Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog- A Successful and Light Hearted Continuation of the Disney Renaissance Musical Period

It’s been a while since Disney has made a two dimensional animation feature and even longer since they’ve made a good one. But the fortunate news is that Disney’s Princess and the Frog, based on Grimm’s fairy tale The Frog Prince, is far from a dud. In fact, it’s a bit more than just enjoyable and brings a sense of nostalgia for the Disney Renaissance Period, which included musical driven animation pieces such as Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The film has love, romance, exaggerated characters, villainous undercurrents, and, of course, a heart felt message that would be beneficial to the child audiences nowadays while also giving parents a film that doesn’t have chipmunks showering in the dishwasher. Hiring the veteran animation storyteller Ron Clements was a smart move by Disney and his story fulfills the classic Disney feel, it’s a joyous celebratory time within a story of true love and fulfilling dreams. While this might turn some people away from experiencing a corny movie going experience, which there are some corny moments, it remains by far a better children’s film to take the whole family to see that is actually worth seeing. Disney’s The Princess and the Frog provides a very good reason for Disney to return to their old style of animation having the appropriate mix of fun characters, musical interludes, a successfully developed villain, and a moral message that everyone can understand and creates a film that most people can enjoy.

There is always something remarkably charming about Disney films and the tone is the same in Princess and the Frog. However, there is something a tad different in this tale about a young girl who is far from being a princess and is instead a waitress working tirelessly to bring her late father’s dream alive. Tiana believes in hard work and saving every penny is essential to acquiring her own restaurant with plenty of doubters in regards to her skin color and the financing of the business. On the other side of the story is the debonair Prince Naveen, more interested in living a shallow and frivolous life but has been cut off financially from his rich parents in Maldonia and is now seeking a rich wife in America. Due to the self-interested wants of the prince he is conned by the shifty Doctor Facilier, the local Witch Doctor, and is turned into a green frog, a symbol of his greedy interests. The doctor is quite an interesting character who has literally placed his soul on the line for wealth and power as his shadow moves against his own movements to allude to a man who has succumb to evil and darkness. He’s everything a successful Disney villain should be including being diabolically convincing along with a low and decent singing voice. As Tiana’s dream of opening her own restaurant seems to be drifting away she comes across Prince Naveen in frog form and after going back and forth on whether she should kiss the frog she eventually does. Unfortunately the dark magic works in the opposite direction of what the fairy tale usually portrays turning Tiana into a frog herself sending the story in the direction of humor, romance, and music while meeting interesting characters along the way, including a trumpet playing Alligator, a Cajun Firefly, and a blind voodoo witch.

Most films in the last decade that pander to children haven’t exactly been fantastic unless you look at Pixar’s record. Pixar, however, makes family films which are meant to satisfy the entertainment and film needs of adults and children alike. This is done by having a well written story along with established and likeable characters that allow the story to move at a lively and enjoyable pace. Most children’s films are made specifically to entertain kids who don’t have the attention span for complex material with a message and fortunately Princess and the Frog doesn’t fall into this inconvenient category. The film could have bordered on being cliché trying to establish the old Disney Renaissance period but it remains true to that period of Disney filmmaking. Through the main characters there is a resonant message of working hard but not letting work or a free lifestyle distract you from what’s important, which is, of course, love. While the film Love Actually made this message into a living cliché this isn’t the fate of Princess and the Frog, which gives an example of a truly loving family in Tiana’s mother and father. While Tiana doesn’t recognize this initially it’s a journey that she takes due to her unfortunate dark magic encounter. Naveen is the same way but he is distracted by sleeping around (it’s only alluded, it’s Disney for god sake) and wanting that swinger lifestyle and be carefree with no responsibilities. Call this writer old fashioned but the positive message behind the true love and relationships is something kids should be introduced to giving them a sense of why family is so important instead of giving them Karate wielding Pandas.

All of the elements that made Disney Renaissance films such as The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast so well done were the great side characters as well as a viable threat in a well developed villain. While the Lion King had Timon and Pumba and Beauty and the Beast had Lumiere and Cogsworth Princess and the Frog has a trumpet playing gator named Louis and a Cajun firefly named Ray. By far the best character in the entire film is Louis who is downright silly, appropriately naïve, and has the best personality out of all the characters, in voice acting and animation appearance. While Ray is quite enjoyable to watch his character does seem to border on gross out humor just for kids and has no real purpose in the film other than representing love’s idealism to remind the other characters of what’s important. Louis, however, has personal ambitions and dreams of becoming a trumpet player and is inhibited in succeeding due to his unfortunate circumstance of being born a gator. But what hinges the film together is the successfully developed villain, which can make or break a Disney film. While Hercules failed a great deal with a wise cracking Hades rather than a villain hell-bent on success Princess and the Frog doesn’t allow it’s villain to become a joke and really does show a man dealing with the darkest of worlds betting his soul and very existence for what he wants. Without this threat the entire film would have been far too light hearted and carefree to take seriously in tone and message but for the most part everything seems to work despite some minor corniness with the musical segment transitions.

It’s always refreshing to see some children’s films that transcend the demographic they are intended for and provide solid entertainment for adults and children alike. Pixar has a flawless streak of making that kind of a film but Disney as a whole fell off the map with such films as Home on the Range and most recently with their own 3D animation attempts with Meet the Robinsons and Chicken Little. But bringing some veteran two dimensional animation storytellers back to recreate this style of animation in Princess and the Frog proves to be a success in story, style, and message that has enjoyable moments, somewhat memorable music, and well developed characters. If there was a film the entire family could probably all enjoy it would be Disney’s Princess and the Frog, which stays away from dwelling into being cliché and remains a reminder why Disney has been so successful at storytelling for so many years.

Grade: B+

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