Princess and the Frog
Directed by Ron Clements & John Musker
Starring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos and Jennifer Cody
Fellow Disney fans, we have what we’ve been waiting for: the first classic Disney animated film of the decade. The Princess and the Frog is a genuinely funny, heart-felt, feel-good adventure worthy of carrying the revered title of Walt Disney Animation Studios, after a dry spell in successful hand-drawn films since 1999’s Tarzan.
Princess is set in New Orleans during the roaring twenties, a time rich in the culture of jazz and excess. Tiana, the movie’s main character and Disney’s first African-American princess, is a hard-working waitress with big dreams of achieving what her father never could: one day opening a restaurant of her own. While Tiana’s dream seems far from fruition, her childhood friend Charlotte hopes for her own fairy tale ending with the handsome Prince Naveen of Maldonia, a carefree and spoiled young prince who must marry a wealthy southerner like Charlotte to maintain his leisurely lifestyle. But when an encounter with the mysterious voodoo doctor known as “The Shadow Man” turns Naveen into a frog, and a kiss intended to reverse the damage transforms Tiana as well, the two must seek the infamous voodoo priestess of the Bayou — Mama Odie — to set things right.
The movie is groundbreaking on several levels. First, Princess is Disney’s first 2-D animated film since 2004’s Home on the Range, and the result of such meticulous hand-drawing is a truly beautiful film. New Orleans comes alive with vibrant hues and breathtaking cityscapes, while a sometimes mysterious, sometimes welcoming mood is convincingly painted in the marshes of the Bayou. What Avatar is for modern 3-D special effects, Princess is for old-fashioned 2-D animation. One particularly noteworthy scene portrays a massive swarm of twinkling lightning bugs bouncing rhythmically through the evening swamp: the effect of which is both heartwarming and stimulating
Secondly, Tiana is Disney’s first black princess — a landmark both long in coming and thoroughly fitting. But while this milestone deserves attention in itself, the writers did more than stick a colored heroine in Disney’s classic princess-in-distress scenario; the originality and culture of the characters is what really earns this film praise. Tiana is likeable as a strong-willed girl (or frog) on a mission, Naveen is hilarious and sweet despite his laziness, and the jazz-loving trumpet-tooting alligator they meet along the way is both lovable and highly entertaining. My personal favorite was the heavily-accented Cajun firefly who guided them through the Bayou — Ray — whose heartbreaking solo to his love was a highlight of the film.
And, in classic Disney fashion, The Princess and the Frog showcased a killer villain. Dr. Facilier — a.k.a. “The Shadow Man” — was evil to his core, whose creepy voodoo magic via his “friends on the other side” is both chilling and downright frightening. While he’s no Maleficent or Jafar, Dr. Facilier more than holds his own as the film’s antagonist. But beyond the beautiful scenery, well-written script (prepare to laugh and “aww” often), and memorable characters, holding Princess up was its soundtrack. Strong jazz influences, stellar vocals (Tiana’s voice, Anika Noni Rose, in particular), and catchy tunes will have you singing along for days afterwards. In the same way that kids (or college students) can still belt the lyrics to Mulan’s “Be a Man” or The Lion King’s “Hakuna Matata,” this soundtrack will join Disney’s lengthy repertoire of fun and celebrated movie songs for generations to come.