The Princess and the Frog
There’s been a lot written about the fact that Disney’s new princess Tiana (voice by Anika Noni Rose) is the studio’s first African-American animated heroine. Unfortunately it all seems a little excessive considering that Tiana spends most of the movie in the form of a frog wandering through the Louisiana bayou.
Her transformation from New Orleans’ waitress to amphibian takes place when she is entreated for a kiss by a talking frog claiming to be the handsome Prince Naveen (voice by Bruno Campos). It seems the royal offspring has had an ill-fated run-in with Dr. Facilier (voice by Keith David), a charlatan and shyster who practices black magic and voodoo on the seedier side of the city. Only a smooch will restore the prince to his human form.
But after Tiara puckers up and gives the slimy jumper a peck, it is she who undergoes an alteration. Suddenly the aspiring restaurateur with a talent for making gumbo finds herself croaking instead of cooking. Determined to undo the curse, she and the web-footed Prince make their way through the bayou in hopes of getting help from the ancient Mama Odie (voice by Jenifer Lewis) who practices her own form of the black art.
Accompanying them on the journey is Ray the Firefly (voice by Jim Cummings) and the jazz loving alligator Louis (voice by Michael-Leon Wooley). While the small company fights off frog-eating hillbillies and other hungry predators, Dr. Facilier is back in the French Quarter using his magic to marry off the Prince’s advisor (voice by Peter Bartlett) to the wealthy daughter (voice by Jennifer Cody) of ‘Big Daddy’ La Bouff (voice by John Goodman).
Along with the studio’s return to traditional animation, the script also brings back the inclusion of large-scale musical numbers. One song scene involving the evil Dr. Facilier resembles a hallucinogenic dream sequence with dark shadows, wild colors and a scary musical score. The characters in the story are also repeatedly exposed to moments of peril and ghoulish spirits—portrayals that are clearly too intense for young viewers.
In her human form, Tiana lives with loving parents (voices by Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard) who try and teach their daughter about the important things in life. But like many children, Tiana has to come to an appreciation of those on her own. After decades of endorsing the idea of "wishing on a star", this Disney adaptation couples that with the need for hard work to achieve one’s goals—a healthy combination for success.
While this film includes some fun jazz music and a strong message about the ethics of work, the story is often lost in the vacillation between dark scenes of voodoo and a goofy ‘gator who wants to play his trumpet at the city’s Mardi Gras celebration. Although it is admirable to increase the diversity among the Disney’s princesses, Tiana, in her human form, doesn’t get enough screen time to amount to much of a role model for young girls.