MOVIE REVIEW: The Princess and the Frog

Posted: February 8, 2010 in Info News
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By virtue of the timing of their release, Where the Wild Things Are and The Princess and the Frog could very well be companion pieces. The lyrical melancholia of Where the Wild Things Are stems from an adult appreciation of the lost innocence of childhood from the outside, a perspective brought on by the yawning distance of time—it is really a movie about childhood for adults. But The Princess and the Frog, the latest adventure from Walt Disney Animation Studios, plunks you right back inside your childhood. It is hand-drawn, using the 2-D animation techniques that made your kids giggle at Lilo and Stitch; that made you rediscover Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid; that first made you sit in rapt attention at The Rescuers and The Lady and the Tramp…going all the way back to your grandparents’ date night 65 years ago, when they misted up over Bambi.

But make no mistake—hand-drawn does not mean musty and irrelevant, especially in this age when Disney’s A Christmas Carol features such elegant motion-capture technology, when Fantastic Mr. Fox has updated stop-motion animation with engrossing results, and the computer whiz kids at Pixar regularly hit it out of the park with likely Oscar nominee for best picture Up. Of course, The Princess and the Frog sits squarely inside the Disney formula: It features a headstrong heroine—a waitress named Tiana (DreamgirlsAnika Noni Rose) toiling in 1930s New Orleans, dreaming of opening her own restaurant. (And in the tradition of such indelible classics as Mermaid’s “Part of Your World” and the yearning lyrics of “I want much more than this provincial life” in Beauty’s “Belle”, Tiana has her own “I want” song, “Almost There.”) There are talking animals—a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings). And last but not least, there is the adaptation of a classic fairy tale: A prince named Naveen (Nip/Tuck’s Bruno Campos) is laid low by Dr. Facilier (Keith David), a dark-hearted dabbler in the dark arts, who transforms him into a frog, needing the kiss of a princess to restore him.

But directors Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin) manage to pack a lot of invention inside the iron-clad Disney formula too. For one thing, they’ve introduced Disney’s first African-American heroine. For another, they’ve put a delicious twist on the fairy tale: When Tiana kisses Naveen, the amphibian prince stays the same…and the heroine is also transformed into a frog, mainly because she isn’t really a princess. The most hilarious inversion of all? Tiana only kisses froggy Naveen because he promises to help her open her restaurant if she does!

The mad scramble to set things right involves meeting the aforementioned creatures and a visit to a toothless bayou priestess named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). Along the way, there are the songs by Randy Newman, utilitarian enough to prop up the story and sophisticated enough to encompass flavorful genres like ragtime, gospel, zydeco, and Tin Pan Alley. The most toe-tapping: an exhortation from Mama Odie to Tiana and Naveen to look inside themselves, to see not just what they want but what they need (“Dig a Little Deeper”). The most touching: a firefly’s serenade to his distant love, an evening star (“Ma Belle Evangeline”).

While kids laugh at the frog humor (“That’s not slime you’re secreting—it’s mucus!”), their adult chaperones are rewarded with the assurance that Disney is still chugging along at its old-school best even after all these years. The animators trust not in whiz-bang technology or marquee voice talent (there are next to none in The Princess and the Frog, except for a cameo by Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s supportive mother), relying only on the power of a good story told well. They summon the magic and romance of Jazz Age-era New Orleans, restoring the city to its place of cultural importance and obliterating the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, if just for the space of 91 minutes. Most groundbreaking of all, they insert no civil-rights agenda, taking Tiana’s right to be headstrong and independent—whether as a woman or a frog—as a given.

What matters in the Disney universe is that good triumphs over evil, wrongs are righted, love prevails over all adversity. The Princess and the Frog is joyous testament to the idea that, as long as you have the wisdom to add a few piquant ingredients here and there to spice things up, the formula can still work. Wonderfully. Magically.

RATING: 5 out of 5 OT Hours •••••

Check to see where to movie is showing.

 Photos from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

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