Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Review: The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog

When I first heard about this film, I couldn't help but regard it with a little cynicism. Disney's last few films have flopped, so what better way to make money than to cash in on the nostalgia that a return to the hand-drawn musical would bring? Well, perhaps that was the motivation behind this film, but The Princess and the Frog plays the nostalgia card very, very well. More than that, it's an incredibly entertaining, humorous, and altogether memorable Disney experience.
Where else can one start but the songs? True to its roots, The Princess and the Frog packs itself with toe-tapping bayou and jazz-inspired ditties, making clear from the opening frames that yes, this will be a musical. On the whole, the songs were pleasant, though none will become Disney classics, and are, for the most part, integrated organically into the body of the film. My personal favorites were the by-turns joyful and bittersweet "Almost There," the sort-of theme song "Down in New Orleans," and the heart-wrenchingly sweet and romantic "Ma Belle Evangeline." The scoring in between the songs is a little sparse (with the exception of the gorgeous opening suite for brass), but I suppose we can forgive Randy Newman for now. He is, after all, only Randy Newman, and one can only expect so much of him out of any given film.
The vocal performances are stellar across the board. Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) is stellar as the titular Princess Tiana. She brings a warmth and drive to the role that is never lost. Equally good is Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen. He believably and accurately traverses the most complex character arc in the film. Watch out for cameos from Oprah and Terence Howard as well (they play Tiana's parents in the prologue).
The actors would be lost, however, without the fantastic screenplay, which doesn't leave them at a loss for words. The film is unusually sharp and witty for a new Disney film, as well as emotionally resonant and thematically mature. Indeed, watching The Princess and the Frog feels like a Pixar film; it's not afraid to tackle difficult 'adult' emotions. Plus, the film is filled with just enough bizarre throw-away lines ("Dance with me, fat man!") to make this writer downright giddy.
Overall, The Princess and the Frog is an immensely satisfying cinema outing sure to remind viewers of the old Disney classics and, one day, take its place among them.

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