Disney’s The Princess and the Frog hearkens back to virtually every (hand-drawn) Disney movie ever made. From The Little Mermaid to The Jungle Book, from The Rescuers to Aladdin, it’s all there.
And it’s fun, and it’s entertaining, and it’s good.
The first hand-drawn Disney movie since 2004’s Home on the Range (well… let’s be honest– 1998’s Mulan was the last one anyone remembers) is as solid a reminder as you could ask for of what animated movies used to be.
It’s full of cute animals, rubbery faces, wishing on stars, slapstick comedy, and true love.
And you don’t need 3-D glasses to enjoy it.
Young Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is poor and black (not that it matters for the purpose of the story. Race plays no role whatsoever). Growing up in New Orleans, the daughter of the city’s best seamstress (Oprah Winfrey) and a triple-shift-pulling father (Terrence Howard), Tiana’s dream is to open up a restaurant of her own. So she scrimps and saves just enough to finally get her wish. But then, as is oft the case (this is Disney, remember), the deal falls through, and she’s left with nothing.
But then Prince Naveen (shape of– frog!) appears, promising he will (with a kiss) revert to human form. And, since he’s a prince, Tiana thinks her wish has been answered.
It’s Tiana, though, who changes– becoming a frog herself.
From there, the movie takes off, plunging us deep into the Louisiana bayou and introducing a cast of characters that no doubt made Uncle Walt himself smile quite a bit. There’s Louis the jazz-trumpeting alligator, Ray the Cajun firefly, and Facilier the voodoo shadowman (the resident ‘bad guy’).
Full of great humor and even greater heart, Princess is a perfect blend of everything Disney is known for. It’s a story-driven thrill ride that’s just as fun for adults as it is for kids.
Co-writer and director Ron Clements hasn’t missed a beat in the 17 years since he brought Aladdin to the screen (or the 20 years since he gave us Mermaid). It’s vibrant, rollicking, and pure fun.
There are tense moments, but they don’t last long enough to give children any pause (ages four and up will be fine).
The biggest problem ironically enough, is the music. Executive producer John Lasseter decided against Alan Menken (Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Enchanted) and instead went with Pixar vet Randy Newman. Big mistake.
There’s not a single song that you will be humming to yourself on the way out of the theater (much less six months from now). It feels almost as though the genius behind Toy Story 2‘s “When She Loved Me” and Cars‘ “Your Town” simply mailed it in.
It’s not enough to tank the movie, but it is enough to drop it from an A+ to an A-.
It was almost the perfect homecoming for Disney animation.