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Overall Rating

Awesome: 16.13%
Worth A Look74.19%
Just Average: 9.68%
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3 reviews, 13 user ratings

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Princess and the Frog, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Beignets On The Bayou"
4 stars

A few years ago, Walt Disney Studios, in an effort to turn around their fortunes after such relatively unsuccessful efforts as “Atlantis: The Lost Empire,” “Brother Bear” and “Treasure Planet” (yeah, I barely remember them either) decreed that they would no longer produce films utilizing the traditional 2-D animation format and that all of their future productions would be made utilizing the 3-D CGI technology that helped fuel such rival hits as “Shrek,” “Ice Age” as well as the various Pixar productions that they were releasing to great critical and commercial success. Like most corporate decisions made in haste, it was a stupid solution that didn’t really address the central problem--the rival films were successful because audiences responded to the alternatives to the increasingly formulaic Disney efforts, not because of how they were produced--and it led to such equally nondescript works as “Chicken Little” and “Bolt.” Eventually, they quietly decided to rescind this decision and their latest release, “The Princess and the Frog,” marks their first traditionally animated work to hit theaters since 2004’s “Home on the Range.” Naturally, they have chosen to hype their back-to-basics approach in the hopes of earning comparisons with their earlier classics and while that may work from a publicity standpoint, the film itself essentially reinforces the fact that form has nothing to do with content because whether being produced in 2-D or 3-D, it end results would still be the same--a weird and only occasionally successful pastiche of time-honored themes that has enough interesting aspects to make it worth seeing but not enough the instant classic that it dearly wants to be.

Set in 1920’s New Orleans, the film tells the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a poor-but-hard-working young woman whose dreams revolve around earning enough money from multiple waitressing jobs to open a fancy restaurant to honor the dream of her late father. In need of extra funds, she agrees to help cater a party thrown by the family of spoiled childhood friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) to honor the arrival of visiting royal figure Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) in the hopes that she can land him as a husband. Unfortunately, Naveen--whose lazy and glad-handing ways have caused his parents to cut him off completely until he learns to settle down--falls under the spell of local voodoo priest/con man Dr. Facillier (Keith David) and is transformed into a frog as part of his elaborate plot to marry Charlotte, kill her father (John Goodman) and abscond with his riches. As everyone knows, a kiss from a princess can break all frog-related spells and when Naveen hops into the party and mistakes Tiana for a genuine princess, he convinces her to give him a quick smooch in exchange for enough money to make her restaurant dream a reality. The plan backfires, of course, and Tiana winds up being transformed into a frog as well. Despite the fact that they can’t stand each other--he thinks she’s too bossy and she thinks he is an indolent fool--the two join forces to make their way through the bayou in search of Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), a voodoo priestess who may be able to reverse the spells and return them to human form in time to stop Facillier. Along the way, they make the acquaintance of a couple of quirky swamp creatures--hillbilly firefly Ray (Jim Cummings) and trumpet-playing gator Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley)--sing a lot of songs (courtesy of composer Randy Newman) and discover that they kinda, sorta like each other after all.

“The Princess and the Frog” was co-directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, whose previous efforts “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin” were credited with helping inspire the revival in animated feature films in the early 1990’s that continues to this day. In those cases, the films worked because the innovative combination of hip humor, stylish animation and Broadway-style musical numbers struck a chord with audiences of all ages. By comparison, “The Princess and the Frog” seems content to tell a story that even younger viewers are likely to find more than a little familiar and while it does offer any number of interesting stylistic flourishes, the essentially formulaic nature of the material begins to work against it after a while. As the storyline progresses, it hits all the predictable beats--Tiana and Naveen alternate between bickering and getting to know each other between songs while the comedy relief animals act goofy and the bad guy lurks about in the shadows acting menacing without really doing much of anything--without ever offering a twist on the material that might have made things a little more interesting. Although the songs by Randy Newman--a song cycle invoking the history and culture of his hometown along the lines of such previous albums as “Good Old Boys” and “Land of Dreams” with a little bit of his “Faust“ thrown in for good measure--are solid and entertaining enough to make one wish for an album of him performing them in his own inimitable voice, they have been deployed in the service of a story that really doesn’t need to be a musical and after a while, the constant musical interludes begin to get a bit wearying. Even the much-hyped conceit of having an African-American character at the center of a Disney animated film for the first time in the studio’s history turns out to be not much of a factor as well--outside of the shading of her skin, she is virtually identical to most of the other recent Disney animated heroines and the fact that she spends most of her screen time in the guise of a frog means that the predominant African-American character turns out to be the evil voodoo guy in cahoots with supernatural forces--not exactly the most innovative of concepts when you think about it.

And yet, while “The Princess and the Frog” may not be an entirely successful film in retrospect, I have to admit that I did have a pretty good time while I was watching it. The opportunity to realize New Orleans from the swamps to the glories of the French Quarter has clearly invigorated the animators and the film is always never less than striking from a visual standpoint. The vocal contributions from the cast are also fairly successful as well--Rose make for an enormously appealing heroine, David makes for a compellingly creepy villain and Lewis and Cummings steal most of their scenes outright. Although there are too many of them for its own good, some of the musical numbers--especially Mama Odie’s show-stopper “Dig a Little Deeper” and Facillier’s “Friends On the Other Side”--are inventively staged. (The latter number is so wild and strange that it comes close to suggesting what might occur if someone hit upon the idea of staging “Angel Heart” as a Broadway musical.) And while the story as a whole is predictable, it does throw a few interesting curve balls at the audience here and there and it maintains a surprisingly dark tone at times that may well serve to upset younger viewers expecting nothing but sweetness and light from their princess-based entertainment.

“The Princess and the Frog doesn’t quite work as a whole but it has enough individual elements that do to keep from turning into another mediocre time-waster. It doesn’t hold a candle to the best that Disney has offered audiences over the years but it is more entertaining than most of the things that they have cranked out over the last few years and I have a feeling that some kids may spark to some of its stranger and more esoteric aspects. As for parents, it moves along quickly enough and offers enough distractions to keep them from growing restless, though those with especially young children should probably prepare themselves to answer some tricky and tearful questions about the grisly fate of one beloved character. It isn’t a great Disney animated effort by any means but it will do nicely until one finally comes along.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=19077&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/11/09 00:08:20
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User Comments

1/16/15 Dr. Lao Disney meets Tennessee Williams. I hate Tennessee Williams. 3 stars
12/04/11 Quigley I hope this becomes a classic someday. A more-than-worthy addition to Disney's canon. 5 stars
10/18/11 Magic Traditional animation is not dead! A great revival of a long-thought dead genre. 4 stars
10/28/10 Rolly Hyatt Great. I'm no opponent of CG, but I welcome the traditional animation. Louis is awesome! 5 stars
10/05/10 millersxing Disney goes cajun...Laissez les bons temps rouler! 4 stars
5/01/10 Amy Green Criminally overlooked. Tons of laughs for kids and adults. Right up there with Aladdin. 5 stars
3/21/10 Stanley Thai It's old school storytelling, and it's a breath of fresh air. 4 stars
2/11/10 aliceinwonderland I expected an old fashion princess tale Disney but I got a movie a la Hercule & Kuzco..., 3 stars
1/07/10 Jeff Wilder Easily Disney's best animated film since The Lion King. 4 stars
1/03/10 Dominic Directed by JOHN MUSKER and RON CLEMENTS,(THE LITTLE MERMAID,ALADDIN). 5 stars
12/30/09 damalc about what i expected 3 stars
12/18/09 kuukj993 No Crazy!!!, 5 stars
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  25-Nov-2009 (G)
  DVD: 16-Mar-2010


  DVD: 16-Mar-2010

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