Tonight we saw THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, which marks Disney's successful return to 2D animation. We found the movie very enjoyable and worthwhile. The film may not rank alongside the greatest of Disney's animation of the last two decades (i.e., THE LITTLE MERMAID, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), but it's a very worthy entry in the Disney animation pantheon, holding its own alongside titles like POCAHONTAS and THE EMPEROR'S NEW GROOVE.
The film has a unique, appealing setting in the New Orleans of the early 20th Century, a world of mansions, gumbo, riverboats, beignets, streetcars, and jazz. Tiana (winningly voiced by Anika Noni Rose of DREAMGIRLS) works double shifts as a waitress, saving every penny to finance her dream of opening her own restaurant. One evening, as it appears her plans may be falling apart, she meets a frog (Bruno Campos) who begs her to kiss him and turn him back into a human; alas, since Tiana isn't a princess, she can't break the spell and turns into a frog herself!
The frog is actually a prince named Naveen, and he and Tiana set out to find someone who can turn them back into humans, aided by a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings).
The voice cast also includes Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard as Tiana's parents and John Goodman as the father of Tiana's friend Charlotte.
As pointed out yesterday at Big Hollywood, the movie's viewpoint is bracingly conservative, celebrating the value of hard work and the American dream. I very much appreciated this aspect of the film. It's not enough to just wish upon a star -- you also have to work hard to make your wishes come true.
One of the other things I really liked about the movie was the handling of the character Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). I expected Lottie to turn out to be the stereotypical "wicked stepsister" character -- Lottie's not related to Tiana, but I refer to that fairy tale "type" -- and the filmmakers took her in a refreshingly different direction.
As a Disneyland fan, I also enjoyed the incorporation of a riverboat which looks like Disneyland's Mark Twain into the movie. We're looking forward to seeing Tiana's Showboat Jubilee, perhaps as soon as next week.
Fair warning, the film has one of the most beautifully poignant sequences in all of Disney animation -- if you're a sentimentalist, as I am, prepare for waterworks.
My biggest complaint about the film is that I didn't care for the villain, Dr. Facilier, aka "the Shadow Man" (voiced by Keith David), being involved with voodoo; his references to "my friends on the Other Side" creeped me out. I wish Disney had stuck with a villain who was simply mean, but given the story's New Orleans setting, I guess it was inevitable. The closest Disney comparison to Dr. Facilier may be Jafar from ALADDIN. The villain's final scenes will very possibly be disturbing to young children, for multiple reasons; parental caution is advised. Perhaps it wouldn't be a Disney movie if there weren't darker elements mixed into the story -- Bambi's mother, anyone?
The movie's score is by Randy Newman. My favorite songs were "Down in New Orleans" and "Almost There." (In a nice nod to another Newman Disney score, at one point you can hear a bit of "You've Got a Friend in Me" in the background.) Just as when we saw ENCHANTED (2007), after the movie we walked over to Barnes & Noble and bought the soundtrack. Modern technology being what it is, we'll be taking turns loading it into iTunes accounts on various family computers (grin).
THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG was directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who both have long histories in Disney animation. The film runs 97 minutes.
A trailer is here.
The L.A. Times and USA Today were among the papers which published positive reviews. Leonard Maltin was also enthused, calling it "tuneful, entertaining, great-looking, hip, funny."
Recommended as very solid Disney filmmaking. I'm looking forward to more 2D animation in Disney's future, just as John Lasseter promised nearly four years ago.