Published Dec 10, 2009Stepping back from the current rash of computer animated 3D extravaganzas, Disney's The Princess and the Frog expands on their '90s 2D trend of depicting ethnically diverse heroines, in the vein of Pocahontas and Mulan. The result is colourful and passable, if culturally murky, giving audiences their money's worth, even if it never reaches the heights of earlier princess fare like Beauty & the Beast and The Little Mermaid.
Like its predecessors, this Creole-flavoured, tiara-wearing entry pivots on transformation, with hard-working waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) becoming a frog after kissing one, twisting the parable ever so slightly. The amphibian receiving affection typically relegated to Brazilian films of an adult nature is, of course, a jazz-obsessed Prince (Bruno Campos) that has been transformed by a sketchy voodoo practitioner named Dr. Facilier (Keith David).
The majority of the film then plays out with the frog pair running from Facilier, searching for the magical Mama Odie, with the aid of a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) and a trumpet-playing alligator. Oversimplifications and stereotypical depictions often outweigh efforts to send an animated love letter to Louisiana, leaving drum roll guffaws and subtle undertones of male dependency to steer the narrative.
Since the titular heroine spends a good 80-percent of the film in frog form, hopping about, eating flies and running from Voodoo baddies, the Disney adage of chaste beauty equating passive goodness and antiquated femininity gets lost in political translation. Tiana is the first African-American Disney princess in a time of heightened awareness and "appropriate" portrayals, giving the limited celebration of her beauty a sense of peculiarity.
Agenda and historical relevance aside, this hand-drawn children's film delivers enough entertainment to please the kiddies, even if it comes off as milquetoast, featuring terrible (where's the fast-forward button?) music. (Buena Vista)