Across the white-capped pond, the Independent tells a tale of story revisions:
[The Princess and the Frog], a musical set in 1920s New Orleans ... was supposed to feature Maddy, a black chambermaid working for a spoilt, white Southern debutante. Maddy was to be helped by a voodoo priestess fairy godmother to win the heart of a white prince, after he rescued her from the clutches of a voodoo magician.
Disney's original storyboard is believed to have been torn up after criticism that the lead character was a clichéd subservient role with echoes of slavery, and whose name sounded too much like "Mammy" – a unwelcome reminder of America's Deep South before the civil rights movement swept away segregation.
The heroine has been recast as Tiana, a 19-year-old in a country that has never had a monarchy. She is now slated to live "happily ever after" with a handsome fellow who is not black – with leaks suggesting that he will be of Middle Eastern heritage and called Naveen. The race of the villain in the cartoon is reported to have also been revised.
The film studio began making changes a year ago, first to its title, The Frog Princess, which some had interpreted as a slur. Amendments to the plot followed.
Now, I've got zero knowledge of what changes have taken place with TPATF and what's remained the same. I talk to the board artists every few weeks, but our conversations never dwell on the continuity of the film on which they're working. We generally dwell on studio gossip (that's what is important, after all).
So maybe the Independent's reporting is dead on, and maybe it's fabrication, I've no idea what the ratio could be. But I do know that almost every animated film made has gone through changes ... sometimes BIG changes ... during the course of production. And I also know that studio execs are sensitive to having offensive things in one of their pictures. And when the main characters are black and most or all of the story and production crew is white, the sensitivity becomes hyper. (And probably should be).
Studios are not in the habit of offending wide swaths of the ticket-buying and DVD-purchasing public. They're game is to earn money, not make self-defeating philosophical statements. Ralph Bakshi caught hell in various quarters for Coonskin, Disney is not likely to invite similar controversy.
There might be others, but the only three animated films I recall having African Americans as the central characters are the Bakshi film, Bebe's Kids, and the upcoming Princess and the Frog. Of the three, only Bebe's Kids had an African American director.
The one thing I know the British paper is right about are the Aladdin changes. Lyrics were changed, and the city in the film -- unmistakably Baghdad -- was changed to Agrabah. See, there was this war in Iraq (the first edition) gathering on the horizon at the time, and Disney execs were a little anxious about box office prospects if they didn't change the original title The Thief of Baghdad.
Empires fall and recessions come and go, but Hollywood paranoia about box office grosses is eternal.