The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Featuring the Voices of: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, and Keith David
Directed and Written By: Ron Clements and John Musker
I have a non-so-secret guilty pleasure: I love Disney movies. I grew up on movies such as Dumbo, Pinocchio, and The Jungle Book. I have always loved them. More often than not, Disney movies have characters and songs that will be remembered forever. That said, I can freely admit that Disney animation is far from perfect. For every classic, there’s an Oliver & Company or Home on the Range. I have to say that I have been less than thrilled with the quality of Disney movies in the past ten plus years. It’s in this environment in which The Princess and the Frog was released and I’m happy to say that Disney is back.
The Princess and the Frog is the story of two worlds of New Orleans: the rich world and the poor one. We see it clearly in the opening scene as two girls are being told a story. One is a rich girl who gets whatever she wants while the other isn’t so well off and is instilled by her parents (Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard) an idea of hard work to achieve one’s dreams. Fast forward ten years or so and one of those little girls, Tiana (Rose), is busy working two jobs and multiple shifts to save up to open a restaurant which was her father’s dream and is now her’s. She avoids any fun or attempts of love (to the dismay of her friends and mother) as her sights are only on her goal. This is where Prince Naveen (Campos) enters the picture.
Naveen is the complete opposite of Tiana. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has taken everything for granted. However, his parents cut him off financially as he goes to New Orleans and is broke while trying to attempt to live the same life of luxury he always has. Unfortunately to him, he runs into Dr Facilier/Shadow Man (David), a practitioner of voodoo soon after he arrives. Facilier tricks him and Naveen is turned into a frog naturally. He encounters Tiana, who agrees to kiss him for the money to open her restaurant, but things don’t go according to plan as she’s also turned into a frog. Together they go on an adventure to make themselves human again and come across a trumpet playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), Ray the Cajun firefly (Jim Cummings), and another voodoo master Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis).
Plot sound rather familar? It should, it’s very much the classic Disney model: two opposites attract, learn to get along and fall in love. This is nothing that Disney hasn’t done before nor will they stop doing. The movie is better for it. While one can’t really say that they got away from this formula recently, it can be argued (I would suggest easily) that there has been a lot missing for their movies: magic. The Princess and the Frog happily provides that magic. One can’t help but to smile while watching the movie unfold mostly, though not entirely, predictably in front of our eyes.
The characters are all good and fulfill their roles in the story. Tiana is made in the same vein of Ariel from The Little Mermaid or Belle in Beauty and the Beast: the independent and strong young woman with something missing in her life. It takes her a while to realize it, but it is love that she’s missing (naturally). Naveen is as clueless and immature as we stereotypically expect a young man from his background to be. The character is rather charming, though, and he does grow up a lot over the course of the story. The Shadow Man is just the right amount of creepy and scary to be a viable villain and some of his scenes might be TOO scary for the really little ones watching. Louis and Ray have a nice dynamic and provide the come relief (though are no Timon and Pumbaa). I do have to mention Tiana’s parents. Though they aren’t present through most of the movie, they are the kind of supportive parents that we all should have, but unfortunately too many of us do not.
While there aren’t any songs that are particularly memorable, the music by Toy Story alum Randy Newman is just fantastic. The film takes place in mid-1920s New Orleans and that means one thing: jazz. Not just the typical kind of jazz we’re used to hearing, either. We do get the ragtime feel throughout most of the movie (and Louis is obviously named for Louis Armstrong), but there’s a strong Creole presence in the film including the song the fireflies sing that’s in zydeco. Songs to look for: “Almost There,” and “Down in New Orleans.” Lastly, the animation is all very smooth in the traditional Disney style (definitely think Beauty and the Beast). Disney has always been great with not just the grand moments, but with the subtle things that one must be looking for.
Bottom Line: The Princess and the Frog is a welcomed return to form from the studio that’s given us so many classics that we all know and love. I wouldn’t put it on the top tier, but it’s definitely a very good outing. The songs themselves aren’t particularly memorable, though the many incarnations of jazz that they’re played in is. It is the characters, however, that carry the film and make it as enjoyable as it is. You will love Tiana, I promise you that. Welcome back, Disney.