Being a fan of most of Disney's animated releases, it takes something special to really blow me away. When I first viewed their new film "The Princess and the Frog", that is exactly how I found myself -- blown away. The animation, the music, the characters -- this is one of Disney's best outings in a long time.
When looking at it at face value, it's easy to dismiss 'The Princess and the Frog'. You might think that the story's already been done, and it has, but it hasn't been done quite like this.
Let's run down the list that makes this something special. It marks the first time for a black Disney princess, it has a nice twist to a classic storyline, it has a jazz playing Alligator and a lovesick Cajun-speaking firefly named Ray. It all adds up to one special movie.
We first met Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) as a headstrong child along with her debutante friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). It's clear that Tiana and Charlotte are close, but there's one big difference. Charlotte has everything her little heart desires and Tiana comes from hard working parents and will have to work for everything she gets.
Flash forward some years and Tiana is working multiple jobs for the sole purpose of opening her own restaurant, "Tiana's Place", a dream that she's had since childhood and one she shared with her father. As she stands on the brink of ownership, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes to town and affords her the breaks she needs. Charlotte asks Tiana to cater the dinner her father's having for the Prince and tosses a mound of cash in her arms.
But as in most every Disney tale, just as the initial fairy tale looks to be coming true, one single event changes the course of the action. The action in this case is a kiss.
Freshly after arriving, Prince Naveen is tricked by Dr. Faciler (Keith David) and is turned into a frog and his travel companion is transformed to look like the prince. Both make their way to Charlotte's party, where the real prince convinces Tiana to give him a smooch so he can become human again, only the kiss transforms Tiana into a frog and the duo must set out into the swamps in search for a cure.
Along their travels, they meet the jazz loving, and playing, Louie (Michael-Leon Wooley) who just happens to be an alligator and a little Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings), who's fallen in love with a star he's mistaken for another firefly. They lead the twosome to Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis), who cryptically gives them clue on how to change back, but doesn't come right out and do it. Another typical Disney story element.
Tiana and Prince Naveen make their way through the swamp and back New Orleans, along the way falling in love and deciding that even if they're going to be frogs, they still want to spend their lives together. The head back to the swamp where Mama Odie marries them, which in turn transforms them back into humans, realizing their dreams, which include the opening of "Tiana's Place".
This film had a really nice, fresh feel to it. It has a nice story, some great musical numbers and some wonderful characters. My favorite had to be Ray. Veteran voice over actor Cummings delivers a character that goes well beyond what the character could have been. In the hands of an ordinary actor, it would have just been another supporting player, but Cummings is a master and created a character that will stick with you for a long time.
Rose and Campos provide a nice chemistry for the leads. It's easy to lose track of the fact you're watching a couple of animated characters and not the real thing. I hate to be so cliché, but Disney has done it again. Another wonderful tale.
The DVD includes some deleted scenes, 'The Princess Portraits' game, a music video by Ne-Yo and an audio commentary by the filmmakers.
Final Cut: The Princess and the Frog is a fresh take on an old tale and works perfectly. Great performances, especially from Jim Cummings, make this newest Disney tale something to sing about.
4.5 out of 5 stars
The Princess and the Frog
Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings, John Goodman
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Writer: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards (screenplay, story), Greg Erb and Jason Oremland (story)
MPAA Rating: G
Runtime: 1 hr. 35 min.
Available now from Disney Home Entertainment