by Rick Grant
In this paradoxical version of the princess kissing a frog, she turns into a frog instead of the frog turining into a Prince. Set in New Orleans in the 1920s, with Dixieland jazz playing in the background, and a voodoo witch doctor, Dr. Facillier (Keith David), this is a lively musical retelling of the old fairytale.
Composer Randy Newman gives the music a Cajun feel with grandiose dance numbers and Dixieland jazz. The movie is raucous and exciting with spicy Zydeco cleverly mixed into the soundtrack. Yeah, I can foresee a Broadway musical evolving from this feature.
This animated movie celebrates Disney’s return to hand drawn animation in all its detailed artistic glory. With the music and dancing, the film is wildly entertaining and funny with Disney’s array of endearing creatures, including a funny jive-talking firefly and a cool trumpet playing alligator.
Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) has a dream of opening her own restaurant and is content to work as a waitress to save for her dream. She’s racially mixed of the Cajun variety and her friend, a rich man’s spoiled daughter, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) dreams of marrying a Prince.
The girls are polar opposites but grew up together on the plantation because Tiana’s mom was a maid at Big Daddy La Bouff’s estate and she was the privileged daughter. Kids are not born with prejudices so the two were like sisters.
When a “Prince” arrives in town, who is actually broke, he falls into the hands of a voodoo witch doctor, who cons the faux prince into a conversion into a frog. Of course, the frog has heard the rumor about kissing a princess will make him human again. So, he courts Charlotte who retches at the thought of kissing this slimy reptile. But, finally he charms Tiana into it. Poof, suddenly she’s a frog.
Now what the heck can she do to help her goal of opening a restaurant. Frog legs would be on the menu. So, they must figure out how to reverse the spell that made them frogs. Deep in the Bayou, they meet the trumpet playing gator, Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) whose ambition is to play in a band in New Orleans without scaring everyone away.
In a spectacular scene, an army of fireflies light the Bayou to find the voodoo queen named Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis). She might be the only voodoo practitioner to break the frog spell for Prince and Tiana. This runs into a big splashy number with the Bayou creatures including the alligators and frogs.
Disney was well aware of the sensitive multi-culural aspects of the story which were color blind during that particular era of flappers and bathtub gin.
The fact that Disney took the fairytale virtue out of this story gives it more credibility. As always, Disney has created a wonderful family film for the holiday season.
THE PRINCESS & THE FROG movie review
by Rick Grant