Friday, December 11, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

It's been awhile. For more than a decade Disney has been, well, very un-Disney. In many ways, with the latest animated feature, the company returns to the roots. We've got a classic tale, a princess (of sorts), talking animals, big musical numbers, true love triumphant, a wicked villain, and a curse.

The Princess and the Frog, Disney's 49th animated feature film, might not be in the same class as Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, but for the first time in a long time the studio has released a movie that feels like a Disney film (and not an animated feature that any studio could have produced).

That's not to say the movie doesn't have its warts. The Princess and the Frog is at least 15 minutes too long, the story meanders a bit in places, and the animation isn't as crisp as I'd like. That said, over the course of the film you can feel (at least in places) the old-time magic being re-awoken. In many ways through the process of making this film it feels as if the studio is slowly rediscovering itself.

Our heroine is young Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a Louisiana waitress with dreams of owning her own restaurant. She is caught off-guard by the spoiled gallivanting Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) who has gotten himself turned into a frog by the evil voodoo magician Docter Facilier (Keith David).

Though hesitant, Tiana agrees to kiss the talking frog who promises to reward her with after he is returned to human form. Unfortunately her attempt to turn him human only curses her webbed toes of her own.

In true Disney fashion, the film gives us memorable supporting characters including a Cajun firefly (Jim Cummings) in love with the Evening Star, a trumpeting alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley) with a passion for jazz, and a wise old woman (Jenifer Lewis) with words of wisdom and some magic of her own.

And I'm happy to report that Disney finally, FINALLY, has returned to the musical. Although there's no big number that will knock your socks off there are several strong numbers including "Almost There" and "Dig a Little Deeper."

And it seems kids like it too. At the screening I attended the misadventures of two young frogs and their companions as they search for a cure and learn about each other seemed to keep most of the children entertained.

I don't see The Princess and the Frog earning a spot with Disney's classics but it certainly can find a place with later films from the last twenty-years such as Oliver & Company, Pochantas, Tarzan, or Hercules. And for those, like me, who have been waiting for Disney to rediscover the twinkle in their eye and the song in their heart, it's a good first step.

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