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THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, 2009
A fairy tale centered on a young girl named Princess Tiana who lives in New Orleans French Quarter during the Jazz Age.
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Disney returns to its 2D animation roots with The Princess and the Frog, an exceptional reminder to traditional animation that defined Disney decades ago. Today a younger generation is used to the smooth, sleek animation of 3D, thanks to Pixar and Dreamworks, but while those films are brilliant in their own right, 2D will always have a warm spot in the heart of those who grew up watching The Little Mermaid and The Lion King. The Princess and the Frog is not quite on the level of its predecessors, however, the courageous attempt to return to a medium that so many have thought was dead was done well with compelling characters, an excellent story, and sublime animation.
Holding onto your dreams have always been a theme in Disney films, and it continues through Tiana, a young waitress who aspires to open her own restaurant despite mounting challenges. She proudly shows her mother a warehouse she plans to use, except the building itself looks more like a hazard zone than a future four star restaurant. But she remains hopeful.
The plot takes place in New Orleans during and after WWI in a mostly African American community. It’s a lively atmosphere with friendly people and vivid music that you only expect from the “most unique” city in the world. The animation triumphs in bringing to life not only the characters, but the town, which feels like its own character as well.
The animators are back! If you ever wonder whether or not Disney still housed talented animators, well, they do, and their still at the top of their game. The opening sequence particularly is worth mentioning as being the highlight of the film because it’s so captivating you wonder why Disney didn’t return to their roots sooner. In addition, the music by Randy Newman, while not some of his best work, is still a perfect touch.
Now every story, especially in a fairytale, needs a hero and a villain. Keith David, an talented actor with a powerhouse voice, does his best sinister smooth talking for the evil voodoo man, Dr. Facilier. He tricks Naveen, the Prince, into making a deal with him, causing the Prince to change into a frog. Other known actors who lend their voices include John Goodman as Eli Big Daddy, Terence Howard as the father, and Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s mother. All three do a nice job.
Since this is a Disney animated film, expect plenty of musical numbers. The animators certainly had to dust off their pens as they were pushed to create some beautifully drawn extravagant wild scenes, particularly in the swamp segment. The fireflies put on a wonderful show led by the Jimmy Cricket of today, Ray, a firefly who helps the two lead frogs find Mama Odie, a century old sorcerer capable of breaking the curse. Kids will get a kick out of Mama Odie and Ray, both the most eccentric and likable characters in the film.
The Princess and the Frog has the first African American princess to join a list that includes Cinderella, Lady Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and Jasmin. However, this is not the first Disney animated film to use multicultural characters, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Aladdin all successfully told stories with characters of different backgrounds and ethnicities. But there’s enough laughs, entertainment, stunning animation, excellent song and dance, as well as an engaging story with a heartfelt message that The Princess and the Frog can stand on its own. It is a film for all ages that deserves a place in the Disney vault of animated classics.