A Disney Princess, PJ Morton & The Pulse Of New Orleans
There’s something magical about New Orleans–the culturally rich sights, jazz-splashed sounds, and delicious delicacies that shined in Disney’s landmark animated film The Princess And The Frog.
14 years after its release, The Princess And The Frog continues to delight audiences of all ages with its authentic NOLA charm that inspired Disney’s upcoming attraction Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
To fully appreciate the inspiration behind the buzzy ride (replacing Splash Mountain at both American parks), we traveled to NOLA for an immersive deep-dive into some of its special ingredients.
Guided by Carmen Smith, SVP & Executive Creative Development Product/Content & Inclusive Strategies at Disney and Charita Carter, Executive Creative Producer at Walt Disney Imagineering, we explored the inner-windings of the bayou, visited storied museums, enjoyed exquisite cuisine, and basked in big easy energy.
With dynamic Black women at the forefront of its development, Tiana’s Bayou Adventure is destined for success as the most unique attraction coming to Disney Parks.
“Women of color, the dream of Tiana, the dream of a princess, is the archetype of many women of strength,” said Smith in an interview with Forbes.
“Believing in the impossible, having a dream, staying true to it, and understanding one’s sense of purpose [and] intention [both] play a critical role in success.
The Tiana story has all of that in it. I think about the little girl in the housing project sitting on the bench and being a dreamer.
I think about Tiana, this little girl with her parents. She has a dream inspired by what a father does as a chef, inspired by her mother, who’s an entrepreneur dressmaker.
If you surround yourself with people that love and care about you, they help to nurture your dreams and help them to move forward.
Working with my incredible colleagues Charita Carter, Ted Robledo, our creative director, and so many others, is a milestone for our company.”
Picking up where the film left off, guests will join Princess Tiana, Naveen, and jazz-loving alligator Louis on a vibrant bayou adventure as they prepare to host a one-of-a-kind celebration during Mardi Gras season.
Along the way, guests will encounter familiar faces, make new friends, and dance to original music inspired by songs from the film while moving into the next chapter of Tiana’s story.
Grammy Award-winning musician and New Orleans native PJ Morton was tapped to write, arrange, and produce an original song for the attraction.
In a surprise reveal, the talented star spoke about his deep NOLA roots and excitement about creating new music for the attraction.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Morton while speaking with Disney’s Executive Creative Director of Music John Dennis and Executive Creative Director Ted Robledo at the historic Preservation Hall–a local bastion of Jazz music.
“Disney is an institution that’s always been so connected to the music. It was Mary Poppins for me, hearing those songs, it connected to me. Or me and my sister harmonizing to The Little Mermaid. It’s just really full circle.”
Joining PJ is Grammy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated musician Terence Blanchard–also a New Orleans native–as an arranger, producer, and one of the performers of the attraction’s queue music.
And, as previously reported, the queue will smell like Tiana’s world-famous beignets!
Other highlights of our trip included an unforgettable bayou tour in a gorgeous ecosystem sprawling with plant life and all sorts of critters including alligators, turtles, and raccoons.
That night, we enjoyed a dazzling dining experience at the famed Dooky Chase’s Restaurant founded by the Queen of Creole Cuisine Leah Chase who was one of the inspirations for Princess Tiana.
The curated menu included creole gumbo, grilled red fish, oyster rockefeller, fried chicken, and more that you absolutely must try the next time you’re in NOLA.
As we dined, Leah’s daughter, Stella Chase Reese, spoke about her mother’s golden legacy and the importance of the restaurant that doubled as a safe haven/strategy headquarters for Black leaders during the Civil Rights era.
“If we have children and grown people coming here because of Tiana, they’re not coming here just because of Tiana’s restaurant and the food, it’s the value, it’s what she meant to them. Dream big and you can make it happen,” she said to applause.
The next day, we visited the YAYA (Young Aspirations Young Artists, Inc.) Arts Center that empowers creative young people through free visual arts education combined with entrepreneurial and life skills training.
Some time ago, Disney imagineers discovered New Orleans artist and YAYA alum Sharika Mahdi who offered a local’s perspective through a four-part series commissioned by the team.
Born and raised in New Orleans, Sharika paints with a free-flowing style that elevates her commissioned pieces featuring Tiana and friends, a jazz club scene with a band of frogs, and Mama Odie and her “seeing eye snake” Juju.
One of the themes of our trip was being armed with knowledge that we soaked up from informative stops including the Historic New Orleans Collection/Williams Research Center dedicated to the stewardship of the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South.
Many of its articles helped reinforce the creative decisions for Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.
Next up was the New Orleans Jazz Museum that celebrates the history of jazz through dynamic interactive exhibits, multi-generational educational programming, research facilities, and engaging musical performances.
The Leedy bass drum set observed on the tour is dated from the 1920s and includes a c. 1900 Chinese tom tom and c. 1920’s Zildjian and Chinese cymbals.
It was this very instrument that inspired a drum set that Ralphie–Prince Naveen’s little brother–played in the film.
Also worth noting is our time at Mardi Gras World where guests can marvel at larger-than-life parade creations while collecting essential accessories and sipping a potent hurricane.
Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring every aspect of the NOLA magic involved in creating Tiana’s Bayou Adventure that we can’t wait to experience at the Disney Parks next year.
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