Film Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)
Voice talents of: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Written by:Ron Clements, John Musker, and Rob Edwards
Rated: G
Rating: 3 (out of five)

princess-and-the-frog-poster I haven’t thought much of Disney Animation for a long while.  I really had to think coming out of the theater about what movies they had released in the last decade.  Disney’s partnership with Pixar has far outweighed Disney’s solo releases.  Those that I could think of I didn’t particularly enjoy.  Whether it’s just my imagination or not, but Disney Animation Studios has had a losing streak for while.

Pixar has proved recently that family-friendly entertainment need not be without a touch of darkness to it.  Some of the best children’s story are themselves a little dark.  I think that it was this element that Disney’s most recent animated adventures have lacked.  (Granted, Lilo & Stitch had some darkness to it.)

The Princess and the Frog is a strong return to animation for Disney.  And it brings with it a very effective and dark new villain.

We all know the original story of the “The Frog Princess.”  Disney has changed things up by moving the familiar story to Prohibition-era New Orleans, and thereby introducing their first black Princess.  Wait, a Princess in 1920’s New Orleans?

Tiana is our hard-working heroine.  Her mother has worked as a talented seamstress to the rich upper crust of New Orleans for years, and her father worked incredibly long days to keep his family financially stable.  He passed along his dream of owning a beautiful restaurant to his daughter, who has carried on his dream after his passing.

The upper crust childhood friend of Tiana’s, Charlotte, has been pining after a Prince since she could say the word.  One day her dream seems like it’s about to come true.  A Prince from Maldonia, Prince Naveen, is visiting New Orleans and will be staying with Charlotte and her family.

Enter the scheming voodoo Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier.  Seeing an opportunity to swindle Charlotte’s family of their riches and take over the bustling port city, he begins working his magic by turning Naveen and, accidentally but also fortuitously, Tiana, into frogs.

Naveen and Tiana must then race to get themselves restored with the assistance of a great collection of supporting characters (Louis the trumpet playing Alligator, Ray the romantic firefly with his eye on the most beautiful firefly in the sky, and Mama Odie the ancient bayou-dwelling voodoo lady).

There isn’t an amazing new animation technique.  There aren’t immense visual landscapes.  There aren’t “ooh-aah” 3D effects.  This is classic animation, reminding us of Disney’s legacy as the king of animation.  This movie shows that someone at Disney still understands the art of hand-drawn animation, which most people in Hollywood dismissed years ago, and shows that it’s still as lovely as ever.

Unfortunately, it’s not quite as magical as those previous films.  There’s something missing … it’s so close!  The soundtrack was sadly a little lacking (especially considering who wrote it!).  But I don’t think that’s the reason.  I don’t think Disney has lost their magic, but perhaps they should focus on something like The Princess and the Frog instead of making temporary teen sensations.  And yes, I’ll say it: maybe they were being overly cautious with the African-American characters, seeing as their last animated attempt is still notorious, 63-years later!

While this film proves that Disney hasn’t lost it, and that hand-drawn animation is still alive and kicking, it does fall short of being a true animated classic.


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4 Responses

  1. Elizabeth January 4, 2010 / 10:11 am

    I might be inclined to give it 4 stars as a triumphant return to hand-drawn animation (what was the last one…Treasure Planet?). They made characters children will love, and the story had more heart than hard-working-Tiana meets playboy-Naveen.

    It’s a children’s classic, we just aren’t children anymore.

    Case in point – I watched Pinocchio last night…yikes is it different from my childhood memories.

  2. Erin January 4, 2010 / 10:15 am

    You’re leaving out the broad social statements that are being made by the characterizations. What about the fact that this is not ONLY the first black disney princess, but also the first Disney princess I can think of who had a goal and worked for it. Most princess stories include the “favored” child who has everything taken from her by the villain, and the story is about her rightful place being restored. Many of them are already princesses, whether they know it or not. This princess is working for everything, earning everything herself. Her bout with the villain is not a tool to take everything away, it is instead a method of showing her the lesson she missed, that it isn’t necessary for her to sacrifice everything, that she can have a complete life…professional and personal.

    In a new era of absentee parenting and letting technology or the TV babysit the kids, Disney made a movie where their stereotypical “dead parent” raises a stronger, more productive, driven, and successful woman than we could hope for in a princess! Not only that, but she teaches her prince the very values that so many spoiled children have lost along the way.

    This is a story with a real moral for modern times. Not just a “good wins, believe in yourself” bull**** moral that we get from traditional fairy tales, but a multi-dimensional message that should be taken to heart by children with tangible dreams that were never taught how to get to them (wishing on stars is not enough!), children with no real goals or drive who need to find something to believe in, and the parents who have failed to give their children real, tangible, and unique skills that will help them to survive in the real world.

    …You left all that out…haha.

  3. Nathan January 4, 2010 / 10:43 pm

    @Elizabeth: Disney’s last animated effort was “Home on the Range,” at least according to Wikipedia ( Don’t get me wrong, I do think it’s a great children’s movie, and did have a line in the review about “Don’t let this stop you from taking your kids! They’ll love !” I took it out for a reason that I can’t remember though. I guess I should maybe put it back in.

    @Erin: I’ll leave such in depth analysis to a longer review, which, unfortunately, I will probably never write for this movie. (That’s code for I didn’t actually think about it like that.)

  4. Elizabeth January 5, 2010 / 7:43 am

    @ Erin: Agreed, sister! I will say from my perspective they did a good job creating characters and not just caricatures. Except for of course Charlotte and Big Daddy (was anyone else TOTALLY creeped out by that?).

    Even Charlotte shows some depth as a human with feelings. Good for Disney, good for us!

    Only one mild disagreement. Disney has featured the “hard-working heroine” before in: Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Pocahontas… You hit the nail on the head with the goal though – none of the previous ones I can recall had a goal besides snaring a prince – and most of them fell into that as well!

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