The Princess and the Frog Movie Review
After five long years, Walt Disney returns to the traditional animation techniques that powered their classics for decades with The Princess and the Frog, a beautiful, entertaining and rich tale that will appeal to audiences young and old.
The Princess and the Frog is about a lower-class black woman in 1920’s New Orleans who has been saving since she was a child to own and run her own restaurant. On the verge of obtaining her dream, she encounters Prince Naveen – who has been turned into a frog by the evil, voodoo-tinkering Shadow Man – and agrees to kiss him to turn him back into his human form. Instead, the kiss turns her into a frog as well, and the two set out through the bayous of Louisiana to figure out a way to set things right and save their friends from the Shadow Man’s nefarious plans.
The movie is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the men behind Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, and their experience with such movies shows. Since Disney has a lot riding on this picture – after all, they abandoned traditional animation for a reason – the movie had to be good, and good it is. The setting of New Orleans provides a rich, beautiful and intriguing landscape for the animators to be creative and tell a story; each scene is carefully detailed and full of treats.
More importantly, the characters and the story work wonderfully well. Tiana, the first African American to be featured in a Disney film, is a great lead that will rank right up there with some of Disney’s other memorable princesses. She’s smart and sassy, but not distractingly so, and she doesn’t cater to any stereotypes that the filmmakers could have given her. Tiana and Prince Naveen’s adventure is a solid one, full of laughs, excitement and romance. As with many Disney films, the underlying theme is falling in love with the right person for the right reasons, and the progression of Tiana and Naveen’s relationship lays a solid groundwork for the more superficial adventure plot – which, frankly, is nothing new.
Dr. Facilier, a.k.a. The Shadow Man, is a fun villain, but one that bears a striking resemblance to Aladdin’s Jafar (or Prince, or The Artist Formerly Known as Prince). Unfortunately, compared to Jafar, Dr. Facilier is neither as clever nor cunning, and inevitably not as memorable, as Aladdin’s nemesis. He doesn’t get the depth or development that other villains have received in the past, and his musical numbers aren’t as insidious, either. Then again, the musical numbers in The Princess and the Frog, while good, don’t compare to past Disney flicks, either. Maybe one will emerge over time, but while sitting in the theater, I didn’t hear any song that will match those found in The Lion King or Aladdin or The Little Mermaid or a dozen other animated films.
The movie does suffer from a “been there, seen that” feel, as there isn’t anything remarkably new about the elements in the movie. We have talking, music-playing crocodiles, a collection of other cute (or not-so-cute) animal friends (Ray is particularly entertaining) and a straight-laced story that will end just about how you expect it to.
But, this is hardly a fault, and in fact may be one of its saving graces. The Princess and the Frog has an incredible nostalgic factor to it; it’s a legitimately entertaining and crafty family film, but it also harkens back to many of the great movies that came before it. Disney is back, and is ready to forget such lame ones as Lilo & Stich, The Emperor’s New Groove and Atlantis. I’m ready to forgive.
Unfortunately, The Princess and the Frog isn’t the box office behemoth Disney was hoping for and I was expecting. Here’s to wishing upon a star that this isn’t the end of traditional animation, as this is too good a comeback story to fall short now.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.