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The Princess and the Frog: Best Disney Animated Film in Over a Decade

What a relief. After relying on Pixar for over a decade, and after years of disappointing traditionally animated output, and after the closing and re-opening of the door on the style of film Disney has been best known for, we finally have another great Disney animated musical. John Musker and Ron Clements have brought us the best Disney animated film since their own Hercules twelve years ago. The songs by Randy Newman are lively, catchy, and heartfelt, and for the first time in God knows how long, there is a deep list of supporting characters who have their own songs, and we manage to care about all of them. Think Disney’s The Bayou Book. It takes a bit to settle in to the film, since you’re immediately comparing it to the greats… but once they get to the bayou, you realize that with the greats is right where The Princess and the Frog belongs.

Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a hardworking waitress in New Orleans, doing her best to raise enough money to buy her own restaurant on the meager tips the white customers giver her. Her mother (Oprah Winfrey) made dresses for a client named Big Daddy (John Goodman) and his rich daughter, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). She would tell stories about princesses, specifically one where a girl kisses a frog, which turns into a prince. This instant gratification sounds perfect for Charlotte, but Tiana was raised to work hard for what she wants. Enter Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a royal man from a far away place who prefers dancing and partying to stately affairs, so he has been cut off from his parents’ bank account. A witch doctor, Dr. Facilier (Keith David), offers him all the green he wants, so the prince submits… but it’s not the green he planned on, since Dr. Facilier turns him into a frog as part of an evil scheme to take over New Orleans.

Tiana finds that the white people selling her the building to turn into a restaurant have raised the price, insisting she should stick to what she does best– serving instead of owning. When Naveen finds her, mistakes her for a princess, and bribes her into kissing him… she turns into a frog herself. They then run from Dr. Facilier into the bayou, taking their odd couple routine on the road, and encountering such memorable characters as a trumpet-playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Woodley), a cajun firefly named Raymond (Jim Cummings), and a kooky voodoo queen named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). And if you’re like me, and you hold such a fond spot in your heart for the classic Disney characters that you’re nervous how these new ones will hold up, rest at ease. Lewis, Raymond, and Mama Odie will have your heart the second they begin to talk, Dr. Facilier is a worthy villain, and Naveen and Tiana strike a perfect balance as the bickering man and woman that you know will find themselves in love by the end.

At the end, it lacks the epic stature of a film like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, or Aladdin, so I’m not suggesting this belongs in the uppermost tier of the Disney catalog. However, the return to form is such a rush. There hasn’t been a 2D animated film with this many beautiful images in it since The Lion King– Musker and Clements successfully make the New Orleans bayou into a location as magical as Ariel’s undersea playground or Simba’s Pride Rock. There’s also a moment towards the end that forced a tear to creep out of my eye and roll down my cheek… and as a man who has seen a lot of movies and rarely cried, it’s a tough admission to say that a musical fairy tale got that out of me. I’m not sure if any of the Disney films have gotten the emotional reaction from me that this one did, and I’m certain that it wasn’t mere nostalgia. It was the development of the story and the attachment I had formed with the characters.

The colors positively pop off the screen, and the animation is crisp. The character design is quirky and fits the personalities flawlessly. The voices are warm and colorful… thank the Lord that Disney hasn’t followed Dreamworks into casting celebrities as the voice talent, choosing voices that fit the story instead of altering the story to fit the voices. It’s also nice that all of the singing voices for this film are also the speaking voices, a break from a past where the star and the singer were two different people. Finally, Randy Newman’s songs are terrific (here’s hoping he adds to his criminally low count of one Academy Award) and set the mood well. It’s the type of film that teaches its lessons to children without being patronizing– just because a movie is good for kids to see doesn’t mean it’s exclusively-for-children entertainment. Any age can feel the magic here… and as the first words of the movie state, “There’s magic in the air tonight, and anything can happen.” Anything could have happened in this foray back into hand-drawn animated musicals for Disney. Fortunately, they struck just the right chord. Special note: this Christmas break, if you have children, you will have a choice between taking your kids to see The Princess and the Frog or Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel. Do your children a favor and take them to this, no matter how they scream– boys will like this as much as girls.

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~ by russellhainline on December 25, 2009.

6 Responses to “The Princess and the Frog: Best Disney Animated Film in Over a Decade”

  1. YAY 4 KERNIES!

  2. the worst disney movie in over a decade. hahaha. get a life.

  3. wonderful, just wonderful! i enjoyed it so much

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