Let me first commend Disney for FINALLY creating an animated African-American heroine. Thank you for doing what you should have done a long time ago. With that said, The Princess and the Frog marks Disney’s triumphant return to 2D animation. The past decade has not been kind to 2D animation, especially Disney’s brand of 2D animation. After a string of commercial flops  (Atlantis, Brother Bear, Treasure Planet, and Home on the Range), Disney decided to close its 2D animation division and focus solely on digital animation. However, thanks to John Lasseter, a dyed in the wool Disney acolyte, Disney has once again returned to 2D animation with a focus on the types of stories that once made Disney’s animated films into event pictures.

The Princess and the Frog is a Broadway-style American fairy tale musical set in New Orleans. Loosely based on the Grimm Bros. fairy tale, “The Frog Prince,” the movie tells the story of a poor girl named Tiana who meets a frog that used to be a prince. The prince, Naveen, ran afoul of an evil scheming voodoo magician, Dr. Facilier (voiced to absolute perfection by Keith David), who turned him into a frog. The frog prince mistakenly thinks that if Tiana kisses him, he will return to his human form. However, her kiss transforms Tiana into a frog as well and the two frogs must now find a way to stop Dr. Facilier and return to their human forms.

The Princess and the Frog is not only a return to 2D animation, but also a return to the style of animation that put Disney at the forefront of animation. It goes without saying that the film looks stunning. The film’s style reminded me of the look and style of the Disney animated films of the 1950’s (The Lady and the Tramp and Peter Pan), which the directors of the film have stated they were aiming for. The characters also no longer appear as if they are trying to look like CG animated characters (as we saw in Treasure Planet). The animators returned to the former style of character design and animation that worked so well in previous 2D classics.

The plot of the film is familiar to most, but with a modern and welcome twist. No longer do you see the heroine being told that she will get whatever she wants by simply wishing for it. This is America…you gotta work for your shit. Being a fairy tale, the heroine still wishes upon a star, but she is also aware that nothing comes without without good honest effort (and I don’t mean by putting out). Although you still have the requisite sidekicks, I didn’t mind this so much as I have in the past. In other films, it seems the hero/heroine gets saddled with a sidekick almost randomly. Its as if the director pushes the “Sidekick” button on his computer and a companion character magically appears for no logical reason. Here, on the other hand, the supporting characters make more sense. I didn’t get the sense that they were put in the picture merely to provide comic relief. Each character pushes the story forward toward the resolution.

The villain is one character that I think deserves special mention. The success of an animated film is measured mostly by the strength of the villain. It is why films like The Incredibles and Shrek work so well, not to mention all the Disney classics from yesteryear. Here, we get introduced to Dr. Facilier, the Shadow Man. He is a voodoo practicing swindler who tries to get rid of the prince so he can get ahold of his riches. Keith David reminds me of James Earl Jones. Both are blessed with distinct voices that anyone will recognize if they hear it. David’s voice is absolutely perfect here as it lends an intimidating and ominous aspect to the character. The animators must also be given much credit for the beautiful little character touches they give the character.

Another nice return we get in The Princess and the Frog is the return of the musical number. Disney decided to use veteran Pixar music-meister, Randy Newman instead of Alan Menken. I have never been a huge fan of Newman’s songs nor music. I don’t dislike his music, but I’m rather impartial to it. His work has never distinguished itself in the Pixar movies. This is unlike Alan Menken’s work for Disney, especially the awesome work he did with the late Howard Ashman in Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin. However, I have to say that I was quite impressed with most of the musical numbers in this film. Newman shows a side of him that we have not seen as Pixar has never made a musical. The numbers are not enough to make me want to purchase the soundtrack, but they provide sufficient entertainment and I didn’t feel like they slowed the film down one bit.

If you have little kids, especially girls, you will do yourself a disservice by not taking them to see The Princess and the Frog. 2009 has been a strong year for animated features and this film is among the best the year has offered. If you don’t have kids or if you are a huge animation buff like I am, this film is not to be missed. Disney has finally returned to 2D animation in a huge way and I cannot wait to see what else it has to offer in the future.

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