REVIEW: The Princess and the Frog [2009]

“Freedom takes green”

Two-dimensional animation is back in the Mouse House, but for how long? The Princess and the Frog is the first hand drawn feature length to be released theatrically since a string of failures at the hands of Disney studios, before they bought Pixar and began distributing Studio Ghibli work. I have no problem saying that it is a return to form and hopefully a sign of things to come, showing that creativity still resides in the cell by cell creations. However, despite praise and opening weekend success, the medium may not be able to sustain the type of draw that it needs to stick around. When you have a CGI pile of drivel like The Squeakquel beating it up, there is something wrong. The Disney name can no longer be the end all be all for a children’s film, it needs to blow away the audience visually. Unfortunately, the times have changed, and while this new entry to the genre is gorgeous to look at, the lack of three-dimensionality hinders its appeal, showing once again that a good story does not always make a monetary winner.

Perhaps, though, the filmmakers will take a page from their own story and realize that money isn’t what we need, it is only what we want. When all is said and done, the true cinephiles out there—including parents seeking a well constructed film for their children that relies on a morally centered theme—want quality work. The love we have for Disney classics and the kind of storytelling that emits regularly from behind Cinderella’s castle will always be held higher than the box office take. And if The Princess and the Frog did anything, it continues that reveled tradition. Utilizing a popular tale for its story’s basis, the film puts on a new spin, breathing some fresh air on an otherwise old subject. Whereas the greats such as Cinderella and Snow White took a time-honored fairy tale and made it accessible for children, Disney has this time used the German tale “The Frog King” and brought it into the 21st century, turning it on its head. Putting it in the locale of New Orleans is an inspired move, adding a little culture that many people are unaware of, while also positing the fantasy in a world ripe with mysticism and uniqueness. Where else could you have a voodoo practicing con artist for a villain and a Cajun firefly as one of its heroes?

True love is the main underlying theme here, showing people that happiness and love is more important than all the money and empty dreams we may wish for upon a distant star. Tiana is a fiscally poor young woman that has been rich in familial joy her entire life. Her father James, voiced recognizably by Terrence Howard, worked multiple jobs and literally killed himself for his family, never showing his little girl the suffering behind the smile. Wishing to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant, a vision she has wanted herself so as to bring the world her famous gumbo, Tiana works double shifts waitressing, hoping to save enough for a down payment. Meanwhile, childhood friend Charlotte is entrenched in a wealthy family about to bring a prince to town. So, by hiring Tiana to cook for the welcome banquet, she earns the money to open her dining parlor, unaware that this affair has begun a chain of events about to spiral her life out of control. You see, ‘Shadow Man’ Dr. Facilier—who better than Keith David to lend his deep baritone for a nefarious creature such as this—envisions great wealth and control of the bayou, using black magic to transform Prince Naveen into a frog, make his servant into a prince, and wait for the wedding of this false royalty and Charlotte so he may murder her father and take their money.

Prince Naveen is a poor soul that has been cut off by his parents for loafing around and doing nothing with his life. Full of charm and charisma, he hopes to talk Tiana, dressed as a princess for the masquerade, to kiss him and break the spell, just like the tale he was told as a child. Alas, the smooch only turns her into an amphibious pile of mucus too, sending them both on a journey through New Orleans to find a way back to the human world. Being trapped by their wants of material gains, the adventure they take brings them closer to understanding what it is they truly wish for and to each other as a result. The story doesn’t lack a wonderful cast of new friends met along the way to enhance the proceedings, with Louis the gator, Ray the firefly, and Mama Odie the blind old mystic in the swamp to name the best. Infused by a distinct southern flavor, these creatures help the frog pair find the answers they seek, hide from the evil Facilier, and also help themselves to reach the goals they desire … those being for Louis to play jazz trumpet amongst the humans and Ray to meet his true love Evangeline, the Evening Star.

Credit the filmmakers for never shying away from the tough topics that lesser works would gloss over. There are many instances of darkness, even with songs to accompany them, and the subject of death comes into play as well as greed and ego. You cannot have the topic of unequivocal bliss without the rough stuff, though, so seeing all the suffering is a necessity to make the joyous occasions resonate even more. Both Michael-Leon Wooley and Jim Cummings are hilarious as Louis and Ray respectively, adding the levity to counteract the more dark moments. The roles reminded me of the congenial animals of The Jungle Book and I’ll admit that it was a welcome treat to have them be played by non A-list stars. Even our leads, Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos as the Frog Princess and Prince really excel in their roles despite being unfamiliar in the live action world. Both evolve their characters with a complete range of emotion, bringing them to life before our eyes and allowing us to get behind them and hope for a happily ever after. Whether that final outcome is blissful living on four sticky appendages or two upright legs is for you to watch and find out. Either way, as the song says, it’s a wondrous thing to know that dreams do come true in New Orleans.

The Princess and the Frog 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Princess Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) in THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG Walt Disney Pictures Christmas 2009. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (L-R) Dr. Facilier (Keith David), Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) and Naveen (Bruno Campos) in Walt Disney Pictures’ The Princess and the Frog. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


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