Rated G, 95 minutes
Old-school Disney "The Princess and the Frog" predictable fun
The fun new Walt Disney animated film "The Princess and the Frog" harkens back to the days of pre-"Toy Story," "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E" when 2-D hand-drawn animation was the norm. Disney returns to its roots with a new twist on the classic fairy tale "The Frog Prince" with a young black woman as the title character and a largely African-American cast. On that level, it's groundbreaking, though otherwise it's pretty standard animated kids fluff: loads of colorful talking animals, a love story and a happy ending that'll everyone will find pleasure in. Enjoyable but predictable, "The Princess and Frog" is suitable fun for the whole family.
The Princess and the Frog is a fairy tale finds the lives of arrogant, carefree Prince Naveen (TV actor Bruno Campos) and hardworking New Orleans waitress Tiana (Broadway actress Anika Noni-Rose) crossing paths at the turn of the 20th Century. Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by a conniving voodoo magician (familiar character actor Keith David) and Tiana, following suit, upon kissing the amphibian royalty. With the help of a trumpet-playing alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley), a Cajun firefly (Jim Cummings), and an old blind lady (Jenifer Lewis) who lives in a boat in a tree, Naveen and Tiana must race to break the spell and fulfill their dreams.
Nimble, sharp and funny, "The Princess and the Frog" is pleasant entertainment from the folks at Disney, though certainly not on the level of the Pixar computer-generated animated efforts over the last decade. The movie is well-voiced and technically well-crafted from co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker, the directing and writing team from esteemed Disney efforts "The Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Hercules" that rejumped Disney 20 years ago. But the story, very loosely based on the fairy tale "The Frog Prince," is an odd one to remake with a black cast in 2-dimensional form, and doesn't provide any new surprises.
"The Princess and the Frog" still manages to entertain with some vibrant voices and fast-paced plot. Stage actress Noni-Rose is a delight as the title characters, as is largely unknown TV actor Campos as the frog. Character actress Lewis is always good for a few laughs, as is Disney stalwart Cummings as the Firefly. Listen closely for New Orleans native John Goodman as a Tennessee Williams-style Big Daddy character, while Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey each have a couple of lines in what amounts to voice cameos (and in Oprah's case, a drawing card). Many of the talking animals (particularly Cummings' firefly) provide the film's more memorable, funny moments.
While it's nice seeing traditional animation, "The Princess and the Frog" reveals two of Disney animators biggest flaws, which is bland music and cliched characters. Veteran music composer Randy Newman's song are a pleasant afterthought, whie Disney again plays to stereotype in some of its characters (yes, the Louis Armstrong-style alligator is a nice homage to the beloved musician but still doesn't seem fresh), not to mention its overly predictable plot. Will the frogs regain human their human standing and find true love? If you've seen any Disney in the last 20 years, you'll know the answer to that without even seeing the film.
There's nothing wrong with "The Princess and the Frog"" it's a modest, decent animated effort with fair treatment of all its characters, a zippy feel and brightly drawn animation that will certainly appeal to the younger set (plus New Orleans always has tremendous appeal). However, Disney wants you to believe this is groundbreaking stuff, and on the surface that may be true, but a closer look you'll really see that's its nothing new; to be considered genuinely groundbreaking (and in some ways, fair), Pixar should've undertaken this with a stronger, more original story and CG 3-D animation.
I'll wait to see if that happens, and while "The Princess and the Frog" doesn't always work perfectly, kids and families should still enjoy it this holiday season.