Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog is Disney's return to the traditional hand-drawn 2-D format that they made famous, and it is a welcome throwback to some of the wonderful Disney animated classics. Not an overwhelmingly great movie, but a sumptuous, lovely animated experience.

Taking a cue from 2007's awesomely clever Enchanted, in which the animated princess was "cursed" to the live-action world and became her own independent self, Frog takes a familar idea and twists it. Rather than retelling the traditional "Frog Prince" story, in which the cursed Prince returns to human form after being kissed, here the opposite is true: swanky Prince Naveen (voice of Bruno Campos) is turned into a frog after an unwise encounter with an evil conjurer New Orleans black magic, and when he solicits a kiss from the beautiful Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), she transforms into a frog as well. The two newly-minted amphibians embark on one of those tried-and-true Disney animal adventures, where they meet colorful characters, sing songs, and fall in love.

The twists don't stop with simply the premise, however. Tiana is actually not a princess at all, but a poor waitress who is saving her money to open a restaurant. Also, there are no evil female villains to counteract the positive force of the central heroine, another atypical story shift, especially for a Disney princess film. Sure, Tiana has an upper-class dim-witted best friend, but she is more of an air-headed supporter, not a villain. This film's bad guy is the witch doctor, Facilier (voiced by Keith David), who mingles with the "other side" and is a nearly unstoppable force of evil. That being the case, the film's plot must jump through labyrinthine hoops to explain precisely how the frog spell works and how it can be undone, a task that requires

The story heavily extols the virtues of hard work and sacrifice, so much so that Tiana literally states the film's moral more than a handful of times. It becomes mildly tiring after a while, especially since, for a film so desperately trying to break free from understood notions of "Princess Films," its story toes the line of on-the-nose messaging. But the film is still a lush, colorful, fun experience, stocked with several decently entertaining songs and couple of great ones (anything sung by Rose, a Broadway actress who was relegated to the third wheel in Dreamgirls, is a brilliant knockout). The Princess and the Frog is not brilliant, not flawless, not a world-changer, but it is a welcome return to Disney's time-honored traditional animated canon, and sets the bar high for future installments.

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