The filmmakers who helped usher in the renaissance of Disney animation twenty years ago with The Little Mermaid have done it again with The Princess and the Frog. Here is a tuneful, entertaining, great-looking, hip, funny animated feature destined to the capture the hearts of young fans and Disney aficionados alike. All the right…
ingredients are here: a heroine we can relate to and root for, an unlikely hero who has to prove himself, an oily villain, a colorful array of supporting characters, magnificent production design, and a rousing musical score by Randy Newman. Every musical number is treated in a different style, giving the film a wide variety of visual motifs, from art deco to high-style voodoo.
Writer-directors John Musker and Ron Clements have always managed to strike a balance between fidelity to Disney fairy-tale storytelling and wild irreverence. The heroine, Tiana, is played straight, but the hero, Naveen, who spends much of the movie in the form of a frog, is a pampered prince with an outsized ego. His steady stream of wisecracks make him endearing and fun—and the first Disney prince to have a sense of humor. The verbal and visual gags that pepper the film run the gamut from broad slapstick to clever “inside” jokes…and best of all, the film never stops moving. (I suppose one could adapt this as a Broadway musical, but it would be difficult for even the most imaginative stage director to duplicate the kinetic force that propels this movie from its opening scene onward. Even a crucial scene of story exposition between Tiana and Naveen is played as the characters—now frogs—leap and dart through the swamp.)
It was John Lasseter—who made computer-generated animation acceptable to a wide audience with Toy Story—who insisted that Disney rehire Musker and Clements and allow them to make a 2-D feature. That meant they had to reassemble a team that was capable of working with pencil and paper (as well as computers) to recapture the look and feel of a traditional Disney cartoon feature, and they’ve done themselves proud. This film represents the work of some of the finest character animators alive, along with an army of talented artists. The voice work is first-rate, with special kudos to Brazilian-born Bruno Campos, who adds zest to the role of Prince Naveen, and Disney veteran Jim Cummings (the longtime voice of Winnie the Pooh) as the Cajun firefly named Ray.