The Princess & The Frog - Special Preview in New York City's Zeigfeld Theatre
By Guest Blogger Michele Q. Lindsay
I like to call it "The Connecticut Connection". Snow White, Walt Disney's first princess, was voiced and sung by Bridgeport, Connecticut native Adriana Caselotti. Anika Noni Rose of Bloomfield, CT is the first actress since Caselotti to reprise the efforts of voicing and singing a Disney princess.
Tiana, the newest addition to the Princess Empire, was about to take the world by storm. And here we were, two moms and their girls from CT ready to bring this experience full circle and see what Tiana has to offer our daughters. We did not leave disappointed!
When I heard that Disney would preview the latest addition to the princess franchise at the Zeigfeld Theater in New York City, it was a no-brainer that I would take my older daughter Grace (age 4). Immediately, I called one of my best friends to see if she and her daughter would like to join in the fun. Taina (not Tiana) and her daughter Ava (also 4) are princesses at heart and were up for the adventure.
So on Monday, December 7th, we met aboard the Metro North commuter train and the girls could hardly contain their excitement. What would the movie be like? How does Tiana become a frog? What princesses will we meet today?
Our tickets were for the 1pm show, but we wanted to arrive with ample time to get in line. As our tickets were general admission, seating would be on a first come basis. I had checked the ticket status online the night before and saw that the show was not sold out, so we weren't too worried about getting good seats.
The queues outside were short and smooth. There were two lines, one for general admission and one for reserved seating. With a reserved ticket, you were given a strand of purple plastic beads with a Princess & The Frog medallion at the end and a limited edition lithograph. All cameras and camcorders were taken before entering the building. Once inside and on our way up the escalator, one theater employee was calling out "Happy Holidays!" He bellowed, "Welcome to the Zeigfeld Theater and The Princess and The Frog!" Apparently the Zeigfeld had its own town crier! He kept the lines moving as the adults were scanned with metal detecting wands. If only all TSA employees were this jovial.
The Zeigfeld Theater is one of Manhattan's grand experiences. The original theater was home to the Zeigfeld Follies and the Perry Como television show. That theater was demolished in 1966, and in 1969 a few blocks away, the new theater was constructed. If you see a celebrity walking the red carpet at a movie premier in New York, odds are they're at the Zeigfeld.
Before entering the theater, we couldn't resist some movie theater popcorn and fountain sodas. Grace was already in heaven; she had a soda in hand (a special treat for her) and a bag of popcorn the size of her head!
We settled into four seats on the right side of the theater. Our view was perfect! There was no one directly in front of us for several rows. All around there were excited young girls and boys. Many of the girls were dressed up for the occasion in princess dresses.
Without giving too much away, the movie was another Disney masterpiece. Not only was it a triumphant return of 2-D animation, but it also introduced a modern princess who, all children, regardless of color, can emulate. Directors John Musker and Ron Clements have returned with a winner on their hands.
We meet Tiana as a young girl, full of spunk and determination. Her talent in the kitchen is obvious at an early age and she dreams of opening a restaurant of her own. As she becomes a young woman, her hard work draws her closer to that dream. Then she encounters Prince Naveen, the handsome playboy whose happy-go-lucky attitude is quite the opposite of Tiana's work ethic. Tiana's world gets turned upside down by Naveen, but the adventure that they share turns out to be the salvation that they both need. Add in a delicious new villain, a disgruntled servant, a pampered princess, two bayou residents, and one voodoo fairy godmother, and you've got yourself a fast-paced and robust story.
The animation in this movie was amazing. There seemed to be a few different types of animation present (for example, one scene was an homage to the very graphic animation of the 1960's) and they all worked together. The musical score by Randy Newman kept the adults and kids hopping in their seats. I still have "You Gotta Dig a Little Deeper" stuck in my head.
Many have voiced opinions on setting the movie in New Orleans a few short years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Once Oprah signed on as the voice of Tiana's mother, it was construed as a seal of approval from the African-American community. Personally, I find it a fitting tribute to New Orleans. While I have not visited the Crescent City, this is how I envision it: romantic, mysterious, with a dash of Creole, and a hint of voodoo.
The Disney Princess franchise has grown into an undeniably influential media empire. Children look up to these heroines and learn the morals of their respective stories. The evolution of the princess as the damsel in distress (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella) to the warrior princess (Pocahontas and Mulan) is refreshing. Yet no matter what temperament the princess has, each one has to overcome several obstacles to resolve her problems. That is what makes all of them so appealing. I think it's often forgotten that these stories come from classic fairy tales, written long before Walt Disney turned them into media darlings.
Tiana struck me as a princess figure much like Belle. She's smart, independent, hard working, and devoted to her family. Caught in the sticky situation of being turned into a frog, Tiana is determined to get back to her human self. And while each princess has their fairy godmother figure, Tiana seems to have two: Mama Odie, the voodoo practioner of the bayou, and Raymond the firefly. Both impart the wisdom she needs to return back to the human world.
The movie is the draw for the kids, but the Ultimate Disney Experience was the lure for this mom. After each performance, your ticket (from $30-$50 per person) also gave you admission into "The Ultimate Disney Experience". In LA, they did it right at the studios, in NYC, they had it at Roseland. We were given wristbands upon entering the movie theater, and immedately after the movie, we walked over to Roseland.
We didn't have a Disney trip planned for this year, so this was the boost of Disney magic I'd been looking for. Roseland Ballroom is a popular concert venue in Midtown for all kinds of bands (recently The Happy Mondays and The Psychedelic Furs) and was the perfect size for this interactive experience.
Immediately upon entering, there was of course Tiana merchandise: dresses, tiaras, plush toys, the whole kit and caboodle. But once you walked past the merchandise display, the lights shone upon eight small stages and one main riser. Each princess had her own meet and greet platform, with Tiana in the center as the main attraction, and Grace and Ava were ready to rock and roll!
For Grace, our first stop was to meet Mulan. This is one of her favorite Disney movies and she often imitates Mulan in her Ping/warrior mode. When we were at WDW last year, we didn't meet any of the princesses (I know, sacrilege! I'm a horrible mom!), so this was a big first. Mulan barely had a line, so Grace went right up and had a little chat with her. Grace was wearing a tunic that read "Disney Princess" on it, and that seemed to be the conversation starter for all her meets.
Ava made a beeline to Cinderella, her favorite princess. When we found Taina and Ava again, Taina told me she had tears in her eyes when she saw Ava look up at Cinderella. We laughed and I told her I had the same reaction when Grace met pretty much everyone! Ava hasn't been to WDW yet, so this was an extra special afternoon for her.
The relatively small crowd allowed the children (and some adults) to meet each princess and enjoy a moment with them. We didn't wait more than five minutes in any line to meet a princess. I think this also ran so smoothly because no autographs were allowed. Each attendee received an autograph card with all the princesses' autographs on it.
In speaking with one event staffer, he said we came at the right time. Weekend shows had been very crowded, as well as the morning shows. School groups were attending the 10 am shows, so in our selecting a 1 pm show, we were missing those large waves of kids. Our performance was not a sell out, but I'd estimate there were over 300 people in the theater.
In addition to the Princess Meet and Greet, there were other activities including a few midway style games (dart game, frog toss), a craft area, a session with a Disney Animator, a Photopass style booth (take your picture with the animated Tiana), a Bayou Adventure (playground), and memorabilia on display from the Disney Archives.
I was interested in the memorabilia that included costumes from Enchanted, Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, and Pirates of the Caribbean, the Declaration of Independence from National Treasure, Jack Sparrow's jar of dirt, and sneakers from HSM.
The Disney Animator was leading session on how to draw the frog characters. Our daughters were a bit too young to sit and focus on the animation, but I was enthralled by what I saw. And I was delighted to see adults and older children fascinated by the craft.
Ava and Grace had a blast in the Bayou Adventure. It was an area full of blue foam squares, with green cushy lily pads throughout. There was a tunnel to crawl up and down, tire swings, slides, and miniature versions of Tiana's house for the children to play in.
As the crowd made its way thru all the princesses and moved onto the craft activity or into the Bayou Playground, we returned for a few more moments with the princesses.
Grace had made a paper tiara in the craft activity section. And she decided that Belle needed to have it, as she only had a ribbon in her hair. We were probably the last people to meet with Belle, and when Grace presented her with the tiara, I thought Belle was going to cry right along with me. She was obviously touched and thanked Grace over and over.
The princesses must have been in New York on vacation from their true home at WDW because they were flawless in their princess demeanor. It appeared to me that there were special event staff hired in New York (they were wearing Princess and The Frog t-shirts), and then character handlers in plain clothes that must have been Cast Members from WDW. Their level of professionalism was outstanding.
On the train ride home, we sat with a lovely woman who chatted with the girls. She asked what they did in New York today to which the response was "We saw The Princess and The Frog movie!" And when she asked what their favorite part was, they both described the end scene of the movie.
What's the end scene? Well, now I'd really be giving away the story! You can see for yourself as the movie opened nationwide on December 11th. I promise you'll leave with a smile on your face and a song in your heart.