The Princess and the Frog
What It Is
Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) has a dream. More than anything, she wants to have her own restaurant in New Orleans, an ambition inspired by her hardworking, gumbo-loving dad (Terrence Howard) and encouraged by her seamstress mother (Oprah Winfrey). After years of waiting tables at two different cafés, she almost has enough money saved up in cans she keeps in her one-room apartment, when she runs into a problem: at a costume party thrown by her best friend, the very rich, very white Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), Tiana meets a frog who tells her it needs just one kiss to be turned into a prince. She agrees, but the spell cast on Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos) works backwards: after the kiss, they’re both frogs.
The newbie amphibians are opposites set up to attract—Tiana works too hard and Naveen plays too much. While she’s less easy about their transformations than he (“It’s not slime,” Naveen insists, “It’s mucus”), both downriver in search of the 197-year-old Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), with hopes she will turn them human again. Along the way, they meet a jazz-trumpet-playing gator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a Cajun firefly, Ray (Jim Cummings), both conventional Disney sidekicks, good-natured and full of advice delivered via bouncy Randy Newman tunes. Follow your dreams, the sidekicks urge, celebrate diversity, and believe in true love. Oh, and yes, watch out for voodoo shadow men like Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and resentful workers like Naveen’s manservant, Lawrence (Peter Bartlett). Now that he’s inhabiting his master’s princely form, “Larry,” as he’s called, hopes to marry Charlotte and so turn rich. He also seeks revenge against Naveen for all those years of carrying suitcases and cleaning up after the younger man’s wild nights.
To overcome the villains’ diabolical schemes, Naveen and Tiana must learn not only to get along, but also to "dig a little deeper," as Mama Odie sings, to find their inner strengths and shared dreams.
Why It’s Fun
Disney’s return to 2D cel animation looks back in more ways than one. The colors are vibrant, the action big and brash, and the music is energetic, if not precisely memorable. Rose has a terrific singing voice and keeps up a lively banter with all the guys who travel with Tiana. Though you may know the happy ending ahead of time, the movie includes the usual sorts of obstacles, from misunderstandings to missed connctions, to stretch out the romance and liven up the quest.
Who’s Going To Love It
Young viewers will delight in the singing and dancing: one little girl at the preview screening danced and clapped throughout, her princess dress a-twirl and her smile bright enough to see in the dark. The movie’s promotions include lots of tie-in merchandise—from plush toys to tiaras, cooking sets to Nintendo games and window curtains—on store shelves just in time for the holidays.
What To Be Aware Of
Like too many Disney movies, this one abounds in broad stereotypes—from the jolly overweight diner cook to Charlotte’s wealthy, white-suited Big Daddy (John Goodman) to a trio of redneck frog-killers and the nasty voodoo doctor. Trite and dull, these characters briefly detract from the more interesting complications and sassy squabbles between Tiana and her beige prince (Naveen comes from the fictional Maldonia, not quite Arabic, not quite African). The film even borrows from earlier Disney films too, with Ray and Louis recalling the dynamic of The Lion King’s Timon and Pumbaa, and Dr. Facilier’s shadowy friends “from the other side” seeming much like the abstract threats that popped up in Fantasia. Not to mention that Tiana and Naveen’s basic plight—their desire to be made humans—resembles that of Shrek and Princess Fiona (who hail from that other magical kingdom, DreamWorks). While Tiana is billed as something new—Disney’s first black heroine—she is also something not-so-new, a princess whose fate is tied to her man. Like Snow White, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Belle before her, Tiana finds true happiness in her true love, who in turn learns to “settle down”—even promising to get a job—to win her heart. However she may be positioned in the animation pantheon, Tiana is a lovely young woman, smart, conscientious, and generous.
6 out of 10
The Princess and the Frog
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures
US Premiere: November 25, 2009
UK Premiere: February 5, 2010