A story structure disaster that has the unfortunate side effect of possibly reinforcing negative stereotypes it hoped to avoid, The Princess and the Frog comes in a notch above Disney’s worst animated feature, The Black Cauldron. The film makes the painfully egregious error of trying to make both principal characters change fundamentally. The concept that what a character wants is not necessarily what they “need” is often used in some circles to describe the reason for a character’s arc. Whether or not basing an entire film’s message on what can be found in any rudimentary screenwriting book is appropriate could be argued, but the concept is basically correct…for Prince Naveen. A good-for-nothing womanizing Prince who finds that hard work is its own reward is a nice and solid character arc that describes a fundamental Change. But when that concept is forced onto the Main Character, all meaning is lost.
If the story had been structured correctly, hard-working Tiana would set out on her impossible dream only to find it torn down bit by bit act by act until at the end she is left with a single choice: continue on with her now really impossible dream or change to be more like Prince Naveen. For the film to have any meaning that would resonate, Tiana should have chosen her dreams. But she doesn’t. Instead she chooses love (or a mixture of both, it really is unclear) and in doing so becomes more like Prince Naveen—lazy, and dare I say, shiftless. To buy into the idea that she now loves this frog because he chopped some vegetables and danced with her (something he probably did with countless women before) is preposterous at best, and thus makes her choice less of a noble one and more of one based on the realization that she can probably get what she wants without having to work hard for it. After all, her Prince will buy the restaurant for her! True, the Prince is penniless, but it isn’t too much of a stretch to think she could pretend to love him long enough to change him back into the man his parents would approve of. From there, it would be only a matter of time before the money would start flowing.
Probably not the message they were going for.
Add on to this countless other structural errors and the film becomes a meaningless mess. Killing off the Antagonist before the problems in the Overall Story throughline have been resolved (returning the frogs to their human form) creates that “When is this ever going to end?” syndrome. When it finally does end with Prince Naveen kissing the Princess (an action), it’s of a different type than the Inciting Incident that started the problems in the first place (Prince Naveen’s decision to let Facilier do his thing). The order of events has meaning. The Inciting Incident and Closing Event need to be of the same type - either a decision or an action, but not both.
Prince Naveen though, is too late with his kiss and the efforts to resolve the problems in the Overall Story end in failure. Now this would be a big plus in the Story Fanatic column as rarely, if ever, do animated films end in a Personal Triumph. But they negate this good deed, when they have the frogs return to human form some five to ten minutes later! The reason they give for this change is convoluted and decidely convenient, but the biggest problem with it is that it happens long after the story has already finished and long after we stopped caring.
Best to avoid this one, unless you want to see how not to structure a story.