My Review of The Princess and the Frog
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A Future Disney Classic?
Are you a fan of anything Disney? Might you be bewitched by the beauty and history of New Orleans? Does Randy Newman’s music make you tap your feet? Did you grow up being told the story of the Frog Prince and would enjoy hearing a new take on it? If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, The Princess and the Frog might just be the movie you’ve been waiting for.
Set in New Orleans of decades ago, we first meet our heroine, Tiana, as a little girl. Though her future undoubtedly holds great things, her present life is far from grand. When the movie opens, her seamstress mother, Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), is making yet another play dress for Charlotte La Bouff, the only child of the wealthy sugar mill owner, “Big Daddy” (voiced by John Goodman). At the request of Charlotte, Eudora tells the girls the story of The Frog Prince. While Charlotte is captivated by the story and vows to find herself a prince, a not so enchanted Tiana declares that she’ll never need a prince. Dress and story finished, mother and child venture from the luxurious La Bouff manor to their own home that resembles a shack. Inside, Tiana’s father, James (voiced by Terrence Howard), is making his famous gumbo, but it isn’t finished until Tiana adds her special touch. Before she allows herself to be tucked in that night, she quietly wishes upon a star that one day the dream that she shares with her father of opening a restaurant will come true. The story now jumps ahead to Tiana’s adult years. Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a hardworking waitress who is saving up to buy a restaurant. Since her father died in the war, their dream has become her only goal in life. Realizing that she’ll never be able to become a restaurateur until she proves she has what it takes, Tiana convinces Charlotte that the only way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and is hired by Charlotte to cook her special dish at the party Big Daddy is throwing to welcome Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos). With the money Charlotte gives Tiana for the dish’s ingredients, Tiana is finally able to buy her restaurant. Unbeknownst to the La Bouffs, Prince Naveen is penniless and, in the hope of regaining his wealth, is just as anxious to have Charlotte fall in love with him. On his way to the manor, Prince Naveen meets Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David), a voodoo magician who also wants a piece of the La Bouff fortune. Realizing that Prince Naveen would never help him, he turns the prince into a frog and disguises the prince’s butler as the prince. At the party, the bankers inform Tiana that she has been outbid for the restaurant and, unless she can raise more money, she’ll lose the site. Feeling hopeless, the grounded Tiana reluctantly wishes on a star that somehow she’ll be able to raise the money. Seemingly out of nowhere, Prince Naveen appears and, believing Tiana to be a princess, convinces her to kiss him so that the spell will be broken and he’ll be human again. In exchange for the kiss, the prince agrees to finance the remaining amount on her restaurant. Grossed out, but in need of a miracle, she kisses him. However, instead of freeing him from the spell, she gets turned into a frog as well. In order to survive and learn the key to solving their froggy problem, they are forced to retreat to the bayou. There they meet a trumpet playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and Ray, (Jim Cummings), a Cajun firefly who is in love with his Evangeline. Together, they embark on a journey to find Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis), a blind voodoo priestess more powerful than Dr. Facilier. Why is Prince Naveen reluctant to marry Charlotte? Will Tiana ever get her restaurant? Can the spell be broken in time to save the La Bouffs? The answers to these questions await you at the movies.
Though the movie is clearly based on both E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess and the Grimm Brother’s fairytale The Frog Prince, I would argue that it stands entirely alone. Jointly written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (Some of their other joint efforts are: The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.), The Princess and the Frog is perhaps the best movie that Disney has put out in over ten years. Considering our current economy, the story is relatable to many and has the potential of motivating people to keep going despite economically unsound dreams and fears of lost income. Despite being animated, the characters are multi-dimensional and worth rooting for. As our heroine, Tiana is a strong feminist role model (She works hard for what she wants and refuses to allow a man to be anything, but her equal.) that every young girl should try to emulate. My only complaint (and it’s going to sound like a deal breaker in light of the genre) is the music. Though Randy Newman can be counted on by Disney to sporadically write thematically appropriate songs for their films (It’s impossible to think of Toy Story and not hum a line or two from the song You’ve Got A Friend In Me.), I believe it was unwise of Disney to entrust Newman with the entire score. True, the songs have a fun beat, but they don’t remain with you after you’ve left the theater. On the other hand, if Alan Menken (He wrote the scores for Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Pocahontas to name a few Disney classics.) had been asked to take the musical reins, one can only imagine how amazing this movie would’ve been. Still, I stand behind my claim that this movie is the best thing to come out of the Disney corporation in years.
Unfortunately, this children’s movie with the potential to teach young and old about how to remain true to your goals despite personal hardship is considered by many to be controversial. You see Tiana is African-American and Prince Naveen is Caucasian and while they both are green for most of the movie, the fact that they are of different racial backgrounds and marry in the end (Sorry to spoil that surprise for you!) is too much for some people to stomach. Having been raised by some of those people, I wondered as I watched The Princess and the Frog if I would’ve been taken to see this movie as easily as I was Beauty and the Beast. While I would like to think that my mom would’ve seen it as just another Disney movie, the fact that I’m not totally sure if this would’ve been the case is unsettling to me. In truth, I wasn’t raised by a bunch of racists. My parents taught my brothers and me to treat everyone with respect and not to judge someone on their exterior. Yet, I know it would shave numerous years off of my mother’s life if any or all of us decide to marry a non-Caucasian. Sadly, my mother, like many parents and grandparents of today, grew up in the 1950s when segregation was the norm and discrimination was a word as yet to be defined by the general population. For many of my generation, the opinions and thought processes of our parents are considered embarrassing and medieval. Realizing that we now must decide which side of the gay marriage debate we are on, the idea of two heterosexual people of differing races marrying is a non-issue. To us, just as in the case of Belle and her beast, Tiana and her prince are just a couple who were able to find love during a trying time in their lives. By turning this heartwarming tale into a question of race, you are missing the point of the story and cheating yourself and your children of the lessons it conveys. Only when we stop putting up barriers around our hearts do we finally begin to live.
The Princess and the Frog is a familiar story with an enjoyable twist. Even if you never enjoyed Disney movies, I recommend you go see this movie. Unlike most movies of this brand, this movie is smart and witty with a heart as large as Rose’s voice. The characters are genuine and Newman’s score is satisfactory if not exactly satisfying. Furthermore, New Orleans of yesterday looks gorgeous on the big screen. I do warn parents of young children though that Dr. Facilier and his spirits are quite scary and may cause some tears to be shed. That having been said, I hope you will enjoy the movie and share the viewing experience with the people you love.
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