Keep ’em comin’, AMC! I’m really enjoying these re-releases!
While I can’t claim to have seen every Disney film as a kid, this is definitely one that stands out as the one I really regretted not having seen in its initial run in theaters. Why? There were a lot of reasons, especially in retrospect. This would be Disney’s final hand-drawn animated movie and it featured Disney’s first black princess. That’s pretty unheard of. Oh, who am I kidding, this is unheard of. I think I tried to watch this movie once on Netflix, but for whatever reason, I didn’t get more than a couple minutes in. I can’t remember why. Well, now I don’t have an excuse. I’m getting my redeeming moment and seeing it on the big screen.
Here’s the voice talent. Starring, we have Anika Noni Rose (EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING , DREAMGIRLS , FROM JUSTIN TO KELLY , and the upcoming RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET: WRECK-IT RALPH 2 ) and Bruno Campos (MIMIC 2  and TV show NIP/TUCK [2003 – 2010]). In support, we have Oprah Winfrey (SELMA , THE BUTLER , CHARLOTTE’S WEB , and upcoming films THE STAR  and Disney’s A WRINKLE IN TIME ), Terrence Howard (SABOTAGE , IRON MAN , and CRASH ), the ever-amazing John Goodman (VALERIAN , BEE MOVIE , THE BORROWERS , and the upcoming TV revival ROSANNE ), and living legends Keith David (THE NICE GUYS , PRINCESS MONONOKE , video game MASS EFFECT , and the upcoming TV show Marvel’s NEW WARRIORS ) and Jim Cummings (THE LION KING , ALADDIN , TV show CURIOUS GEORGE [2006 – 2015], and the upcoming CHRISTOPHER ROBIN ).
Now for the crew. Co-writing and co-directing are Ron Clements and John Musker, both known for TREASURE PLANET (2002), THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE (1986), and directing MOANA (2016). Co-writing the screenplay, making for a red flag total of three writers, Rob Edwards, also known for TREASURE PLANET. Composing the score is Randy Newman, CARS 3 (2017), CARS (2006), A BUG’S LIFE (1998), and the upcoming TOY STORY 4 (2019). Finally, the cinematographer… this animated movie has a cinematographer? Anyway, it’s Rasoul Azadani, who made his cinematography debut. Congrats, sir.
Overall, pretty excited.
This is my honest opinion of: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)
Set in New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1912. As a little girl, Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) was really close to her father, who had dreams of opening their own restaurant. However, in the present day, Tiana’s father passed away and she spends all her time working in restaurants to buy her own, even if it means there’s less fun to be had with her friends. But one day, the arrival of the charming and woman-chasing Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) causes a stir in town as he’s set to marry a rich young girl to improve a financial crisis he’s in. However, he strikes up a deal with the local voodoo witch doctor, Facilier (voiced by Keith David), in the hopes that he’ll get what he wants faster, but is instead turned into a frog, a spell that can only be broken if he is kissed by a princess. Desperate to be turned back to normal, he finds his way to a costume party where Tiana is dressed as a princess, convinces her to kiss him, but ends up being turned into a frog herself. Now the two set on a long journey through the Louisiana bayou to located another witch doctor to help them turn back to human.
I liked it for the most part. I wouldn’t put it up there as one of the classic Disney films, but I’m glad enough that I saw it.
The best part of this film is the music. While I wouldn’t say I go to jazz clubs or anything, though I really should, I do have a small love for jazz music. I love the style, the sounds, the classy feel of it all, and the music in this film from the score to the lyrics are drenched in it. More than anything, it’s a nice movie to put on, maybe not always to watch, but definitely to listen to.
I especially enjoyed Tiana as a character. There’s something respectable about a person who has such a strong work ethic like she does. Being someone who currently works in the food industry, I can tell you that such an upbeat personality like hers is pretty hard to find and even harder to maintain. Some may argue that she’s not realistically written in that regard, but that’d be a strange unrealistic thing to complain about considering that people get turned into frogs, crocodiles play trumpets, fireflies get turned into stars, and shadow monsters come from Hell. Oh, and speaking of trumpet-playing crocodiles, I absolutely loved Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley). This guy had me rolling the isles laughing until I busted a gut. His infectious enthusiasm and love for jazz and his big dreams of playing with the greats, as well as his hilarious expressions, he’s by far the most enjoyable character in the movie. But how can I forget the living great that is Keith David as Facilier? He’s a fun villain with a cool design and even cooler powers. He charismatic, devious, and… damn, David’s voice just adds class to anything and everything. And… was he really singing?
I especially love the theme of the movie: In order to achieve your goals, you can’t keep wishing upon stars and hoping for the best. You have to work hard, work through the stress, pain, and tears. On one level, it’s nice that it steers away from the typical Disney thing where you just need to be in the right place at the right time in order to get more than what they have. And it’s also something of a stab at their traditional tropes as well, which I really found amusing.
And finally, a lot of the animation is fantastic. Never mind the background work, which is awesome as it is, but other aspects really stood out. I love how Facilier’s shadow is almost its own character, like a horror version of Peter Pan’s shadow. Really, all of the shadow animation is crazy cool, especially when Facilier summons demon shadows. Creepy, but awesome.
Sadly, the movie’s good moments are horribly mixed in with some… disagreeable stuff too.
The primary issue is that there are annoying characters that get way too much screen time. I’m not even just talking about Charlotte La Bouff (voiced by Jennifer Cody), though she is a few nails on the chalkboard to my ears. No, I’m talking about Prince Naveen himself. What an irritatingly written character! I know the whole point of him is that he’s supposed to be a womanizer and relentless flirt, but there is such inconsistency to how he’s presented. We the audience and Tiana both know he’s a clumsy and annoying flirt, but why would anyone other woman find him suave and charming? I’m sure someone’s going to call me out and say something like, “They crush on him because of his royal position and wealth, not him himself.” I get it, the movie was doing that thing where he’s supposed to be kind of unlikable in the first half of the movie, but as the story develops, he goes through an arch. He does, and his inability to be a competent human being is explained later on, eventually making him sympathetic, but until we get to that point, there is almost nothing to him. On top of it all, Campos is trying way too hard to be funny. He succumbs to that mentality that a funny voice makes a funny character, rather than a funny character making a funny voice. While I ended up liking him in the end, he was never funny.
Also, I know this actually pretty standard as far as Disney films are concerned, but… really? Tiana and Naveen knew each other for two days and he’s already ready to propose to her? Again, I know this is common in Disney films, but I have a problem with it no matter where it is. Relationships take time. Couldn’t the movie end with the two of them dating, instead of getting married? For as much as this movie made fun of the classic Disney clichés in the beginning, they sure stick to ’em a lot.
I’m happy that I got to experience this movie in the theaters. It’s a fun and enjoyable movie that’s great for all ages. The male protagonist is certainly obnoxious and for as many tropes the movie bashes, it does become prey to them. But the movie makes up for tremendously for its great female protagonist, side characters, and villain, surprisingly down-to-earth themes, wonderful animation, and the kicker, it’s spectacular jazz music. It’s not one of the animation greats, but it’s a solid and enjoyable film all the same.
My honest rating for THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009): a strong 3/5