Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

Published by Clay Cane on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 11:38 am.

PrincessandtheFrogPosterSummary: The Princess and the Frog is the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) from New Orleans, Louisiana, a childhood dreamer-turned-waitress who has aspirations of owning a swanky restaurant.  Her life is turned into Disney chaos when she is kissed by Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), who was turned into a frog by voodoo and accidentally turns Tiana into a frog.  Naveen and Tiana travel through a colorful swamp to break the curse and eventually find themselves.

Review: The Princess and the Frog has received the critical eye since the moment the public heard Disney (finally) decided to do an animated film about an African-American princess — a first for the over 80-year-old corporation that is known for lily White images like Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty, and fictional worlds where African Americans do not exist.  Disney has betrayed African Americans for decades (I am going to avoid ranting about the disgustingly offensive Song of the South and the producer of the 1946 film quoted as saying, “”The Negro situation is a dangerous one.”), so it shouldn’t be a shocker that some are unsure about this Disney concoction.

As the cliché goes, you can’t make everyone happy and The Princess and the Frog will surely feel the fire of that line.  There will be questions about the Southern accents, the toothless firefly, Tiana’s best friend (a diaphanous, privileged White girl named Lottie), the frog having more screen time than Tiana, Prince Naveen not being “brown enough” and other intricacies that I didn’t care to analyze.

More than anything, The Princess and the Frog avoids race as much as possible.  How could Disney properly tackle it? While some might find it cowardly, I am not sure how lessons of race could be entertainingly delivered to a movie that is geared toward children, who hopefully aren’t as tainted with discrimination as adults. The film is set during the Louisiana Jazz Age, which is the 1920s, but you won’t see Jim Crow, the horror of lynchings, or the reemergence of the Klu Klux Klan  — all things that were huge in the 1920s and especially Louisiana.  That said, the script definitely relies on the cultural bearings of African Americans; this animated flick has some soul and not just characters who “happen to be Black.”

Being realistic, Disney’s socially shaky structural underpinnings are not going to vanish with one movie that stars brown characters. In order to enjoy The Princess and the Frog, viewers need to let go of some of Disney’s history, which represents all things white as angelic and all things black as wicked. The Princess and the Frog is not offensive. This is a harmless, animated musical and as close to getting it socially right as Disney will ever get.

Setting aside the social issues, The Princess and the Frog is told in classic Disney style.  Even the smallest of children will be able to predict the moral lessons and the happy ending. But, the movie does its job in beautifully repackaging a redundant plot.  In addition, the hand-drawn 2D animation is refreshing in comparison to the overly polished animation of today’s movies.

The Princess and the Frog is packed with voices from well-respected actors like Jenifer Lewis, Anika Noni Rose, Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey.  Decorated with excellent musical numbers, The Princess and the Frog radiates on the screen, especially with some power vocals from Rose and Lewis.  Plus, there is Keith David, who is probably the most impressive as the voodoo villain, Doctor Facilier — adding a little grime to a sugary sweet film.

Will The Princess and the Frog have the same impact as Snow White or Aladdin? No. However, this is still a good animated film — too bad it’s about 40 years late.

The Princess and the Frog is in theaters Friday, December 11th.

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