Written by: Ron Clements, Rob Edwards & John Musker, based on a story by Clements, Greg Erb, Musker and Jason Oremland (with story supervision by Don Hall), all of this based (kinda) on The Frog Princess by E. D. Baker
Directed by: Ron Clements & John Musker
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman
My Advice: Matinee.
Tiana is a young lady who has a purpose. It’s the 20s in New Orleans and ever since she was a little girl she and her father dreamed of opening a restaurant. Her father gone, Tiana soldiers on alone, working tons and hardly sleeping, socking away whatever money she can in order to get an establishment of her own. Into town strolls Prince Naveen, a bit of fun-loving and flat broke royalty, who falls for the tricks of the evil voodoo magician, Doctor Facilier (David). The Doc changes Naveen into a frog and the only thing that can break the spell is the kiss of a princess. Mistaking Tiana for a princess, Naveen talks her into kissing him, but it only makes things go from bad to worse, turning Tiana into a frog as well. And thus, hijinks ensue.
The animation is adequate for what’s going on, with very little in the way of things you haven’t seen before. It’s easy to see the Miyazaki influence coming into Disney (by way of Lasseter, although I’m sure seeping in from other avenues as well) with the introduction of some wicked shadow demons. That’s a bit scary for a Disney film like this. Also, content-wise, the film surprised me by having some actually moving moments in it and one very sad sequence towards the end. It’s easy to see what the film could have been if left to Disney’s old devices: a forgettable middle of the road nothing film. Instead it goes back to the older old devices–the good ones. It makes for a film with an edge and a heart.
The vocal cast steps up as well, with Keith David always welcome in just about anything. Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos are a good pair of fun romantic leads, but it’s the supporting character voices that really sell it. Jim Cummings (a vocal chameleon best known for playing Winnie the Pooh and Tigger currently) is unrecognizable as the firefly Ray. Peter Bartlett is doing his best Timothy Spall with the butler, Lawrence. And Jenifer Lewis plays the ancient, good voodoo priestess, Mama Odie, and appears to be having illegal amounts of fun in doing so. However, the standout among the whole cast is Jennifer Cody as Charlotte. Her over-enthusiastic, prince-crazy performance avoids the one-note â€œspoiled bratâ€ foil and gives us something with more depth. It is freaking hilarious. Also of note, Oprah Winfrey plays Tiana’s mom, and if this is how we get her back into acting, then so be it–because she’s just a terribly good actress.
Here’s an interesting tidbit: while much was made of this being Disney’s return to cel animation–and the success or failure of it seen as a judgement on the entire medium–I don’t think when the movie started that I cared one way or the other. Unlike the pre-Pixar Disney who thought that the secret to Pixar Success was CG, here we see the truth revealed: it’s story. It’s character. It’s entertainment. The delivery medium, in my opinion, doesn’t matter to the audience.
The film does not change the face of animation nor does it set a new bar for Disney, it just regrounds them back into making films that actually work and work well. Oh, and by the way, know this: if you have any little girls on your premises, they will eat this up like a pack of caffeinated dingos.