California Literary Review

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

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December 11th, 2009 at 11:25 pm

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Movie Poster: Princess and the Frog
The Princess and the Frog

Directed by John Musker, Ron Clements
Screenplay by Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

Tiana – Anika Noni Rose
Prince Naveen – Bruno Campos
Dr. Facilier – Keith David
Louis – Michael-Leon Wooley
Charlotte – Jennifer Cody
Ray – Jim Cummings
Lawrence – Peter Bartlett
Mama Odie – Jenifer Lewis
Eudora – Oprah Winfrey
James – Terrence Howard
“Big Daddy” La Bouff – John Goodman

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Movie Still: Invictus

Disney Brings New Orleans to Vibrant Life With a New Princess Fable

No one knows better than Disney that, come time to adorn the Christmas tree, light the Menorah, or decorate for whatever holiday you may celebrate, audiences pine for light-hearted entertainment. This year’s The Princess and the Frog has already earned a lot of press due to its protagonist, Tiana, the very first African American Disney princess in the history of the company—which was founded over 85 years ago. The movie is also the first hand-drawn Disney film since the 2004 flop Home on the Range. Those of us who grew up on Sleeping Beauty, The Rescuers, The Lion King, and Snow White appreciate CGI’s perfection, but have also been longing for a return to the classic style. The Princess and the Frog is a gracious reward for the wait.

The movie opens on a beautifully rendered mansion. Two little girls, Tiana, with gorgeous cocoa-hued skin and plain clothes, and Charlotte, a vivacious little white girl in princess pink and ruffles, listen intently as Tiana’s mother Eudora recounts the fairy tale The Princess and the Frog. All three have lovely, soft Southern accents: instead of being played for laughs, their speech patterns are genuinely pretty. Charlotte swoons over the idea of marrying a prince while the independent Tiana remains skeptical. After all, who needs a man? Tiana and Eudora board a trolley home to the row of shacks where they live: this is a more realistic portrayal of race relations in the Southern U.S. than Disney has ever done before.

Cut to years later: an older Tiana is working herself to the bone as a waitress to buy an old sugar mill so she can open a restaurant. She drops a few coins into one of many coffee tins labeled RESTAURANT before she plops, exhausted, onto her bed. As she rushes back to work, a brass band dances down the street as Randy Newman croons, “Dreams do come true in New Orleans!” The city, which since Katrina has been imbued with a sense of tragedy, comes alive in Disney’s hands. The animation is strikingly beautiful—colors pop, architecture sings, and the music pays loving tribute to the original home of jazz. In Tiana’s vivid imaginings, Art Deco lives and breathes as flappers dance the Charleston and sip champagne in a decadent restaurant in the heart of the south.

On a visit to the city, Prince Naveen of Maldonia, over whom Charlotte swoons—she’s finally going to snag herself a prince!—proves to be a smarmy, self-centered joke (with a heart of gold). When a greedy voodoo shadow man, Facilier, turns him into a frog, Naveen appears to Tiana, begging for a kiss. When he offers her money for the restaurant, she can’t help obliging, and as a result she transforms into a slimy (mucus-secreting, actually) green amphibian herself. The two frogs head into the swamps, meeting a gator who longs to play jazz with the humans, a Cajun firefly in love with the Evening Star, and Mama Odie, a nutty voodoo priestess who lives in a wrecked ship in the bayou. Naveen falls in love with Tiana, and she realizes that her restaurant dream means nothing if she has no love in her life. The plot is fluffy Disney at its best—but the execution makes it a worthwhile watch.

Tiana is a major (and welcome) departure from most Disney princesses, the majority of whom are lily-white and have straight, shiny locks. Her dark skin and curly hair make her an ideal role model for the girls who have long yearned for an idol who looked the least bit like them. Cinderella and Snow White are famously hardworking Disney princesses, but they were enslaved as a punishment for their beauty (notably by jealous older women), and their stories culminate in finding Prince Charming. Tiana’s work ethic comes from her desire to be independent and build her own destiny—wonderful traits to offer today’s little girls. At one point her landlord chastises her, “A little woman of your…background…would have her hands full trying to run a business like that.” Well, she shows him. She’s a fantastically feminist character who, through her integrity and hard work, achieves her dreams. No silver spoons, angsty machinations, or evil stepmothers for this princess. Her motto is “watch out boys, I’m coming through!” Though her story includes a few tiaras, a flawed Prince Charming, and a number of hurdles, she’s not your everyday Disney muse—and that’s the best thing about the movie.

Adults and children alike will find themselves enchanted with Disney’s original retelling of a very American story, and with the animation that renews the vibrancy and brilliancy of a singular American city. Disney fans and those looking for a fun movie on a winter’s eve will not be disappointed. Parts of the movie draw on other Disney films: there are hints of The Rescuers’ fat, lively alligators, the spooky shadow spirits of Fantasia’s Night on Bald Mountain, and Cinderella’s beautiful ball gown, but these are comforting touches for those who grew up on classic Disney. The Princess and the Frog isn’t a really standout addition to the Disney stable, but it’s certainly worth watching—especially if you have a little girl who longs to be a princess, or if somewhere in your heart of hearts, a part of you longs for the fairy tale to come to life.

The Princess and the Frog Trailer

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