‘Princess and the Frog’ a funny, fine, follow-your-dreams musical

by Bill Wine
Posted 5/21/21

As if further proof were needed that we live in the Golden Age of Animation, along comes “The Princess and the Frog.”

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‘Princess and the Frog’ a funny, fine, follow-your-dreams musical

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Each week, veteran film critic Bill Wine will look back at an important film that is worth watching, either for the first time or again.

As if further proof were needed that we live in the Golden Age of Animation, along comes “The Princess and the Frog.”

Instant classic.

With computer-generated cartoons dominating the 2009 animation landscape, this "throwback," the first traditionally animated — that is, hand-drawn — Disney feature since 2004, is a reinvention of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, "The Frog Prince."

And it's an original and irresistible musical — taking its place alongside “The Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and The Lion King” — with its music first among equals. In a film with so many admirable features, it's tough to know where to start the gushing praise. 

It's also a reminder of just how warm and lush and expressive and vibrant and smooth and flowing and utterly captivating 2-D animation can be: this one bursts with life.

An ageless fable with a twist, it centers on Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) — Disney's first African-American heroine — a hardworking waitress who lives and works in the French Quarter in New Orleans during the Jazz Age of the 1920s, and yearns to own and operate her own restaurant.

When Prince Naveen of Maldonia, on a visit to the Big Easy, cuts a deal with voodoo practitioner Dr. Facilier, the latter turns him into a frog. His hope is that, given the legend, a kiss from a beautiful woman like Tiana will turn him back into a human. But when they kiss, something unexpected happens.

Suddenly it's amphibians on parade, and if things are ever to get back to normal and the spell is to be reversed, Tiana and Naveen will have to make it back to New Orleans via the alligator-infested bayou.

Co-directors Ron Clements and John Musker eschew the celebrity-voice approach (although Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard chime in briefly as young Tiana's parents). Instead, they cast speaking and singing voices rather than names with accomplished performers who may not necessarily be marquee names. 

And they give their layered, cleverly scripted narrative a tremendous sense of time and especially place: This is, among other things, an eloquent love letter to The Crescent City.

But the shining star is composer Randy Newman. His gloriously melodious score — a musical gumbo of Dixieland jazz, blues, gospel, zydeco, and Tin Pan Alley — keeps topping itself as a toe-tapping, finger-snapping, lemme-hear-that-again delight for young and old.

Newman’s songs garnered two of the film’s three Oscar nods, and the film was also nominated for Best Animated Feature. Box office returns, however, were modest at best. 

As for the co-directors' handling of the lavish musical production numbers, as they're fueled by Newman's great songs, it's nothing short of superb. Broadway numbers should carry us away this completely. 

A funny and fine follow-your-dreams musical, the G-rated “The Princess and the Frog” is a tuneful 'toon that will make you swoon.

Bill Wine is an Emmy-winning film critic who served in that capacity for WTXF and KYW Newsradio. He lives in Chestnut Hill.

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