The Princess and the Frog Review

(3.5 STARS)

I’m not sure how this delightful film slipped through the cracks until now, but The Princess and the Frog (like Fantastic Mr. Fox the same year) is proof that Pixar isn’t the only studio that can turn out high-quality animated films that work for both children and adults (granted this is a Disney film, but the it’s a very different piece of work than Up or WALL-E). The film harkens back to the Disney films of old, so I felt some real nostalgia as I watched it. But even beyond that, I adored the terrific characters, the toe-tapping musical numbers, and most of all, the charming hand-rendered animation.

Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose) has known only one dream her whole life—to open her own restaurant and cook her deceased father’s recipes for all of New Orleans. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have the money, so she works day and night, saving every penny. Her childhood friend, Charlotte (voice of Jennifer Cody), is also very driven, though her goal is quite different. She wants nothing more than to marry a prince and live happily ever after, like they do in the fairy tales she and Tiana grew up reading. As luck would have it, a foreign prince, Prince Naveen (voice of Bruno Campos), is visiting New Orleans, and Charlotte invites him, and Tiana, to a costume ball. Unfortunately for the prince, he gets on the wrong side of the evil voodoo Dr. Facilier (voice of Keith David), who turns Naveen into a frog. Dressed as a princess, Tiana comes across the talking frog/prince at the ball and assumes a simple kiss will be enough to turn him human again. Alas, the curse does just the opposite—Tiana turns into a frog as well. And it’ll take a lot of grit, determination, and luck for them to set things right.

Like the great Disney films I grew up on (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid), The Princess and the Frog is full of vivid and vivacious musical numbers. The visuals are colorful and fun, and while the songs might not reach the level of “Be Our Guest” and “A Whole New World,” they are still very energetic and catchy.

The characters are also very entertaining. Like the aforementioned Disney films, this one features some loveable and goofy animal sidekicks. Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), the trumpet-playing crocodile, and Ray (Jim Cummings), the star-loving firefly, are tremendously funny and add an extra dose of heart to the film (especially Ray).

Tiana is a great Disney heroine. Much was made about her being the first African-American Disney princess, which I found ironic because she’s a frog for most of the film. But she’s sassy, funny, smart, and full of heart—everything you want out of a princess. Naveen is a little bland for my taste, but Facilier is a very good villain, exuding evil at every turn.

Easily the most enjoyable aspect of The Princess and the Frog, however, is the animation. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, but I was more enamored with the way this story was told than any animated film in years. Bright, colorful, and gloriously simple, the animators ought to be proud of their work here. And Disney should be commended for doing something different, for this is the most unique-looking film of 2009.

I hope this film shows studios that hand-drawn animation can still work. It’s refreshing to see a film like this in a marketplace with a lot of generic computer-animated films. Those films will never go away, but maybe The Princess and the Frog will usher in a third Golden Age for Disney animation. I know I’d just love that.

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