was more of an issue with the characterizations of the certain races and not race itself, which is better I guess, but that doesn’t do anything for “The Princess and The Frog” and its bottom line.

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      • Yeah, I agree that the characterization of races harmed PATPF’s box office moreso than racists themselves. Sure there is still a lot of racism in the world, especially in the U.S., and many of the racists probably refused to see it because of that but I’m not sure enough of them really effected the movie itself. After all, they didn’t stop Moana from being a hit (granted, not a huge one but it still did pretty well). As for Tangled, it was made on a budget of $260 million so, considering it made $60 million less than it’s budget in the U.S., then it was a domestic flop because movies have to make more than their budgets to be considered a success. However, it wasn’t a flop altogether because it made $591 million when you count both domestic and international sales. Plus it also made more when you count DVD/Blu-Ray sales so it wasn’t a bomb at all, it just didn’t make back it’s budget in America.

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        • $591 million? I know to get to that number takes some patience, but wow, that’s a fat number anyway you look at it.

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        • Not to downplay Tangled’s success but that’s pretty much chump change for a company that owns Marvel, Star Wars, and Frozen, among other successful properties

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  7. I think Avatar box office alone is the biggest problem for this one. It became the highest grossing movie of all time (something that not even the Dark Knight could do) and when you have a box office juggernaut like that running, other movies tend to underperform.

    On a side note, I really wish Disney would have tried at least one more traditional 2D Animated movie, But as it stands we may have well witnessed the last of its kind on the big screen

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  8. jeffthewildman

    Just came across this. Surprised I missed it earlier.

    While Princess And The Frog isn’t the underrated masterpiece some people say it is, it all isn’t bad at all. It’s not on the level of Disney or Pixar classics. But it’s way ahead of most of what Disney pumped out post the Lion King (with the possible exception of Mulan). When you compare it to a lot of what came before it, especially Brother Bear and Home On The Range, it’s easy to understand why some people call it a masterpiece.

    It didn’t so much end traditional hand drawn Disney animation as much as fail in reviving it, as was noted previously. After Home On the Range bombed in 2004, supposedly Disney wasn’t going to make traditionally animated films anymore. This was an attempt at reviving them and when it didn’t blow up, the plan was cancelled.

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