Review: The Princess and the Frog


In a decade where CGI has dominated all animated forms of entertainment and a year where 3D has exploded into prime time, Walt Disney Studios steps back, reaches into its old bag of tricks and pulls out its first hand-drawn feature in five years. The decision might feel like a ploy to boost Disney merchandising with a new princess, but Disney has made plenty movies that achieve that end only they don’t have half heart and soul poured into them that “The Princess and the Frog” does. Dedicated to moral-focused storytelling and creating lovable characters, Disney has rediscovered a touch of its former magic and delivered an age- appropriate children’s film — it’s best effort of this kind since 1998’s “Mulan” and maybe even “The Lion King.”

Complete with musical numbers, this is Disney’s old formula executed to a T. Princesses, wishing upon stars, a journey with new friends being made along the way, danger, transformation, talking animal sidekicks — there’s no question Disney wanted desperately to recreate the feeling of its classics. Set in Jazz Age New Orleans, Tiana is a dedicated young woman with a knack for cooking who aspires to open up her own restaurant one day and do the memory of her father proud. She knows all about the value of hard work when it comes to achieving one’s dreams. Already, here is Disney making it clear that it wants to teach children a valuable lesson above all else.

The sacrifice made for that is adult-level humor. Whereas Disney threw in numerous jokes back in mid-’90s that flew over kids’ heads, there’s maybe only a handful of those chuckles in “Frog.” Make no mistake, this one is for kids. Disney nostalgists will enjoy it too — but the focus is kids. Lots of run-of-the-mill physical humor and talking animals acting silly: most of the time you’ll laugh because it’s cute and sweet.

The plot is okay. The foreign Prince Naveen comes to New Orleans and he has a run in with a hoodoo-voodoo witch doctor, the sinister Dr. Facilier (ala James Bond villain Baron Samedi in “Live and Let Die”), who in a spooky, smoky flash-bang big-band music number promises him wealth (prices can get cut off by their parents you know) and also his mutton-chopped assistant princely fame. Planning to use them as pawns of his own devise, he turns Naveen into a frog and the assistant into Naveen.

The frog Naveen finds Tiana and promises that if she kisses him, he’ll make her restaurant dream come true. When she agrees, she ends up a frog too. Together, they journey through the Louisiana Bayou in hopes to find Mama Odie, who will have the power to turn them human again. Along the way they meet a cuddly trumpet-playing crocodile named Louis (after Mr. Armstrong, naturally) and a goofy Cajun firefly named Ray. Its when Louis and the frog Tiana and Naveen sing about what they’ll do when they become human (“When We’re Human”) as they float down the river that suddenly you feel that old fuzzy Disney musical feeling and “Princess and the Frog” becomes a success.

Randy Newman’s tunes are catchy and fun, representing a range of Southern music from jazz (“When We’re Human) to banjo-plucking folk (“Gonna Take You There”) to the film’s best song, Mama Odie’s moral-delivering number asking us all to “Dig A Little Deeper” in full gospel fashion. The last one aside, they’re not all that memorable, however, most likely because they never give in to full theatricality. There just feels like a little reservation in making “Frog” an all-out musical jamboree on Newman’s part as well as longtime Disney directors Ron Clements and John Musker. For many adult Disney-lovers, it might be the difference between a “cute” and a “great” Disney film.

Certainly, however, even if just in brief moments, Disney has tapped into the magic of old with this heart-warming story preaching that our personal dreams and desires don’t mean nearly as much if they lose sight of love and family. It even manages to be pleasantly less predictable than one would expect in the end and it also avoids some past warranted Disney criticisms with regards to racism and stereotyping gender roles. Kids will love it (one girl in the theater was even dancing in the aisle … out of plain sight of course) and parents will feel good about taking them to see it. A definite success for Disney.

3.5/5 Stars

“The Princess and the Frog”
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Written by: Ron Clements and John Musker (story and screenplay), Greg Erb and Jason Oremland (story), Rob Edwards (screenplay)
Starring: (voices) Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman


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