VOICE WORK BY
Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, John Goodman, Terrence Howard, Oprah Winfrey, Jenifer Lewis
Ron Clements, John Musker
With James Cameron's "future of film" called "Avatar" coming up yet this month, there's something incredibly refreshing about Disney's latest release, a re-worked "The Princess and the Frog," Disney's latest return to hand-drawn animation and the first Disney title to feature a black princess EVER.
Co-directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the creative team behind "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid," and featuring lead vocals by the marvelous Anika Noni Rose ("Dreamgirls"), "The Princess and the Frog" is a wonderfully constructed and delightfully straightforward animated feature plopped smack dab in Hollywood's sea of 3-D and CGI gargantuans. Serving as a powerful reminder that entertainment nearly always trumps technology, "The Princess and the Frog" is energetic, rhythmic, often out loud funny and filled with clever, witty dialogue despite a story that does occasionally slow to a whimper.
Set in New Orleans, "The Princess and the Frog" centers around Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a beautiful and ambitious young woman with a larger than life mother (Oprah Winfrey), big dreams and a desire for a prince to be by her side. Of course, being a Disney flick the roles are well defined with a suitor, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a bad guy (Keith David) and a host of delightful supporting characters.
"The Princess and the Frog" is aided by the delightful tunes of Randy Newman, who captures nicely the feeling of New Orleans and cultural variation necessary to effectively bring to life the region's ethnic potpourri. Newman nearly perfectly blends jazz, zydeco and even a touch of gospel into tunes that your children will be singing long after the closing credits have rolled.
While "The Princess and the Frog" never quite achieves Disney greatness, mostly owing to a rather dull Prince Naveen and the faltering storyline, the film is so different than the majority of 2009's other animated features that its simplicity almost feels groundbreaking.
Who'd have thought that 2-D would feel so, well, innovative?
While it's certainly possible to argue with Tiana's lack of a black boyfriend, this variation makes sense given the constraints of the film's fairytale schematics and the necessity of Prince Naveen being a true Prince.
Unless, of course, they literally recruited Prince into the production...but, I digress.
Musker and Clements also wisely avoid the recent tendency for animated features to do everything possible to cater to their adult audience members, instead targeting "The Princess and the Frog" squarely at pre-teens, especially young girls. While this decision likely resulted in the film's G-rating rather than the widely accepted PG that seems to accompany most animated films these days, it likely means "The Princess and the Frog" will be less memorable for parental companion with the exception of those who genuinely long for the glory days of Disney.
Voice work is strong across the board, and even Keith David manages to make the most out of the film's least lively character, at least until he starts to come to life in the film's second half. Clements and Musker also include the obligatory animal sidekicks including an alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a firefly (Jim Cummings) who is certainly entertaining but seems like a castoff from previous Disney flicks.
2009 has been a surprisingly stellar year for animated features, with "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "Up," and "Ponyo" all being award-worthy pictures. "The Princess and the Frog" is in the second tier of animated films for the year, an entertaining and vibrant film devoid of unnecessary distractions and excessive technology and instead focuses on pure entertainment and a simple, sweet and romantic story.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic