As the first hand-drawn 2D Disney animation after a drought of 5 years, The Princess and The Frog certainly exceeds expectations. After classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid and many more, the world grieved a little when Disney announced that Home on the Range was its last 2D animation in 2004.
Everyone knows the story of the frog prince, from the famous Grimm Brothers tale – the frog is really a prince under a magic spell, frog meets princess, princess kisses frog, spell gets broken, and prince and princess live happily ever after. You could say it’s the basic formula that Beauty and the Beast and even Shrek derive their plots from.
However, Disney’s The Princess and The Frog gives a fresh twist to the story. Who knows if President Obama has anything to do with it, but it seems awfully overdue that this is Disney’s first African-American heroine, joining the court of largely white (Snow White, Aurora, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle), Native American (Pocahontas), Arabian (Jasmine) and Chinese (Mulan) heroines. To add more excitement to our over-exposed viewers, the prince ends up kissing the wrong girl, turning her into a frog as well, due to an unfortunate mix-up.
Anika Noni Rose of the Dreamgirls voices Walt Disney Studio’s first African American princess, Tiana, a working class waitress who aspires to open her own restaurant to fulfil her father’s dream. Meanwhile, Bruno Campos lends his rich baritone to the role of Prince Naveen, who was turned into a frog by voodoo doctor, Dr Facilier (Keith David). The 2 charming amphibians go on an adventure through the bayou (marshes that Louisiana is famous for) in search of a way to break the curse. Along the way they meet an assortment of amusing characters, including Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) the jazz trumpet playing alligator, and Ray (Jim Cummings) the lovesick Cajun firefly.
The film is set in the beautifully illustrated New Orleans of the 1920s, but you don’t have to know the history of the birthplace of jazz music to appreciate its rich culture, which is a huge influence to the story. Besides the music and the bayou, The Mardi Gras, a carnival of grand proportions that New Orleans is renowned for, gumbo, a stew usually made of either chicken or seafood originating from Louisiana, and the great Mississippi River all make appearances too.
The music is similarly inspired by the era, with a very bluesy and jazzy vibe by composer Randy Newman of Cars and Toy Story fame. “Almost There”, which illustrates Tiana’s ambitions of turning an old mill into her own restaurant, and “Friends from the Other Side”, where Dr Facilier summons spirits to perform his black magic, are some notable numbers that this outing boasts. These are accompanied by breathtaking animations. However, take note if watching with little ones, as the otherworldly spirits might scare them.
For those who grew up with the Disney fairytales as their staple, this trip down memory lane is one you’ll surely enjoy. Pay attention, and you might even spot some references (intentional or otherwise) to classics such as Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and The Jungle Book.
However, The Princess and The Frog is not without its share of drawbacks, most significantly the clichés that abound in its 97-minute runtime, like ditzy blondes and the egoistical but charming prince, just to name a few.
While the backbone of the story also falls in line with previous films, it takes the ethos, anything can happen if you just believe, and attempts to reinvent it for today’s jaded world. As Tiana’s daddy tells his young daughter, “That evening star can only take you part of the way, … never lose sight of what is really important”. The ending also seems a tad too neat to be realistic. Additionally, one would have appreciated it if the ‘white’ characters were not all portrayed as either dumb or ditzy.
However, if you’re willing to look beyond the clichés, you’ll find The Princess and The Frog to be a wonderfully heart-warming tale in the league of its predecessors, with the good possibility of becoming one of the classics that you’ll want to watch again and again.
Opens: Dec 10
Duration: 97 min
Genre: Animated Comedy Adventure/Musical
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Cast: Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Keith David, Jim Cummings, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey
Distributed by: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures