Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David
Directed by: Ron Clements (“Aladdin”) and John Musker (“Aladdin”)
Written by: Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid”), John Musker (“The Little Mermaid”), Rob Edwards (“Treasure Planet”)
After five years, Walt Disney Animation – with the release of its newest picture “The Princess and the Frog” – has returned to the hand-drawn aesthetic that made the studio so popular in the late 80s and early 90s with films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.”
“Home on the Range,” which was released theatrically in 2004, was the last 2-D film to come out of the Mouse House before Disney went on to make three straight computer-generated animations (“Chicken Little,” “Meet the Robinsons,” and “Bolt”). During this time, Disney also acquired Pixar Studios, who has been the clear leader in CGI animation since releasing “Toy Story” in 1995.
Now, with “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney returns to its roots to prove that 2-D animation is still a viable medium in the ever-changing animation industry. While there is much to be admired in the jazzy throwback, it seems like the animation studio has taken its idea to recreate a new “classic” too literally. Surprisingly, “The Princess and the Frog” is less of a storybook fairytale as it is a textbook exercise to recapture Disney’s most recent glory days.
Set on a vividly-drawn backdrop of New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1920s, the Broadway-style musical is adapted from the Grimm brother’s 19th century fairytale “The Frog Prince.” It tells the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a hardworking waitress who hopes to one day realize the dream of her father and run her very own restaurant.
When the easygoing Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), who has been transformed into a slippery little frog by the voodoo-practicing Dr. Facilier (Keith David), mistakes Tiana for a princess and begs her for a kiss so he can turn back into his human form, things go terribly wrong. Instead of a happily-ever-after ending like in the original story, Tiana is changed into a frog, too.
With not a moment to lose, the amphibious Tiana and Prince Naveen plunge into the New Orleans bayous to search for a voodoo woman known as Madame Odie (Jenifer Lewis) who may be able to help them become human again. They team up with Louis (Michel-Leon Wooley), a jumbo trumpet-playing alligator and a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings), to help them get through the swamp’s dangerous twists and turns.
While much of the buzz behind “The Princess and the Frog” is based on the fact that this is Disney’s first African-American princess, we won’t play the race card here. It doesn’t really matter that Tiana is black or that she spends most of the film as a frog or that Disney decided to make Prince Naveen’s ethnicity ambiguous (he’s from the fictional country of Maldonia and has a Spanish accent). Either way, the characters suffer from an all too traditional script (how many stars can Disney wish upon?) that relies on its flashy setting and a few enjoyable songs by Randy Newman to be the driving force in a story that lacks the same type of magic of its predecessors.
“The Princess and the Frog” may be groundbreaking from a cultural aspect, but not every charming idea put on paper makes for a completely memorable adventure.