As a kid, I enjoyed a lot of things, but if you asked me to name one thing that I was always attracted to, I would have to say animation. To this day I find myself gravitating towards any and all animation ranging from the most grandiose of films (Wall-E, Spirited Away) to the smallest of television shows (The Fairly Oddparents). Although I could only describe the basics of how animation works, I love the art form. Imagine how pleased I am, after five years of neglect, to finally see Disney hearken back to their old days of 2D animation with the terrific The Princess and the Frog. There's something to be said for this traditional style of animation and I hope this new film sparks its comeback.
The movie begins with Tiana (voiced by Anika Rose) as a little girl being told the story of "The Frog Prince," a tale where a princess kisses a frog who then becomes a prince whom marries her and they live happily ever after. She is told the story over at Charlotte's (voiced by Jennifer Cody) place, a giant mansion where her mother works binding together dresses for the spoiled young girl. They both believe in the story and wish upon stars in the hopes that their prince charmings will one day come to rescue them. Tiana's father, who dreams of one day opening a restaurant with his daughter, tells her to keep believing, but to always work hard because if she does, she can do anything. Flash forward years later and Tiana's father is dead, never having realized his dream. Tiana is now working two jobs, still trying to save up enough to start that restaurant, and has since given up on wishing.
Meanwhile, a handsome prince (voiced by Bruno Campos) is announced to be coming to town, but he goes missing and ends up being turned into a frog by an evil voodoo witch doctor named Facilier (voiced by Keith David). He shows up at a party one night and surprises Tiana by talking to her. Once again believing in the story, she kisses the frog hoping he'll turn back into a prince, but since she is not a princess like Charlotte, the spell reverses and instead turns her into a frog. Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis) is the only person that can turn them back, so they journey all over New Orleans in search of her and meet a host of characters along the way.
Boy, that's a long synopsis, but truth be told, all of this is only in the very beginning of the film. So much more goes on throughout the course of its brief runtime that it would be too taxing to detail it all here. This is a very story oriented movie, and what a story it is. The Princess and the Frog is pure magic, a delightful film that had me tapping my toes and smiling at the unadulterated joy placed in front of me. Who thought a love story between two frogs would be so endearing?
Along their journey, Tiana and her prince befriend a host of colorful characters, most notably Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley), a jazz trumpet player who desires to be human, and Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings), a firefly who falls in love with a star in the sky, whom he names Evangeline. Both are fabulous characters and offer up plenty of laughs, which allows them to stand on their own alongside the already wonderful frog couple, which is to say, this movie is very funny. Outside of a few puerile fart and snot jokes, the witty writing, excellent vocal delivery and spot on visual timing combine for a wondrous time at the movies.
Of vast importance as well, to me anyway, were the messages because they were meaningful and they teach the children in the audience without shoving the lessons down their throats. This isn't a preachy movie, but rather one that knows what's important in life and it shares its philosophies. It acknowledges how magical it can be to wish upon a star and teaches children to keep their dreams alive, but it also shows how wishing can only get you so far. Dedicated hard work is what really gets you through in life. At the same time, it values happiness and rightfully devalues money, taking the old Beatles train of thought that money can't buy you love. You can have all the money in the world, but it's companionship that really counts.
As was to be expected, the songs are amazing and the animation is exquisite, perfectly echoing past hand drawn Disney efforts and the final product is just as imaginative and enchanting. Not a stroke of color goes to waste in this marvelous tale.
While The Princess and the Frog may not be as good as such Disney classics as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, it's right up there and I wouldn't be surprised to hear today's children talk about the fond memories they have from it 20 years from now. It's simply that good. This one is not to be missed.
The Princess and the Frog receives 4.5/5