a critiQal film review The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Plot: Hardworking and ambitious, Tiana (Rose) dreams of one day opening the finest restaurant in New Orleans. Her dream takes a slight detour when she meets Prince Naveen (Campos), who has been turned into an amphibian by evil Dr. Facilier. Mistaking her for a princess and hoping to break the spell, Naveen plants a kiss on poor Tiana - thereby turning her into a frog as well. The pair hop along on an adventure through the bayous to seek the help of a powerful voodoo priestess.

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  • ...Disney's return to it's 2-D animated roots is a triumph!

To finish off our first real movie weekend in Maryland – and since we couldn’t rent Avatar (2009) yet at our nearest redbox® – we decided to make it an animated weekend as we figured we’d pick something up that we both wanted to see and that we needed to see (to catch up on our [disneyanimatedfeatures]): The Princess and the Frog, which hit DVD last month.

A big hoopla was made about this film when it was first announced, as it was both a homage to New Orleans, and the first Disney animated film to feature a black princess, but we hadn’t really heard much about whether it was actually any good or not. So would Disney’s return to 2-D animation (for the first time in theaters since Home on the Range (2004)) be a triumphant one, or another failed attempt at recapturing past 2-D animation glory?

As usual, Disney puts a newcomer into the main character role, and again, she does a wonderful job of voicing the character. This time around, the newcomer is Anika Noni Rose, and her voice does a good job of capturing the emotional content of the character on the screen.

Of course, there are a few well-known voices tossed in the mix, including Disney’s apparent new fave, John Goodman (who also voiced a main character in The Emperor’s New Groove (2000), as well as Pixar’s Monsters, Inc. (2001) and a smaller role in Cars (2006)) appears, playing a jovial fat man (there’s a stretch); Oprah Winfrey pops up as the kindly older mom; Terrence “I got myself kicked out of Iron Man 2 (2010)” Howard as the gone-but-not-forgotten dad, and Keith David does a surprisingly impressive job both voicing and singing for the evil Dr. Facilier.

While the voice actors follow along the usual Disney animated template, having a black princess as the main character isn’t the only thing different in The Princess and the Frog. While Disney usually provides comedy relief in the form of some animal that tends to stick close to the main characters (Abu in Aladdin (1992), Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King (1994), etc.), this time around the main characters – when in animal form – are the comic relief as well. True, occasional laughs are provided by an alligator and a firefly – their traveling companions – but most of the comic relief while main characters Tiana and Naveen are frogs is provided by Tiana and Naveen, and the hilarious situations they find themselves in.

While New Orleans should get some more attention (as it needs to) thanks to the wonderful way it’s portrayed in the film, jazz should see a bit of a rise in interest thanks to the film’s catchy jazz-inspired numbers, and voodoo practicioners shouldn’t get too upset as the evil of Dr. Faciliier is balanced with the good of Miss Odie, Cajuns don’t get quite as positive a portrayal. Whether it’s a Cajun firefly sporting missing teeth or three bumbling Cajun frog-catchers, Cajuns aren’t given a real positive light at all, and end up looking like dumb hicks stuck in the swamp.

The animation, as to be expected from a Disney 2-D animated film, is top-notch. Whether the characters are making their way through the bayou or dancing on the city streets of New Orleans, the animation is impressive and even during the songs never once falters (an improvement over some of their more popular films, like The Lion King (1994)), so the viewer is never pulled away from the world the animators have created for them.

Despite a rather unflattering portrayal of Cajuns, Disney’s The Princess and the Frog shows Disney has not yet lost the art of making a solid 2-D animated picture. With jazz and the city of New Orleans as an underlying theme, Disney has created another memorable princess in The Princess and the Frog – a princess that will easily take her place beside such legendary Disney characters as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and Jasmine.

Don’t miss Disney’s triumphant return to 2-D animation – go check out The Princess and the Frog for yourself. You’re sure to want to include it in your collection.

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