movie film review | chris tookey

Princess and the Frog

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  Princess and the Frog Review
Tookey's Rating
8 /10
Average Rating
7.23 /10
Anika Noni Rose, Keith David, Bruno Campos
Full Cast >

Directed by: John Musker, Ron Clements
Written by: John Musker, Ron Clements and Rob Edwards

Released: 2009
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 97

Cute and accessible, a return to form by Disney.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Five decades after the Civil Rights movement so arguably fifty years too late, Disney has finally made a cartoon with an Afro-American heroine. Welcome to the modern world, guys.

Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a waitress with a burning ambition to govern America. Oh all right, that’s too much for any Disney heroine to want. She’ll settle for opening her own cabaret-restaurant. Her loving father (Terrence Howard), turn-of-the-century America’s answer to Ainslie Harriott, gets himself killed in the Great War. Her mother (Oprah Winfrey), a seamstress, thinks Tiana should devote herself to finding her Prince Charming. Tiana’s friends want her to come out with them and boogie the night away. However, our hard-headed heroine has no time for Jiminy Cricket-style wishing on a star; she believes in work, and more work.

This is a leading lady ideally suited to the current economic downtown.

Then a real-life Prince comes along and he’s a workshy party animal called Naveen (Bruno Campos), interested only in playing ragtime, meeting a wealthy bride and dabbling in the occult. This leads him to fall foul of a voodoo witch doctor (Keith David) who disobligingly turns him into a frog, for reasons I never quite fathomed. Then the new, green Naveen meets Tiana, thinks she’s a princess not a waitress and gets her to kiss him – with disastrous consequences. Instead of her turning him back into a prince, his kiss turns her into a frog.

So now they are two swamp-living amphibians with nothing in common, except an interest in persuading blind voodoo queen Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) to re-humanise them in time for a Mardi Gras finale. Along the way, and by the bayou, they meet up with a jazz trumpet-playing alligator, the way you do, and an over-romantic firefly who’s besotted with a star. And naturally the mismatched frogs start falling in love…

The movie conforms a little too faithfully to Disney formula, and even this feisty heroine has to learn that she can’t get by without a man. Even by the end, I wasn’t fully convinced that the feebly-characterised Prince Naveen deserved her.

Doubtless, some serious-minded folk will complain bitterly that the movie should spend more time analysing how it felt to be poor, black and a second-class citizen in 1920s America. I would be more concerned to warn parents of very small children that the villain and his shadowy sidekicks may cause nightmares.

It would be churlish to deny that this film achieves everything it sets out to accomplish. It’s a timely love letter to one of America’s loveliest cities, the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans, and will do more for its tourist industry than any amount of government aid.

Most of all, The Princess and the Frog marks a triumphant leap backwards into what Disney does best: feature-length musical cartoons.

Disney’s last cartoon was the disappointingly animated, poorly written Home on The Range, released six years ago. On the strength of that movie’s well-deserved failure, executives at Disney pronounced that cartoons were dead – much too prematurely, as this movie proves.

For back to the drawing-board directors John Musker and Ron Clements have gone, with spectacular results. Their new film is cute, funny and tuneful, and the most entertaining Disney cartoon since their last heyday, which stretched from Musker and Clements’ The Little Mermaid (1989) through to the underrated The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996).

The high point of that golden era remains Beauty and the Beast (1991), mainly because of that movie’s top-notch songs and thrilling production numbers. Randy Newman’s songs for The Princess and The Frog are not his most melodic, but they are jolly toe-tappers with modestly witty lyrics, and an evocative mixture of styles well suited to the New Orleans setting. The catchy combination of ragtime, jazz, gospel and Cajun means that this has every chance of success if it follows Beauty and The Beast and The Lion King on to Broadway and London’s West End.

The Princess and the Frog isn’t perfect, but it is highly entertaining. Its charming, feelgood escapism will amuse young and old alike. It has a witty take on the old fairytale, lively characters and colourful visuals. In any normal year, it would win the Oscar for Best Animation. This year, it has the misfortune to be up against Up, which has an even stronger, more involving storyline and far greater originality.

Still, this year it will be no crime to be second-best. The message of The Princess and The Frog is hugely encouraging. If Disney can learn the lessons from its own movie, which is to work harder than ever but not forget to have a heart, the studio could be about to embark on a new golden era of cartoon animation.

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