Disney only released three CG animated films since Home on the Range. But with those three, plus the output by Dreamworks, Pixar, Blue Sky, etc, I longed for a traditionally animated film from the studio that started it all. So, when it was announced in 2006 that Disney was going to continue to make 2D films, and that the first one would be the movie that would eventually be known as The Princess and the Frog, I got super excited. Three years later it came out and it definitely did not disappoint.
The Princess and the Frog, like many of the great Disney movies, has a very simple story. It’s pretty much the Grimms’ The Frog Prince, but in reverse. But in like those movies, the story is only the foundation for the movie and it ends up succeeding due to other factors. One of the biggest reasons for the success is the work of writers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements. They left Disney when it was said that no more 2D films were going to be made. But then John Lasseter personally asked them to return to make this movie, and you can tell they were glad to come back as they ended up making their best film.
The best decision they made was set the story in New Orleans. By setting the movie there, they had a better opportunity to make magical, dark, and very joyful musical. Also, the setting gave the characters distinct personalities. There were the down-to-earth types like Tiana and her family, the grand ones like Charlotte, and her dad, and even for those with room to grow, like Prince Naveen.
Also, they could not have picked a better composer for this movie. Randy Newman’s traditional sound, usually joyful lyrics, and hits of jazz, blues, and gospel (the genres of music New Orleans is known for), makes for what may very well be Disney’s best musical score. From the first song, “Down in New Orleans,” performed by Dr. John, we know that it’s not going to be regular Disney musical. The music and lyrics are so cheerful that I honestly tap my foot every time I watch it. From then on, every musical number is a happy and beautiful affair. The only slow song, “Ma Belle Evangeline”, is still romantic, happy, and hopeful. That is my favorite song in the entire movie and one of my favorites of any Disney movie.
As for the performances, there are three great ones, a weak one, and the rest are fine. The weak one is Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen. It’s not bad as it ultimately fits the cockiness of the character, but it could have been better. The great ones are Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, Jim Cummings as Raymond, and the great Keith David as Dr. Facilier. Anika Noni Rose gives Tiana the proper amount of maturity as well as the proper amount of sass. She doesn’t over do it. And what a voice. Cummings is a lot of fun, and gives the character a soul that almost no one else could have given it. It is because of his performance before the end of the film that “his” scene in the end may very well be the most beautiful scene in Disney history. As for Keith David, his casting may just be the most inspired for a Disney villain. Dr. Facilier is a sinister, but charming man, and David captures that. He was simply given a great character to work with. The villain is another reason why the movie is great. It’s one of the studio’s darkest and has one of the most evil motivation$. And his death, is great and creepy as he is literally (SPOILER ALERT) dragged to hell.
But the thing that most influenced my love for this is the animation. It is freaking gorgeous. It is more fluid than every other 2D animated film since The Little Mermaid, and quite easily the most colorful. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about traditional hand-drawn animation that is more warm, more magical that CG. Few animated film have ever reached the level of beauty of some of the scenes here. Yes, some of the best are aided by CG, but the efforts of the animators with their pen and paper are what ultimately makes things work. Seriously, has any CG movie had scenes as beautiful and magical as these?
The Princess and the Frog is one of the best Disney has ever offered us. The story may be thin, but it more than makes up for it with the directors’ passion and inspiration, great music, a great cast, and most importantly, gorgeous animation. Disney may not be making as much 2D animation as before (supposedly only one every two years), but just as long as it is out there, I’ll be happy. Bring on Winnie the Pooh!