D: Ron Clements & John Musker. W: Clements, Musker & Rob Edwards. Starring (voice): Anika Noni Rose/Bruno Campos/Keith David/Jenifer Lewis/Jennifer Cody/Michael-Leon Wooley/Terrence Howard/John Goodman/Oprah Winfrey/Jim Cummings/Peter Bartlett. (NOTE: Loosely based/inspired by the Grimm brother’s fairy tale, The Frog Prince.)
Returning to the original Disney hand drawn animation format in 2-D, Clements and Musker truly embrace the history of Walt Disney’s Animation Studios for their newest feature. Responsible for both The Little Mermaid (1989) and Aladdin (1992), this team is able to keep the look of traditional Disney hand drawn work, while putting their fairy tale into a enjoyable modern context.
Set in the 1920s, The Princess & The Frog bursts to life in the American Jazz Age that most noticeably established the musical importance of the city of New Orleans. Like other port cities, New Orleans provides an excellent backdrop for a story that houses many different types of people. Historically this ebb and flow of goods from America and all across the world has allowed New Orleans to develop its own unique food, architecture, sound, and history. Acting like another character in itself, the city gives its lead Tiana (Rose) all the color, rhythm, and drive she needs to try to open her own restaurant.
Of course, Rose is wonderful here as motivated Tiana, lending her Broadway lungs to Randy Newman’s tunes. The only pity here is that she isn’t given more to sing, her and Campos’ don’t even have a song for the two of them. But, Campos makes up for it with his hybrid high-brow accent that allows words like ‘mucus’ sound even more hilarious. And rounding out the top billers is David’s Dr. Facilier, the Shadow Man who does is voodoo in the alleys of the quarter on minds who want the wrong sort of thing. Reminiscent of Jafar in Aladdin, Dr. Facilier is ghastly and creepy as the perfect villain amidst a fairy tale of frogs.
Other than the leads, the film is riddled with voice talent. Mostly Jennifer Cody’s Charlotte steals the show as she scampers around trying to find a man to be her prince, literally and metaphorically. You can almost feel the energy radiating from the screen as her Southern Belle sugarcoated obnoxiousness oozes right into your heart. A heart that is ready and willing for Jim Cumming’s lightning bug, Ray, to steal it clean away.
And that he does with a special rare moment for a Disney film, without giving it away be prepared for what this loveable bug can do. Of course, all of these voices and visuals combined make the Disney package. With a rolling streetcar, scenic swamp, and even a Mardi Gras presence, The Princess & The Frog captures the beauty, heart, and rhythm of one of America’s most amazing cities.
Such that, although the film does have moments where it teeters on the edge of political incorrectness or social stereotypes, it is obvious that the filmmakers attempted to get it right. Yet, frankly, it is somewhat silly that it has taken this long for Disney to mainstream an African-American character. I’m sure that Miss Oprah Winfrey, who contributes her voice to the film as Tiana’s mother, would agree.
But enough with the gripes. Enjoy The Princess & The Frog as we all know these films only come once in awhile. And if you really love Disney get pumped for their 2010 release of Rapunzel, throw in some Alan Menken music and you’ll be thoroughly ready for a countdown to more Disney magic!