Right... until 2009's The Princess and the Frog, which brings back the classic look of Disney Animation with no (or with very little) computer animation to make it happen. Yep, the songs, the princess, the scares, the magic and even the hand-drawn frames are back. However, my daughter and I had to see this one right away for a completely different reason. See, the title character (well before she becomes the equally titular amphibian) is the first ever Disney Princess from Louisiana!
Yep... Louisiana, just like us! And we weren't disappointed. Immediately Princess Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) became her favorite Disney Princess... and it's easy to see why.
Tiana grew up with her best friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) both grew up with big dreams and fairy tales. However, while Charlotte's dreams remained decidedly in the Fairy Tale category with an eye towards a big Mardi Gras wedding to a prince, followed by a life of luxury, Tiana dreams of much more practical ways to achieve her dream of opening the best New Orleans Restaurant in South Louisiana... namely with hard, hard work done by herself, for herself and for the honor of her family.
This might have something to do with the fact that Charlotte's "Big Daddy" (voiced by John Goodman) could deny her nothing at all, Tiana's own dear departed father instilled in her the desire to bring people together with really great food made with as much passion as the bayou music they loved.
From the other side of the world, however, comes Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) and his smarmy keeper Lawrence (Peter Bartlett). Naveen comes from a wealthy royal family, but he's been cut off and has no way to pay for his expensive, music-loving, womanizing, night-dancing, drink-round buying lifestyle. That is, unless he meets and marries a really rich young chick like Charlotte! But what happens when before he meets said romantic benefactor he runs into Dr. Facilier, "The Shadow Man" (Keith David) and all of his dark, frightening Voodoo friends from "THE OTHER SIDE"?
Well, the title implies this much more than any spoiler could... but the real inversion from the famous "Frog Prince" fairy tale is that when the princess kisses the frog he doesn't immediately turn back into a Prince... the Princess becomes a Frog, too!
True, that last fact was given away by the title, trailers and posters, but trust me, this is only the very beginning of the adventure! Along the way to meet Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), whom they HOPE can cure them of their "Amphibianthropy" (I made that up, what do you think?), they face a ton of cool characters from a Romantic Firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) and a trumpet playing gator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley)!
The truth is, these guys are just the tip of the proverbial Bald Cypress tree, man! Before this exciting fantasy adventure comes to its close we have to throw into the Lagniappe the voices of Emeril Lagasse, Kevin Michael Richardson, Corey Burton, Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey, not to mention the exceptional trumpet playing of Terence Blanchard!
That trumpet playing is far from an swampy anomoly in this Crescent City Fantasy flick! Though made by Disney (whose "Disnified" New Orleans Square is every bit as authentic as Thunder Mountain Railroad), this is Louisiana through and through. As with the best of Disney, directors John Musker and Ron Clements take a recreation of reality and make it feel less like a watered down distillation than a true fantasy packed with joy, fun and seasons in the sun! This strange jambalaya is infused with Jazz, Cajun music, gators, critters and all kinds of other cool tributes to the Dream State. Without resorting to insulting caricatures, The Princess and the Frog touches on animated representations of a great many things that make Louisiana great. The New Orleans Architecture, the rich, blended music, the people from all walks of life, the food (described only, but MMM-MMM-MMMMMMM) and the fun is all over this movie.
However, so is the innate creepiness of the real Haunted Louisiana)! Although we never cross the boundary into outright horror (this is still a VERY Kid-Friendly movie), quite a lot of the machinations and tricks of the trade that the Shadow Man employs to his dark ends are really quite scary! As his name suggests, there are living shadows (like something out of Ghost), living masks, voodoo dolls, shrunken heads and more skulls than the Paris Catacombs! The good news is that even this works toward the greatness of The Princess and the Frog. The idea of what is really important and how to truly achieve those really important things is beautifully drawn all over this film. Darkness becomes hard to control and leads to its own twisted reward while light and love and hope combine to be the truly seductive thing.
Yes, The Princess and the Frog is a truly great Disney film, worthy of the long history of the films and is as distinctly Americana as it is distinctly Acadiana! Twist all this into one Boudin link and add the spice of Randy Newman and you've got a solid Four Star out of Five motion picture that can be enjoyed again and again! Perhaps bringing back the classic hand-drawn animation won't last (2010's Tangled is fully CGI with the look of classic animation), but this time the experiment worked to make a great and profitable film that feels good, tastes good and sounds fantastic! It's not easy being green... but if you're lucky you still might get some kisses. See you in the next reel!
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