If Disney’s last traditionally animated film Home on the Range failed to bring home the bacon, The Princess and the Frog should stock up the pantry nicely. From the same writer and director of past hits The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, this take on the Grimm brother’s The Frog Prince is not in the company of iconic Disney predecessors, but it should do respectably at the box office.
In 1920s New Orleans, Tiana (Anika Noni-Rose from Dreamgirls) is a young, black woman working two jobs to save enough money for a downpayment on an old warehouse, which she wishes to convert to the restaurant business of which she has always dreamed. While catering for a party thrown by her rich, white friend, designed to ensnare the supposedly wealthy Prince Naveen of Maldonia, Tiana is confronted by a talking frog who claims to be the Prince. Having fallen victim to the evil voodoo man, Dr Facilier, the prince must be kissed by a princess to restore him to his human self. Unfortunately, he mistakes Tiana in her ballgown and tiara for a princess and she is also transformed into an amphibious form.
It’s a pleasure to see the soft, Disney hues that we are familiar with, in particular during an early song where Tiana’s dream restaurant is animated in the style of old jazz posters, but there is also some subtle CG rendering as the villianous Dr Facilier sends cards and looming shadows playing into depth and perspective for his musical number. He makes an entertainingly malicious villain, if a little short on screen time, who conjures what must be the first Disney dalliance with the evil dead since Fantasia‘s ‘Night on Bald Mountain‘. I watched for hordes of little cinemagoers running for the doors, scared witless, but there were none. It’s an indication that the film has the right balance of humour and terror.
Other supporting characters such as Louis the trumpet-playing alligator (musically enabled by Orleans Blue Note musician, Terence Blanchard) and Ray, the elderly bayou firefly provide the comic relief, and are surely a nod to jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Ray Charles. Randy Newman bangs out a solid music score of good ol’ New Orleans jazz that had my foot tapping along, and it gives jumbalaya flavour to the movie.
It was also good to see a return to the fairy godmother or mother earth figure, rather than the evil witch of the forest as this figure is so often typecast in modern western mythology. Mama Odie as the voodoo queen of the swamp does not instantly grant wishes, but leads the characters to discover their own point of enlightenment. This quietly subverts previous Disney fairytales, in that sitting back and waiting for your prince (or princess) to come and save you will not get you anywhere. Princess Tiana has to work hard to get what she wants, with a little eye-opening advice along the way from the wise. She makes an admirable modern heroine compared to the Cinderellas and Sleeping Beauties, who as timeless as they may be, belong to another era.
Having said that, luck in life is a huge factor in success. A bit like say, wishing on a star…