Disney knows how to take classic fairy tales and turn it into major motion pictures; yes I am aware that it is probably the understatement of the century. However they also know how to make their movies relevant to audiences, regardless of when the film takes place. In 2009 Disney took the beloved childhood story of The Princess and the Frog, but found a way to modernized it. Having re-watched the film recently I decided to give my thoughts on one of Disney’s more relevant to today animated movies. Spoilers will be ahead. I DO NOT OWN THE PICTURE.
The film takes place beginning in 1912 but quickly transitions to 1926 in the beautiful city of New Orleans. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) works as a waitress at two diners, and has a natural talent for cooking. She wants to own her own restaurant and work as a chef, having been inspired by her late father James (Terrance Howard); owning a restaurant was always a dream he wanted to share with Tiana and his wife Eudora (Oprah Winfrey), but he passed away before it became a reality. Not wanting to let her father’s dream die, Tiana spends all her time working and earning money towards a restaurant, even picking out an old sugar mill as the location. However her ambition leaves very little to no time for a social life.
New Orleans soon welcomes the arrival of Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos), a handsome and seemingly wealthy young man; although it is revealed his parents have cut him off because of his irresponsible behavior. Tiana’s best friend from childhood, Charlotte La Bouff (Jennifer Cody), decides to take advantage of the prince’s arrival (having wanted to marry a prince since she was a child.) Along with her rich daddy Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff (John Goodman) Charlotte throws a big costume party at their mansion, hoping to impress the prince; hiring Tiana to work as a chef and giving her enough money to buy the mill. Meanwhile Naveen, along with his over-worked man-servant Lawrence (Peter Bartlett), run into Dr. Facilier (Keith David), an evil voodoo witch doctor also going by the nickname The Shadowman. Dr. Facilier takes advantage of both Naveen’s stupidity and Lawrence’s greed, making their dreams come true; but not in the way they expected or probably wanted. At the party while Charlotte is dancing with “Naveen” Tiana is depressed; she may lose the sugar mill due to a higher bidder and has a limited amount of time to raise enough money to continue her dream. Desperate Tiana turns to the Evening Star, a star that allegedly can make wishes come true. Tiana sees a frog next to her and freaks out when it starts talking; the talking frog is of course the real Naveen.
Believing Tiana is a princess, based on her outfit and not realizing it is a costume party, Naveen asks Tiana to kiss him to break the spell like in the original fairy tale. Tiana reluctantly agrees after Naveen promises to provide money for her restaurant. However after Tiana kisses him, she is turned into a frog! The two manage to escape the party, but leave an impression on the fake Naveen, whom is actually Lawrence. He is wearing a talisman provided by Facilier. Facilier’s plan is for Lawrence to marry Charlotte and split her money once Big Daddy dies; which Facilier plans to make happen the moment they say “I do.” Tiana and Naveen make it to bayou where they meet a colorful cast of characters: Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) a trumpet playing alligator who desires to be human just to play the with the big boys (and not worry about guns), Ray (Jim Cummings) a Cajun firefly who is in love with the Evening Star he calls Evangeline and finally Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis), a nearly 200 blind voodoo priestess with plenty of sass to spare. Together they have to find a way to turn Tiana and Naveen back to human and stop Dr. Facilier, along with his shadow friends from the other side. During their adventure Tiana and Naveen grow as characters and discover what they want might not be what they need; Naveen realizing there is more to life than money while Tiana figures out she can have more than one goal in life. The two also fall very deeply in love with each other as time begins to run out. This is probably about as far as I should go without giving away the rest of the film; although I admit it is not hard to figure out.
While The Princess and the Frog did not do as well at the box office as Disney would have thought, I still think the movie was fantastic when I watched it in theaters, and I still think that today. I have been a fan of Anika Noni Rose since her role in Dreamgirls and I knew she would be great as Tiana. I believe Tiana is one of the more modern Disney princesses having been the only one so far to hold a job and a goal; I think many young children can look up to her along with the other princesses. Bruno Campos is fabulous as Naveen as his character develops from a self-absorbed playboy to a caring individual. Keith David is absolutely perfect as Dr. Facilier. Facilier has often been described as the love child of two of Disney’s classic villains, Jafar and Cruella DeVil; while I see elements of them Facilier still stands out among the Disney villains with his unique form of voodoo and charismatic personality. Jennifer Cody is hilarious as Charlotte; at first it was almost easy to write the character off as a spoiled rich daddy’s girl at first, but she proved to have a kind heart as big as her ambition. Louis, Ray and Mama Odie steal the show whenever they come on-screen; I have big props to Wooley, Cummings and Lewis on their performances. Terrance Howard and Oprah Winfrey brief appearances as James and Eudora helped show just how Tiana got to where she was in the beginning of the film, and also how they in a way helped Tiana at the end during her face-off with Facilier. The rest of the cast, as well as the writing and hand-drawn animation, is wonderful as well; the film was nominated for two Oscars in 2010 for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.
Of course a great Disney movie comes with an equally great soundtrack; most of the songs were written by the incomparable Randy Newman. The song nominated for the Oscar is Tiana’s anthem (because every Disney princess has one) “Almost There” The song not only reflects Tiana’s ambition, but the animated sequence which has Tiana imagining her restaurant as she sings is beautifully hand-drawn. Multiple versions of “Down in New Orleans” are performed in the movie, two times by Rose in the beginning and end of the film while the main version is performed as we are introduced to the adult version of the characters by Dr. John. Facilier has a song (because every cool Disney villain needs one) called “Friends on the Other Side” where he manipulates Naveen and Lawrence and shows off his powers. Louis sings with Tina and Naveen as they say what they would do “When We’re Human” an upbeat song needed after a few close calls by Tiana and Naveen in the swamp. Ray has two numbers in the film: “Gonna Take You There” as he guides Tiana, Naveen and Louis to Mama Odie and “Ma Belle Evangeline” as he sings about his love for Evangeline; I know it sounds weird but it is a very romantic song. Mama Odie has a show-stopping number called “Dig a Little Deeper” where she says Tiana and Naveen may know what they want, but if they dig deeper they’ll find what they need; this makes Naveen realize just how deep his feelings are for Tiana. The final number, and the only song not written by Randy Newman, is during the credits of the film which sums up Tiana and Naveen’s relationship perfectly. It is called “Never Knew I Needed” performed by the multi-time Grammy winning artist Ne-Yo. Ne-Yo’s voice is wonderful to listen to as he sings about the woman who appeared in his life when he needed her; it is probably my favorite song on the soundtrack.
If you have not watched The Princess and the Frog I would highly recommend watching it; might not be a need to watch immediately but is still a great film. I may even call this an underrated Disney film, having been overshadowed in 2009 by another great Disney/Pixar film out earlier that year. The Princess and the Frog is, in my opinion, one of Disney’s more modern movies and I promise when you watch it you will not be disappointed.