Dr. Facilier: Come on Tiana…you’re almost there.
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
For a while the Disney 2D animation studio was shut down as their last couple of movies were either critical or financial flops. After a long time Disney finally decided to go back to its roots and in many regards succeeded in doing so. In other regards, the movie has some flaws that prevent it from being perfect.
The story involves a young girl named Tiana who dreams of opening a restaurant with her father. After her father passes away Tiana finds herself working as a waitress for two diners in order to build up money to open the restaurant. Meanwhile a prince named Naveen from the kingdom of Maldonia along with his assistant Lawrence, comes to town in attempt to better his financial situation by marrying a rich woman as his parents cut him off for partying too much. He makes a deal with the Shadow Man aka Dr. Facilier and the latter tricks Naveen into being turned into a frog while Lawrence takes on Naveen’s appearance and works for Facilier. At a costume party Naveen mistakes Tiana for a princess and convinces her to kiss him. Tiana agrees as Naveen agrees to provide her with enough money to open her restaurant. However, since she was not a real princess, Tiana gets turned into a frog as well and thus the two must set out to change back to normal all the while meeting up with some new friends in he process.
One of the strongest points about the story is the mix of reality and fantasy. The movie pays homage to old Disney clichés such as wishing upon a star but doesn’t spend the movie making fun of fantasy clichés as much as emphasizing reality and fantasy through the main characters. While Tiana has grand dreams, she has to work a great deal for them but ultimately, prior to turning to a frog, faces reality again when she discovers that she may lose the building to a higher bidder. This would lead to her getting desperate, which in turn would lead to the meeting with Naveen and the adventures the two go on as frogs where she would learn the idea of fantasy. In Naveen’s case, he starts out as a typical vain, spoiled, and lazy prince. He wouldn’t be one for labor and merely enjoyed partying. But he would ultimately learn the reality of hard work, as without he would realize without his social status as a prince he wasn’t much of anything. The one problem with the story is the fact that the plot involving Naveen, Lawrence, and the Shadow Man is somewhat complicated and has a couple of loopholes. Between the Facilier’s deal with the underworld, the disguised Lawrence needing to marry Tiana’s best friend Charlotte, the need of the real prince’s blood for the disguise to hold, Charlotte being temporarily a princess due to the Mardi Gras Parade, and Tiana and Naveen falling in love the story really loses its flow. This is primarily what keeps it from being perfect, as the story doesn’t flow as smoothly.
The animation truly feels like the classic 2D animation that Disney did well and shows that no matter how many successful 3D animated films may come out, Disney’s still got it in terms of hand-drawn work. The settings and backgrounds do well in absorbing the viewer in the city and swamp of New Orleans. The animations in the songs have some uniqueness to them such as all the movements and dark magic in the Friends On the Other Side song. Then there’s the Almost There Song, which has a unique design of Tiana’s dreams. The character designs and expressions also hit that classic feel in the same vein as movies like Beauty and the Beast sometimes letting the emotion sink in without any use of dialogue.
Tiana is easily my favorite lead (only second to Belle). She’s upbeat and quick on her feet. One of the most surprising decisions about her is making her a workaholic. It’s a risk that paid off in a big way as it helps emphasize the reality in the story. Naveen is also a likable character. While he would prove to be spoiled and lazy, he had a sense of livelihood and would try to bring some joy into Tiana’s life. Meeting Tiana would prove to channel these traits into bringing out the best in him. Dr. Facilier is also an enjoyable villain. Keith David’s voice acting is perfect in giving this character a sinister but charismatic vibe. Such an example is the way he tempts Tiana into making a deal. He genuinely plays on Tiana’s fears and insecurities (even using her own signature song against her). He has powers that go back to a classic Disney villain feel but ultimately his greatest traits come through his personality. Another great character in this movie is Charlotte. She’s shown to be a rich daddy’s girl but also a true friend to Tiana. She’s shown to be self centered but far from selfish as she happily gave up an opportunity of being a princess for her friend. The other side characters like Louis, Ray, and Mama Odie are also have some great voice talent behind them all have comical moments and have some interesting quirks to them that makes them enjoyable.
In regards to the songs there are a couple that stick out. Down in New Orleans helps establish the setting of the town. Friends On the Other side is an excellent villain song in its lyrics and tune. Almost There is a rather uniquely sung “I want” song. What all of them have in common however is the fact that they all have some jazz like beat and style to them that fit in well with the 1920s setting.
The Princess and the Frog was a good attempt to take Disney back to its roots. What prevents it from being great, is the over-complexity of the story. But the movie has likable characters, great songs, and despite its over-complexity classic development through its story that make it feel like a true classic.