Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

Voices By: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings, Jenifer Lewis
Directed By: Ron Clements & John Musker
Written By: Ron Clements, John Musker & Rob Edwards (screenplay)
Walt Disney Pictures, 2009
G; 97 minutes
4 stars (out of 5)


Disney decided to take a step back with The Princess and the Frog, returning to the old-fashioned 2-D animation of past classics like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. But Disney also decided to take a step forward by creating the first African-American "princess."

I put princess in quotes there because Tiana isn't one. Nor does she particularly aspire to become one--unlike her friend Charlotte, the pampered Garden District-dwelling daughter of "Big Daddy" (John Goodman). Charlotte and Tiana are friends only because Tiana's mother was hired by Big Daddy to create a wardrobe of princess dresses for Charlotte when both Charlotte and Tiana were children. Charlotte's big plan, enabled by her father, is to marry visiting Prince Naveen. The union is supposedly suitable to both: Naveen is a spoiled and disowned prince with no money, and Charlotte has money but desires to be a real princess.

Meanwhile, Tiana is a hard-working girl holding down two waitressing jobs in the hopes of saving enough money to open her own restaurant some day. Friends invite her out for a night of dancing, but it's clear that Tiana is all work and no play, the concern being that she's frittering away her youth and happiness by being too focused on her goal. The returning theme is that love and family should mean more than anything.

The plot is somewhat thin. Naveen runs into Dr. Facilier, a "shadow man" (Voodoo practitioner, one supposes, though it's never said) and is turned into a frog. Like the old fairy tale, he needs to kiss a princess to be restored. Alas, he mistakes Tiana for such and she reluctantly agrees to kiss him--which turns her into a frog, too. Long story short, Naveen's laziness doesn't jive with Tiana's workaholic ways, but they're forced to work together to achieve the goal of getting back to being human.

The standout here is Jim Cummings' turn as the firefly Ray, a brave, loyal and likable sidekick.

The music is also very good, though I was sorry they cut short the Zydeco-inspired "Gonna Take You There."

The writers are also careful to balance Dr. Facilier's "dark" magics with Mama Odie's lighter ones.

It's a little bit fun to see Disney poke at the princess-loving girls by sidelining Charlotte--whose enthusiasm is a tad over-the-top. But young girls going to see this movie are probably not going to understand it. After all, in their eyes most of the movie is about frogs. Beautiful clothes and tiaras get only a passing nod. The departure can be applauded on a certain level, but my guess is this is also the reason The Princess and the Frog hasn't had better box office results.

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