Run Time: 97 minutes
Directors: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, Rob Edwards
Stars: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey
By Kristy Strouse
There’s something really comforting in the traditional hand-drawn animation style that Disney introduced us to. With the difference in styles now and the obvious technological element, it’s good to reflect on a movie that utilizes and excels with that look and feel but is in the 21st century. I’m referring to the 2009 “The Princess and The Frog.”
This takes us back to the 1920s in New Orleans, whisking us up with voodoo and jazz, and a familiar tale of striving for your dream and making wishes come true. Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a young waitress trying to earn enough money to open up the restaurant she’s always wanted. On the other side of the wealth spectrum, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) from Maldonia arrives in New Orleans with his envious sidekick, essentially his babysitter, Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) in tow, after his parents disowned him for being reckless with his riches. When his curiosity gets the better of him with a local voodoo/Shadowman, Dr Facilier (voiced with wonderful menace by Keith David) he gets turned into a frog.
While dressed up at a mardi gras ball, in a moment of distress, Tiana kisses Naveen as he believes it will fix the curse, but instead turns her into a frog as well.
The movie takes the normal Disney family routes, directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who have done it enough to know the basic layout for a successful narrative, with some sidesteps along the way. However, while there’s the usual romance and always lessons learned, these ones are born with a lot of genuine humour and tenderness. The film keeps a steady commitment to making you laugh as much as making your heart feel full.
There are quite a few musical numbers in the film (with Randy Newman assisting yet again) that really work, which is of key importance when you’re looking at movies like this. If you get to the end and you can’t recall even a beat of one of the songs, that means something. The staying power is essential, and many of these will get stuck in your head for days. Music is also an important element of the story as jazz and its significance of this era and particular locale, courses through with an abundant surge of energy.
When looking at “The Princess and The Frog” there are a lot of issues here that aren’t always explored in their other animated titles, deeper conflicts that make the story even more significant. Beyond the obvious class issues, (which are glaring as she is friends with one of the wealthiest families in New Orleans who frivolously spend, while she’s working double shifts, waitressing at more than one diner) there’s also the racial aspect. This is important, because, while there are only a couple remarks showing that her ethnicity plays into her situation, it is still there. It’s empowering to see diversity on screen and it should have been there a long time ago.
One of the most crowning elements (pun intended) of “The Princess and The Frog” is the main character of Tiana. There are many female leads in Disney films that have a strong resolve and overcome incredible obstacles, but Tiana has a real integrity, a work ethic that makes her stand out. She’s courageous, determined, and insists on doing whatever it takes to make her dreams come true. Isn’t that the kind of heroine we need?
It’s commonly portrayed in fairy tales that a wish will suffice, but as Tiana’s father (Terrence Howard) teaches her, it’ll only take you so far, hard work is equally important. That’s a beautiful sentiment. Yes, there’s a magical undertone, but the movie never loses sight of its true message that young audiences should take away: You can do whatever you want if you put your mind to it. Imagination and willpower as a lesson… that’s a heavy theme for Disney, and yet, you’ll find this movie never lets up on its fun.
“The Princess and the Frog” is a feel-good movie, something we could all use right now, with that magical mix of realism and Disney charm, characters that resonate, and gorgeous animation.