When Princess and the Frog came out I was so excited! A Disney princess movie and hand drawn animation and a musical!!! It had been since Mulan that a non-Pixar Disney movie had really moved me so we are talking over a decade!
I also thought it was cool there was an African American princess; although, a side of me wondered if it was stunt casting but I hoped it would be like Mulan and be a great story with a non-Caucasian leading lady. So full of enthusiasm I went to the theater and walked out underwhelmed.
Was I too excited? Expectations too high? I don’t think so because the next year I’d see Tangled and be borderline obsessed with it but I may have been a little harder on it than I should because it was more middle-of-the-road than perfect. Don’t know.
At the time I felt it was too cluttered. Too many side characters. Too much going on that it became kind of boring (kind of like you get to know so many people you don’t really know anyone). Also I felt like every character was shouting at me all the time. All the songs were big and shouty and the dialogue too.
So now 5 years later what did I think? Well, I was nicer in a lot of ways but it still has some of the same issues. A mixed bag, but overall, I liked it better this go-around.
In 2004 Disney announced Home on the Range was going to be their last hand drawn animated film. I remember hearing that when I came home from my mission and feeling so sad it was all over. However, in 2006 when John Lasseter came on board he reversed that decision, and they started work on the Princess and the Frog.
New animators had to be hired and the department rebuilt and Ron Clements and John Musker from Aladdin, Hercules and Treasure Planet were brought back to helm the new film.
I was hoping in the audio commentary the directors would elaborate on why they wanted an African American heroine for this particular project but they didn’t. I guess they just did which is neat. They did say that Oprah was pitched early storyboards and was so excited she ended up speaking the voice of Eudora, Tiana’s mother.
From the beginning there was controversy. They had to change her name from Maddy because of slave connotations and her job became a waitress after a maid was deemed derogatory. People even had issues with New Orleans being the setting because of the treatment of African- Americans during Hurricane Katrina…(geesh!).
But they changed it around and it took 4 years to complete with hand drawn backdrops, characters, everything and it looks gorgeous.
Their goal in writing Princess and the Frog was to create a ‘princess movie for people who don’t like Princess movies’. The Prince is poor and powerless. Tiana is a uber-hard worker who’s dream is to own a restaurant not find her Prince so in those ways it is very unique.
The voice cast is all excellent. In addition to Oprah, Anika Noni Rose plays Tiana, Bruno Campos is Prince Naveen, Keith David as Dr Facilier, Jon Goodman as Big Daddy and Jennifer Cody as Charlotte. The music is done by Randy Newman and Musker and Clements said they picked him because ‘he is Americana’. There are 2 good songs in the movie but the rest are kind of so-so.
I still think they are kind of shouty and I’m a jazz fan. If it were me I would have gotten Harry Connick Jr to do the music because he is New Orleans and is fabulous at doing soundtracks. Still, Newman’s music isn’t terrible but most of the songs I can’t even remember.
The story starts with Tiana and Charlotte as little girls hearing the story of The Frog Prince. Charlotte is my favorite character in the movie. So funny in every scene even when she is little. I think she is one of the most likable rich characters ever in a movie. Charlotte is a dreamer and wants her prince where Tiana is a realist and will work instead of wish for her dream. Tiana works very hard at 2 jobs and finds out she has enough for the down-payment on her dream spot for her restaurant. Tiana is an extremely likable character and I love the example of hard work for little girls. We also get my favorite song as Tiana excitedly announces ‘she’s almost there’.
Again, the animation is gorgeous
Charlotte finds out she is going to be the princess of Mardi Gras parade and that a prince is coming for the event. We then get introduced to the foppish Prince Naveen and his manservant Lawrence. I’m not sure if Naveen is ever quite worthy of Tiana but I guess hard to know since he’s a frog for half the movie. They meet shadowman Dr Facilier who is a voodoo witch doctor and this is where I start to have problems. Dr Facilier is very well drawn and Friends on the Other Side is very well animated. I also get the links between New Orleans and voodoo.
Nevertheless, I am still uncomfortable with this movie’s embrace of the occult and demonic. I recognize that is my own personal religious convictions and others may not see a problem but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me uncomfortable. I just avoid things like ouijia boards or tarot cards. But like I said it is a very well done number.
Prince Naveen becomes a frog and through a long drawn out sequence at a ball he thinks Tiana is a princess and asks for a kiss (if I explain every detail in this movie we will be here forever). Initially repulsed she agrees hoping to get money out of the deal. But since Tiana is not really a prince and just playing the part for Charlotte she also get’s turned into a frog. Then we get the next segment of the movie where I started to get more of that cluttered feeling back in 2009.
Tiana and Naveen go on a road trip of sorts to find Mama Odie who can change them back. Along the way we meet a redneck fly named Ray, and Louis a jazz playing alligator along with other creatures, chases and races.
I wish there was a little more dialogue between Tiana and Naveen in these scenes and less of the music but still a lot for a Disney movie. No instant love here!
At the same time you have a plotline of Dr Facilier needing Naveen’s blood in order to keep Lawrence looking like Naveen so he can marry Charlotte and become King of Mardi Gras (or something like that). It get’s very complicated!
Along the way there is a funeral and a wedding and it is nice our happily ever after is post-wedding when Tiana gets her restaurant.
That’s the best I can do to explain it.
I clearly have mixed feelings. I still think it is a little cluttered and the music for the most part is shouty and I don’t like the voodoo occult elements. That said it looks gorgeous.
All of the animation is a joy to watch. It’s positive and teaches a great lesson on hard work and the right kind of dreams.
I also like It introduces an actual culture to kids as opposed to a vague European land like most Princess movies. A culture right here in America, which is great.
All the voicecast is superb (better than the music deserves to be honest). It’s cheerful and upbeat and I enjoyed watching it even with my misgivings. (I actually watched it 3 times for this review!).
I still haven’t decided if it is one I would want my little girls to see but for older kids who can understand the use of voodoo as a storytelling device it should be fine.
That said, it would be fun to watch and then go to New Orleans Square, order beignets and gumbo.
A lot of people claim racism as the reason Princess and the Frog didn’t do better (it did ok but not the mammoth hit of say Beauty and the Beast or Frozen) but I think most people had high expectations like I did which it did not quite meet.
This go-around I had lower expectations so I enjoyed it more. (I should probably always have low expectations for movies but it had been a freakin decade!!). The story is very convoluted and complicated but it does teach a nice message and like I said it looks stunning.
It’s certainly a huge step up from the dreck I’ve been watching so I’m inclined to be forgiving!
Overall Grade- C+
Tangled up next and I’ll give you a hint, I like it!!!