The Princess and the Frog
Three out of Five Stars
Rated G/95 min.
Twenty years ago, the second golden age of animated movies began at Disney when, after years of uninspired features, The Little Mermaid premiered in 1989. Following that winning mix of beautiful animation, solid character development and an enchanting story, the Mouse House released Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King, a string of undisputed masterpieces.
With the animation field now dominated by computers—Disney hasn’t released a hand-drawn animated film in five years—there is a lot riding on the success of The Princess and The Frog, a return to the classic Disney style. I’m happy to report that, while the film is a mixed bag, for the most part it lives up to its “event” status.
The story takes place in New Orleans, where a young woman named Tiana works as a waitress and hopes to one day open her own restaurant. When a suave prince comes to town, her dreams of living happily ever after are blocked by the Shadow Man, a witch doctor whose spell turns both Tiana and her prince-charming-to-be into amphibians.
This is the first Disney animated film to feature a predominantly African American cast. It’s an overdue milestone, but doesn’t mean very much since most of the characters are stock-figure clichés. Meanwhile, the appealing heroine gets crippled by the plot—soon after Disney introduces its first African American lead, they turn her into a frog.
The film is gorgeous, vivid and colorful, and is buoyed by a pair of bring-down-the-house musical numbers. I found the side characters funnier and more interesting than the love-struck leads, though I expected more from the writers than easy butt and fart jokes that even the Genie from Aladdin would have left alone.
Older kids will love this, especially those who grew up in the days before Buzz Lightyear and his CGI cronies took over the playing field. Young keiki will find the voodoo and demonic shadow creatures terrifying and there’s also a tragic twist late in the story that will upset many. Parents need to look past the G-rating and seriously consider how intense this will play for the very young.
This isn’t a total knockout, but the best scenes are stunners and it’s certainly a step in the right direction for Disney’s non-Pixar animation arm. It feels like a warm up for a grand classic on its way. My three-star rating isn’t a rave, but a cautiously optimistic recommendation, and a hope for a dazzler around the corner. MauiTime, Barry Wurst II