“Three cheers for the return of Disney 2-D animation!” That has been the mantra running through my head since watching The Princess and the Frog. What a pleasure and delight this film is. It has great characters, art direction, songs, and a story that appeals to both young and old alike, as the best animated films always do. This is Disney’s return to the animated musical, to hand-drawn animation, to the fairy tale, and to a princess-centered story. And it is highly recommended.
For those of you who know the Grimm Brothers’ story of “The Frog Prince,” you may be pleasantly surprised at how the filmmakers have taken the story, altered and expanded it. Now taking place in New Orleans during the jazz age, the film begins as the heroine, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose, of Dreamgirls fame), is a poor young girl. We learn of her love of cooking and her dream to one day run her own restaurant. The film quickly advances to Tiana as a young woman, where we find her working two jobs just to save enough money for a down-payment on a vacant building she plans to renovate and turn into her dream restaurant.
Now, as I am the type of person who doesn’t like to know too much of a story before I see it, I will refrain from detailing too much of the plot. Although anyone who’s seen the trailer should know that it involves a prince (Bruno Campos) who turns into a frog, who then accidentally turns Tiana into a frog. The remainder of the film is the crazy adventure they go on to find a way to become human again. Along the way they will meet a trumpet playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a hysterically funny Creole lightning bug named Ray (Jim Cummings), and a bayou voodoo priestess named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). There is also a villain, the evil Dr. Facilier (Keith David), a fortune teller and practician of the dark arts.
The film was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who were both responsible for the Disney films Aladdin, Hercules and The Little Mermaid which are all classic films of the Disney cannon. It has a musical score by Randy Newman, in his first non-Pixar animated film. While I am not a fan of Randy Newman’s work, I will admit that his score and his songs are very appropriate to the time period of the film and, in fact, are quite entertaining. There are seven new songs in the film. (Nine, if you count the fact that one song has 3 different versions.) All of the major characters get a song to sing and all of the songs are of the New Orleans jazz variety. Plus, there’s a new contemporary radio track by Ne-Yo that plays over the end credits. My favorite song was “When We’re Human,” a scene in the film which had a distinct The Jungle Book feeling to me. As well as “Ma Belle Evangeline,” which reminded me a bit of the “Kiss the Girl” scene from The Little Mermaid.
Overall, there really isn’t much to criticize about this film. I enjoyed it immensely and will definitely be adding it to my library once it hits home video. I think it’s safe to say that if you enjoyed Disney’s previous films of this type, you will like this one too.
NOTE: If you live in the Los Angeles or New York areas, there is the option of seeing the film along with “The Ultimate Disney Experience,” which consists of a Disney princess meet-and-greet, Bayou Adventure playground, etc. Details can be found here. Unfortunately, for the screening I attended, the only “Ultimate Experience” attraction that was up & running was the display of props and costumes from the Disney archives, which consisted of many items from the Pirates of the Caribbean films, as well as Up, Race to Witch Mountain and more. Also, for those of you who are iPhone users, Disney has released a free iPhone game called Bayou Beats, which can be found here.