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With: (voices) Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Elizabeth M. Dampier, Breanna Brooks, Ritchie Montgomery, Don Hall
Written by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards, based on a story by Ron Clements, John Musker, Greg Erb, Jason Oremland
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 97
Date: 11/25/2009

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Creole Station

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

With The Princess and the Frog, the Disney Studios have happily gone back to hand-drawn animation for the first time since Home on the Range (2004). Anika Noni Rose provides the singing and speaking voice for Tiana, who is not a princess. Rather, she's the poor daughter of a New Orleans cook who continues her father's dream of opening her own restaurant. She works two jobs and saves her tips for her big down payment. At the same time, Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) arrives in town, and almost immediately gets conned by the Shadow Man, a.k.a. Dr. Facilier (Keith David). With a bit of voodoo, the prince is transformed into a frog and the prince's overworked footman Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) is transformed into a likeness of the prince. The frog prince turns up on Tiana's balcony and convinces her to kiss him, but instead of the frog turning back into a prince, Tiana turns into another frog.

After a frenzied chase, the two frogs wind up in the swamp, where they befriend a jazz-trumpet-playing alligator, Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley) and a Creole firefly, Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings), with a jagged smile of random teeth. They set out to find Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis) in the hopes of becoming human again. Unfortunately, the Shadow Man is in need of the prince's blood to keep his spell working, and sends out an army of creepy shadow specters to track him down. Tiana still wants to open her restaurant, and the prince is resigned to marry the wealthy blonde Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody), but of course, the two protagonists fall in love.

My biggest complaint was why the filmmakers hired Randy Newman of all people to create the hot jazz-influenced musical numbers. Better him than Elton John, I suppose, but though the songs sometimes cook onscreen, the Randy Newman lyrics have the effect of cooling the heat. However, the voodoo stuff inspires some of the richest and most dazzling hand-drawn animation I've seen in ages. The sheer nightmarish creepiness of it sent me all the way back to Disney's daring, early Silly Symphony shorts The Skeleton Dance and Hell's Bells (both 1929) as well as some of the scary parts in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). It also reminded me of Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944), which were the fruits of Disney's goodwill trip to Brazil (chronicled, somewhat in the recent documentary Walt & El Grupo). Those films were culturally clueless, but artistically astonishing. They reveled in an outsider's perspective of the culture, reworking it to fit a classic, reliable mold of entertainment. The Princess and the Frog does the same thing: it may not adhere strictly to the time and place, or to the culture or mood, but it's an expert, entertaining movie.

DVD/Blu-Ray Details: Disney has released its latest in three editions, a regular DVD, a regular Blu-Ray, and the preferred DVD/Blu-Ray Combo Pack (which comes with a digital copy as well). Most of the extras are on the Blu-Ray, including a director commentary track, "deleted scenes," and a whole batch of little featurettes, games and trailers. It's an excellent package, and a good way for people who inexplicably missed this in theaters to catch up with it at home.

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