Disney crowns a new “Princess”
Rising from the ash heap of technological obsolescence where you might find the rotary phone or the audio cassette is the age-old hand drawn animation style used in Disney’s sparkling new feature “The Princess and the Frog.” While the story and songs won’t make anyone forget current generation classics like “The Lion King,” or “Beauty and the Beast,” Disney’s latest offers a charm of its own and is pioneering in its own right.
For starters, the Princess here is Disney’s first black heroine and the story is decidedly about Tiana’s determination to take her dreams into her own hands, not wait around for some handsome Prince to rescue her. Voiced by Tony award winner Anika Noni Rose, Tiana works hard as a waitress in her hometown of New Orleans, saving her tips in hopes of opening her own restaurant someday, a vision shared by her loving father (Terrence Howard). Her nurturing mother (Oprah Winfrey) worries that maybe her baby works a little too hard and may miss out on some of life’s important details.
A handsome prince does arrive, Prince Naveen, (Bruno Campos) a Jazz -loving royal from Maldonia. A twist on the well known fairy tale has a fateful kiss turning Tiana and Naveen both into frogs and leading them through the mystical bayous of the region amid a wondrous background of jazz, zydeco, blues and gospel influenced songs.
Along the way, the amphibious couple are joined by some endearing sidekicks including a trumpet blasting gator named Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley), a lovesick Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings), and zesty Mama Odie, (Jennifer Lewis) a blind seer who may have the remedy for making our green heroes human again. The vocal interpretations of a spooky voodoo priest Dr. Facilier (Keith David) Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman) and his adorably spoiled child (Breanna Brooks, Jennifer Cody) are also delightful.
The movie is a return to form for its writer/directors John Musker and Ron Clements the duo responsible for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” and “Aladdin.” They adhere to their proven formulas of characters, villains, romance, and resolution with a penchant for relentless physical comedy sure to keep even the littlest tykes amused.
Gorgeous set pieces make for a vibrant 20’s era Louisiana, teeming with French Quarter Colonials, Mardi Gras costumes, and marshy bayous. Randy Newman’s songs are rich in Dixieland heritage and what they lack in unforgettability, they make up for in punch and energy. Any of the nine new songs here would be landmarks coming out of another studio but who is really making full blown animated musicals anyway?
Thank goodness Disney still is and even if 2-D animation is running out of ink, “The Princess and the Frog” proves that a good story infused with terrific music and lovable characters can still be a winning formula. And good messages, artfully presented as only Disney can do, will never go out of style.