Cinematic Flashback: The Princess and the Frog (2009) Review

In the South land, there’s a city, way down on the river. Where the women are very pretty, and all the men deliver. They got music. It’s always playin’. Start the daytime, go all through the night. When you hear that music playin’, hear what I’m saying, it make you feel all right….as Jason’s Movie Blog’s celebrates the “cinematic flashback” review Disney’s 2009 The Princess and the Frog.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

“A new twist on the fairy tale classic”

Director: Ron Clements and John Musker

Writer: Ron Clements, John Musker, and Rob Edwards

Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, and John Goodman

Run Time: 97 Minutes

Release Date: December 11th, 2009

Rating: G

THE STORY


With a spark for determination, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) fills her hardworking days as a waitress struggling to get by in 1920s New Orleans; dreaming of one day owning her own restaurant. All that changes, however, when she meets Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos, a dashing yet headstrong prince who gets transformed into a common swamp frog by an evil voodoo magician named Dr. Facilier (Keith David), approaches Tiana, mistaking her for a princess. Begging her for a kiss, and promising her whatever she wants in return, Naveen is startled when the girl kisses him and turns into a frog herself. Now, as the pair race to undo the curse, they find help in the unluckiest of creatures, including a trumpet-playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a friendly gumbo-mouthed firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings, and the kindly advice from backwatered voodoo queen called Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). But can Tiana and Naveen survive the dangers of the bayou? Can they escape the swamps bumbling frog hunters, defeat Dr. Faciler’s relentless shadow beasts, and discover a way to become human again? Moreover, can they both learn to cope with each other and learn what they are missing in their lives?

MY THOUGHTS


As many of you know…. I’ve always been a big fan of Disney’s animated features. Like many of my generations, I grew up watching throughout my childhood, so I certainly have a special affinity towards Disney cartoon movies. The Princess and the Frog was one of an interesting feature to me. First off, the movie is presented in a way that tries to capture the “sprit” of the company’s signature look that was found in the “Renaissance era”; something that was quite lost in much of the 2000s era Disney movies. Then, of course, there was the film’s animation, which shifted back in traditional 2D animation. So, just from that alone, I was curious to see the movie (I love watching the trailer for the movie…still do). However, I remember I didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters when it was originally released as I waited for it to come out on Blu-ray / DVD a few months later. Flash forward to the present date and I just received my 4k copy of The Princess and the Frog and decided to revisit the movie to do a review for it as I haven’t watched it in quite some time. So….let’s begin.

The Princess and the Frog is directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, the creative duo minds behind some of Disney’s memorable animated features such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Moana later on. Given their background with creating winning hits for the “house of mouse”, Clements / Musker were fine choices in trying to revive Disney’s signature, especially since the studio was trying to reach back to its 2D “princess” animation of storytelling. In this regard, the duo directors do a great job; displaying the right amount of colorful whim and splendid iterations of its story that feels very much so close to Disney’s signature since 1999’s Tarzan. It just seems like the film’s presentation and overall execution was far better handled than almost all of its 2000s movies. In addition, rather than presenting the film’s story in straight forward adaptation, Clements and Musker take the iconic fairy tale iteration of the Princess and the Frog and gives a story that styled and flavored in a new way. What do I mean? Well, the big change (and a step forward) was making the film feature many of the various characters (large or small) to be of African-American; something that was a first for Disney and making Tiana the first African-American princess of their collection. Plus, the film’s backdrop of New Orleans was steeped in flavor of African-American roots by ways and means of music, setting, and characters (circa 1920s era) feels genuine and quite uniquely different than other Disney fairy tale stories and topography.

As mentioned above, the movie’s animation was another big highlight (probably the biggest of the film) as it was presented in traditional 2D animation rather than 3D. The result is something quite wonderful and vividly fun to see Disney return to their roots (sort of speak) and enriching the feature’s story with such colorful animation that definitely speaks to the feature’s liking. I do have to admit that 2D animation has certainly become a “lost art”, so I’m overjoyed that Disney seem to embrace that idea of making one of their animated movies return to traditional cartoon style and the result is terrific. So, even if a viewer doesn’t particular care for the movie, one must certainly appreciate the animation in the film….no question asked.

The main problem with the movie is that it isn’t quite as memorable as some of the other big Disney classic. Sure, the movie harkens back to the company’s signature identity, but just simply comes up short in reaching that lofty goal of animated expectations. What do I mean? Well, the story is good, but not spectacular, the characters are fun, but not endearing, the song are catchy, but not memorable. You get what I’m saying. As stated, I do like the movie, but The Princess and the Frog just simply doesn’t measure up the same way as some of its 90s era releases were able to achieve. I definitely think its better than many of the 2000s era releases, but…. when compared to Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Lion King, the movie comes up short. If I had to do a minor nitpick about the film, I kind of wished that it was a little bit longer by possibly adding one or two major side adventures / scenarios for Tiana and Naveen to encounter.

What certainly makes for these criticisms is the overall voice talents utilized for the various characters in the movie, Anika Noni Rose leading the charge as Tiana. Her voice was perfect in the role as she imbues all the signature stances of a Disney princess character (strong, fun, charismatic, determine) as she changes throughout the movie. Likewise, Bruno Campos does a good job as the suave and debonair Prince Naveen. Who perhaps steal the show in the film is Dr. Facilier, with Keith David providing the voice. It surely nails the character down perfectly and the animation team seems to even borrow a few of David’s looks and mannerisms in a few scenes. Tiana / Naveen’s companions also feel fun to watch, with Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings, and Jenifer Lewis as their respective characters of Louis, Ray, and Mama Odie. Other voice talents such as John Goodman, Jennifer Cody, Peter Barlett, Terrance Howard, and Orpah Winfrey play several of the other supporting players in the movie; all of which given fine performances in their capacity.

In the end, while it doesn’t have the same memorable impact as some of Disney’s past animated endeavors (either from its golden years or renaissance era of releases), The Princess and the Frog is charming and colorfully entertaining from start to finish; miles above its 2000s era releases. It’s 2D animation is spectacular beautiful (wish more movie revives this medium design), its characters were lively and endearing, and its themes are universally strong. Of course, this movie certainly paved the way for the “House of Mouse” to produce other memorable hits in the coming years (i.e. Tangled and Frozen). So, before Rapunzel sang “When Will My Life Begin” or Eliza belting out “Let It Go”, just remember that it was Tiana who stole the spotlight and sang “dreams do come true in New Orleans”; proving that dreams and determinations go hand in hand and celebrations of Disney’s signature style of princess and music with a new twist.

Cinematic Flashback Score: 4.1 out of 5

Fun Fact: The Prince of Maldonia is called Naveen. Naveen is an Indian name (meaning “new”), which suggest that Maldonia is a Eurasian country (the name of Maldonia is a mix between Malta and Macedonia). During the “Down in New Orleans” montage, the newspaper mentions in print that Maldonia cannot be found on the map (i.e. it’s made up for the movie).

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