There is a void in the world of children's film, a land cluttered with CGI squirrels, superheroes and flyaway houses that leaves today's kids missing something. That void comes from a lack of hand-drawn animated Disney musicals. Sure, most kids have seen The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast on DVD, if their parents were lucky enough to buy copies before they went back into the fabled Disney Vault, but it's not the same on the small screen. Now, a decade since their last dance with a princess comes the story of The Princess and the Frog.Taking place in New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog features Disney's first African-American princess, Tiana, who has worked around the clock her whole life to open her own restaurant. After a small disaster at a masquerade ball, she dons a princess gown (tiara included) and while wishing on a star meets Prince Naveen in his mucus-y reptile form.
The evil voodoo practitioner, Dr. Facilier, changed Naveen into a frog. Naveen thinks kissing a princess will change him back, which it will, but he doesn't know Tiana isn't a princess. Once they lock lips Tiana becomes a frog herself. The two are carried away to the Louisiana bayou, where they must figure out how to get back to New Orleans and become human again. Along the way, in true Disney fashion, they encounter a couple lovable characters - Louis, the trumpet-playing croc, and Ray, the adorably hopeful firefly.
Over the years, Disney has caught flack for its female heroines, whom some say set a poor example for young girls. It's a familiar formula. Each Disney princess faces the marriage fantasy, each hoping to find her prince and live happily ever after. Tiana encounters this fantasy as well, but Disney tries hard this time to establish her independence and need for success. Tiana realizes that even though she wants all of this, her life won't be complete without the man, or rather frog, she loves. At least this time around, Disney preaches success - both in professional and personal relationships.
Much has been made about the fact that this is Disney's first African-American princess - and it's long overdue. The filmmakers had to tread lightly, creating racially sensitive characters and themes. At the same time the film employs a rash of Southern stereotypes, proving that Walt and Co. still have some ground to cover in the social sensitivity department.
Following formula, there's a despicable villain in Dr. Facilier, who may be the best scoundrel since Aladdin's Jafar. When performing his voodoo magic, he is accompanied by spooky shadows, and colorful purple-and-green voodoo spirits. In contrast to computer animate films that seem focused on realism, The Princess and the Frog embraces its whimsical animation. The interplay of color and music play a vital role in the film. In one of the more memorable scenes, Ray and the fireflies lead Tiana, Naveen and Louis through the murky swamp with their lit behinds in a giant swarm, creating fireworks in the sky. The film is filled with jazzy, original songs presented in the time-tested Disney animated musical format that will surely have kids bouncing and singing along. It doesn't hurt that Tiana is voiced by Anika Noni Rose, aka the third Dreamgirl.
The Princess and the Frog is, in a word, cute. The songs, the silly-slapstick characters, and the classic Disney formula those of us who grew up in the pre-Pixar world have always embraced come as a breath of fresh air in a world dominated by CGI. Just as we grew up dressing as Ariel and Pocahontas, today's little girls now have their princess in Tiana.
The Princess and the Frog
Starring Anika Noni Rose, Bruno
Campos and John Goodman. Rated G.