MADISON, Miss. — Elizabeth Dampier doesn’t get the royal treatment at home, even though the 5th grader plays a princess-to-be on the big screen.
The 10-year-old Mississippi girl is the voice of young Tiana, the female title character in the new Disney animated movie, The Princess and the Frog, opening nationwide this weekend.
Elizabeth does chores, sings in a Baptist church choir, makes snacks for her three younger siblings and is a straight-A student in a family of high achievers. Her father, Dr. Arthur R. Dampier, is an optometrist. Her mother, Jeanna, is a molecular biologist.
Sitting in the bedroom she shares with seven-year-old sister, Elizabeth says she is a bit like her character.
“I’m fine with, like, the princess stuff,” Elizabeth says. “I am like her. I don’t like kissy and mooshy-gooshy stuff.”
Tiana likes to cook with her father and dreams of owning a restaurant. Elizabeth says she’d also like to own a restaurant when she grows up — unless she makes it big as an actress or decides to run a toy store.
Elizabeth has appeared in school productions and local commercials, but young Tiana is her first movie role. Anika Noni Rose is the voice of the older Tiana.
Elizabeth learned about the Disney part three years ago from an agent. She had three auditions in 2007 and learned in early 2008 that she’d been chosen. She did the voice recording in New Orleans and Los Angeles in 2008 and 2009.
The Princess and the Frog is set in 1920s Louisiana and Elizabeth learned a New Orleans accent with the help of family friends who moved out of the city after Hurricane Katrina.
“I got used to shaping my mouth in an ’O’ when you want to say something. That is very different from talking like we do in Mississippi,” Elizabeth says in lilting drawl.
One of the directors, Ron Clements, says Elizabeth learned her lines and took direction well.
“Her attitude was very determined and really wanting to do a good job and wanting to work really hard, which is very similar to Tiana,” Clements says from California.
Fellow director John Musker says the young actress “brought a lot of natural cuteness and warmth to the part,” including an endearing pronunciation of “frog.”
“She said ‘a fruh-aug’ and that was her own thing, and we really loved that so we used that in the movie,” Musker says.
Tiana is Disney’s first African-American princess and, while Elizabeth understands the significance, she’s not overwhelmed by it, her mom says. Jeanna Dampier calls the movie “an awesome blessing” for her daughter.
“She’s just very proud and excited about the work that she’s done, and that’s really what she focuses on,” Jeanna Dampier says.
Elizabeth lists President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Harriet Tubman as heroes. Winfrey — also a Mississippi native — provides the voice of Tiana’s mother, Eudora, but Elizabeth did not meet her during production.
Elizabeth aspires to meet the Obama daughters, Sasha and Malia. “They don’t seem like some stuck-up girls just because their dad’s the president,” she says.
Elizabeth’s fifth-grade class at St. Richard Catholic School in Jackson was planning a field trip to see The Princess and the Frog. Teacher Kristi Garrard says classmates are supportive, and Elizabeth has not bragged about being in a movie: “She’s a normal kid.”