Blue Skies and Sunshine! Five(ish) Fun Facts About Disney’s The Princess and the Frog

princess and the frog tiana and naveen romantic

June 20, 2024

Written by: Jim Smith

(A version of this article was shared with Pirates and Princesses and published on June 19, 2024.)

If you’ve been following Disney Parks news at all lately, you’re well aware of the June 28th opening of Tiana’s Bayou Adventure in Magic Kingdom (with Disneyland’s version opening later this year). With the opening only days away, let’s take a look at the inspiration behind Disney’s newest attraction, with a few fun facts about the 2009 film The Princess and the Frog.

Groundbreaking Firsts

The Princess and the Frog is well known as being one of Disney’s last full-length feature films to be animated using traditional two-dimensional hand animation (with the last fully hand-animated film being 2011’s Winnie the Pooh).

princess and the frog tiana with naveen as frog
Image: Disney

But let’s focus here on the number of FIRSTs brought to life in this film. Princess Tiana represents Disney’s first African-American princess (and Disney’s third princess of color, with the first being Princess Jasmine from the 1992 film Aladdin).

The Princess and the Frog is also the first Disney Princess-based film set in America (New Orleans, to be specific), and the first set in the modern era. The film’s vibes place it safely in the early 20th century. Near the beginning of the film, a newspaper headline certifies the time-stamp, declaring Woodrow Wilson’s election as president of the U.S.

Disney’s Dynamic Duo of Directors

disney animation directors john musker and ron clements

Film directors John Musker and Ron Clements have produced a legendary track record of successful collaborations. The pair partnered on five animated feature films prior to their work in the bayou, including The Great Mouse Detective (1986), The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), Hercules (1997), and Treasure Planet (2002). The prolific pair had left the Disney Studios in 2005 to pursue other career ambitions. But John Lasseter – Disney’s creative head at the time – sought them out and asked them to make a film of their choosing in whatever format they wished. The pair chose to honor the animation days of old and go with 2D.

In choosing the location for the film, Musker and Clements settled on New Orleans for what they described as its “magical” qualities, as well as a tribute to the city following the disastrous effects of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The pair spent ten days in Louisiana before even starting to write the film. In recreating the charm of New Orleans and the bayou, the pair sought inspiration from two classic Disney films. According to Musker, the natural beauty portrayed in the 1942 film Bambi influenced the bayou scenes, and our New Orleans French Quarter cityscapes were influenced by 1955’s Lady and the Tramp.

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Art Imitates Life

Disney animated films are long known for inviting the characteristics and personalities of their star voice performers into the physical representations of the characters. The Princess and the Frog is no exception. Let’s take a look at a few of the finest here.

Princess Tiana

princess and the frog tiana making beignets
Image: Disney

Disney Legend Anika Noni Rose has become synonymous with Tiana’s delightful voice. But her relation to Disney’s modern-era princess goes a lot further than her voice. Rose’s petite facial features were carried over to Tiana appearance, as was Rose’s hard work etiquette. But perhaps the most random element of Rose – incorporated at her specific request – is the notion of being left-handed. So Tiana is officially left-handed (though if you watch closely, her slicing/dicing prowess looks quite ambidextrous).

anika noni rose

Would you like to know who else was considered as the voice of Tiana? Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and Tyra Banks were all considered for the lead role, with Keys and Banks personally appealing to the Disney Studios for the part. If those three weren’t competition enough – Beyoncé was also considered for the role, because she refused to audition, and was therefore left out of further consideration.

Dr. Facilier – The Shadow Man

princess and the frog naveen and shadow man
Image: Disney

Dr. Facilier – one of Disney’s best modern-era villains – was menacingly portrayed by actor Keith David. In addition to those ominous deep vocal tones, David’s prominent gap in his front teeth was also carried over to the Voodoo Villain. The film’s animators also incorporated some of David’s expressions and gestures into Facilier.

Animator Bruce W. Smith described Dr. Facilier as “the love child of Peter Pan’s Captain Hook and One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ Cruella DeVil.”

Trivia Tidbit: Speaking of Dr. Facilier – he is the only character in the film to refer to himself by that name. All others call him “The Shadow Man.”

Eli “Big Daddy” LeBouf

john goodman

“Big Daddy” may not have a major role in the film, but his moments are made memorable thanks to the universally beloved actor/comedian John Goodman. The comedy legend – who has also lent his voice to James P. “Sulley” Sullivan in Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. franchise – is a resident of New Orleans, adding perfection to the part.

Swampy Sidekicks

Combine an alligator – one of the least cuddly creatures in the animal kingdom – with a tiny cajun firefly, and you get one of the most surprising and heartening sidekick duos in the history of Disney animation. 

Louis the Alligator

princess and the frog louis with naveen as frog
Image: Disney

Louis the giant alligator – energetically voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley – exudes fun-loving jazzy vibes. The gator’s name and musical prowess honor jazz great Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo.”  When Louis is singing about becoming human, he adoringly mentions Louis Armstrong. But “dig a little deeper” and you may notice that, at the same time, he pulls some Spanish Moss from a tree and wipes the left side of his mouth. This was a deep-dive reference to Louis Armstrong himself, who suffered damage to his lips from years of blowing high notes on his trumpet. The damage caused the left side of his mouth to dribble saliva. Armstrong kept a handkerchief in his left hand and frequently wiped his mouth throughout his later life.

At the end of the movie, Tiana’s Palace briefly boasts a live jazz band called “Firefly Five Plus Lou,” with Louis front-and center on the trumpet, fulfilling his dream of playing trumpet to a live audience. This is a play on the mid-20th century jazz band “Firehouse Five Plus Two,” which featured many classic Disney Legends such as Frank Thomas, Ward Kimball, and Harper Goff, among others.

princess and the frog louis firefly five plus lou
Image: Disney

Look Familiar? When Louis first appears behind Naveen with his giant jaws fully extended, the scene looks very much like the poster of the 1999 movie Lake Placid. While it may not have been an Oscar-nominated film, that poster was quite striking, even drawing inspiration from the iconic poster from the 1975 film Jaws.

Ray the Firefly

princess and the frog ray the firefly
Image: Disney

Ray (with his glow-in-the-dark booty) combines down-home familiarity with otherworldly whimsy to make him one of the most lovable Disney bugs of all time. The cajun firefly – voiced by Disney master voice artist Jim Cummings – glows a brilliant yellow most of the time, except when his temper burns. When Ray gets angry, he heats up to a fiery red color, similar to Tinkerbell in Disney’s Peter Pan.

Ray is one of very few Disney comic sidekicks to perish on-screen, with another notable entry being Bing Bong from Pixar’s 2015 film Inside Out. Ray’s death also honors Peter Pan, when he joins his love Evangeline in the night sky, becoming the “second star to the right.” Appropriately enough, Ray’s “Evangeline” is actually the planet Venus, named for the Roman goddess of love.

Disney Animation Easter Eggs

One of my favorite aspects of any modern Disney or Pixar film is the cornucopia of Easter Eggs tucked throughout the film. These tiny tidbits honor the storied past of Disney animation. Let’s discover a few fun eggs here.

That Old Rug

aladdin carpet with easter egg in princess and the frog
Images: Disney

Right at the beginning of the film, during the opening credits with Randy Newman’s song, “Down in New Orleans,” you may spy someone shaking a carpet out their window. This is the one and only flying carpet from 1992’s Aladdin, which was also directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.

Room A113

princess and the frog tiana on trolley labeled a113
Image: Disney

Early in the film, a downtown streetcar takes Tiana and many others to work. The streetcar is identified with the number “A113,” a reference to the now-famous room for the animation department at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) where co-directors Musker and Clements studied animation.

Not-So-Magic Lamp

Mama Odie is truly a hidden gem in the bayou, with a bunch of hidden treasures in her tree-bound boat. When the 197-year-old Voodoo priestess is looking for a clamshell with a pearl during her “Dig a Little Deeper” scene, one of the items she throws away is Genie’s lamp from Aladdin. You know what they say about one person’s trash…

princess and the frog mama odie's house
Image: Disney

Trivia Tidbit: It takes an awfully strong tree to hold up a boat the size of Mama Odie’s home. Look at the size of the trunk compared to the branches. Mama’s boat is resting in a baobab tree – similar to Rafiki’s home in Disney’s 1994 film The Lion King, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life itself.

King Triton

princess and the frog marid gras parade with king triton float
Image: Disney

What could be more New Orleans-y than a Mardi Gras parade? When the parade rolls by near the end of the film, take a close look at one of the floats rolling down the road. It is none other than King Triton – ruler of the sea in 1989’s The Little Mermaid.

Dear Sweet Leota…

princess and the frog graveyard with madame leota grave
Image: Disney

The Shadowman meets his deserving demise in a graveyard scene near the end of the film. During that scene, there are three headstones that appear with stone faces before the voodoo masks break out. The center face is that of Madam Leota, one of the 999 happy haunts inhabiting Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, located in the park’s New Orleans Square.

Blue Skies and Sunshine!

tianas bayou adventure concept image
Image: Disney

For almost fifteen years, The Princess and the Frog has been inspiring those who want to move beyond wishing on stars, and dig a little deeper for what’s really important. I hope you enjoyed this ride through the bayou, and that you equally enjoy Tiana’s Bayou Adventure once it opens to the public.


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Sources:

IMDB – The Princess and the Frog

Disney – The Princess and the Frog

Disney Wiki – The Princess and the Frog

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