The Princess and the Frog
Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker. Voices by Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis, Terrence Howard, Oprah Winfrey. (2009, G, 97 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009
Disney's 49th animated feature film is a terrific riot of oozing ultraviolets, dank graveyard blacks, and incandescent star-field blues, a palette that seems more fit for All Hallows Eve than it does for the holiday season. No matter – the Disney 2-D animators, who have been losing face, of late, to their CG and 3-D brethren, here stage a bold, vibrant, and altogether bloodless coup on all things Pixar, and whaddaya know? They win. (For now, anyway.) Set in Twenties-era New Orleans, this umpteenth version of what was originally a Brothers Grimm fairy tale makes the Crescent City a major character in and of itself while dusting off the old story of girl-meets-frog and tricking it up with all manner of raucous, jazzy hoodoo, voodoo, and bayou panache. Directors Clements and Musker are the guys behind Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, and they employ their keen senses of story, pacing, and killer comic rhythm to support a new twist (several, actually) on an old amphibian. If you've seen the trailer, you already know this is Disney's first animated film with a nearly all African-American cast (the less said about Song of the South, the better), but being set in period New Orleans, any other racial take would seem bizarrely inappropriate. In Disney's retelling, the princess isn't a princess at all, but a servant named Tiana (Rose) who dreams of owning her own restaurant one day. Into her workaday life wanders a flat-broke wastrel of a prince by the name of Naveen (Campos), who, having recently been turned into a frog by the diabolical hexmaster Dr. Facilier (David, voicing one of Disney's most memorable villains in ages), mistakenly sets his money-hungry sights on Tiana and ends up turning her into a bayou denizen as well. Hilarity does indeed ensue. Randy Newman, who seems to have fashioned an entire second act to his career out of Disney songsmithery, contributes some inspired musical numbers, the best of which echoes (and frankly, improves upon) the eerie showstoppers in Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Additionally, the lush, 2-D animation is superbly shaded and warm. It's Disney's best traditionally animated outing in ages.