Movie Review – The Princess and the Frog (2009)

In December of 2009, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures released its 49th animated film, The Princess and the Frog.

Loosely based on the fairy tale The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker, and the classic Grimm fairy tale The Frog Prince, The Princess and the Frog uses traditional, hand-drawn animation to tell the tale of a spoiled prince who is turned into a frog from a magic spell, and his quest to become human again.  The Disney version adds the lead female character also being turned into a frog, and the two of them have to battle an evil voodoo magician before its too late.

The Princess and the Frog also sets a milestone for Disney princesses as Tiana is the first black princess in the Disney animated films, not that it really matters.  What’s important here is that The Princess and the Frog tells a good story while being set in a fantastic environment.  On top of that, the animation and art work in this film is simply outstanding!

The Princess and the Frog (2009) - movie poster

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – movie poster

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, The Princess and the Frog stars Anika Noni Rose as the voice of Tiana, the heroine of the film.  Supporting her are Bruno Campos as the voice role of Prince Naveen, Keith David as Doctor Facilier, and John Goodman as Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff.  Other voice actors in the film include Jim Cummings, Jennifer Cody, Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard.

The Princess and the Frog takes place in and around New Orleans, Louisiana.

The film begins in 1912 in the city of New Orleans.  We know that it’s 1912 as a newspaper has an article about Woodrow Wilson being elected as President of the United States.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Young Tiana and her friend Charlotte La Bouff are listening to Tiana’s mother, Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), tell the story of The Frog Prince while Eudora finishes making Charlotte’s dress.  When Eudora reaches the end of the story, Tiana finds the idea of kissing a frog to be disgusting and revolting.  While Tiana thinks of it as disgusting, Charlotte states that she would gladly kiss a frog to turn him into a prince.

Charlotte’s father Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff (voiced by John Goodman) picks up his daughter and takes her home.  Tiana and her mother then head home.  As we can see, while Charlotte and her father live in a wealthy part of town, Tiana and her parents live in a poor area.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

At home, Tiana’s father, James (voiced by Terrence Howard), loves his family and is a hard worker.  He also has a passion for cooking and sharing his cooking with other people.  His long-term goal in life is to one day own his own restaurant, an elegant establishment that he wants to call Tiana’s Place.

Fast forward fourteen years later to 1926.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) works two jobs as a waitress.  She continues saving every bit of money that she can for the restaurant that she wants to own.  She heads to work and we hear the song “Down in New Orleans” while seeing scenes of everyday life in that city.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

One of the city’s newspapers announces the arrival of Prince Naveen of Maldonia to the Crescent City.  As we see, Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos) acts more like a spoiled boy than the prince from a wealthy family.  He would rather flirt with girls and play jazz music than act like a royal dignitary.  His valet, Lawrence (voiced by Peter Bartlett), has also noticed the prince’s behavior as well.

While Tiana’s friends and colleagues go around and have fun, she believes in working hard to earn her way in life.  She tried wishing for success when she was younger, but she learned that it also takes hard work to go anywhere in life.  Tiana is willing to do whatever it takes to have a restaurant.

One day Eli La Bouff and his daughter, Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody), tell Tiana that Prince Naveen of Maldonia is visiting Louisiana and the city of New Orleans.  Eli is the king of that year’s Mardi Gras celebration, and he has invited the prince to his masquerade ball.  Charlotte hires Tiana as a caterer for the ball, but she’s more excited about meeting the prince and hopefully marrying him.  Tiana, on the other hand, is more excited about now having just enough money to purchase an old sugar mill and converting it into an elegant restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That afternoon Tiana purchases the property from the Fenner Brothers Realty Company.  They’ll have the paperwork ready in a couple of days after Mardi Gras, but Tiana tells them that she’s ready to sign for it tonight at the masquerade party.  Tiana’s mother arrives and gives her daughter a gift of her family’s old cooking pot for her new restaurant.  Eudora isn’t too sure about converting the old sugar mill into a restaurant, especially with its poor condition and extreme need of maintenance and repairs, but Tiana is confident that it’ll work.  She sings “Almost There” while visualizing how her restaurant will look when it’s open for business and the talk of the town.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That same afternoon Prince Naveen is having fun on the city’s streets when he runs into a voodoo witch doctor named Doctor Facilier (voiced by Keith David).  Doctor Facilier entices Prince Naveen and Lawrence into his voodoo shop while singing “Friends on the Other Side.”  There’s a tarot card reading and we learn that Prince Naveen has been cut off by his wealthy parents and the prince is actually broke.  Naveen just wants money so that he can continue to roam the world and have fun.  Doctor Facilier tells Naveen that he sees “green” in the prince’s future.

As far as Lawrence, Doctor Facilier reveals that Lawrence has been pushed around for all of his life.  If he was married, he would also be pushed around by his wife.  However, in Lawrence’s future Doctor Facilier sees a life of royalty where others are doing his work.

Both Naveen and Lawrence shake Facilier’s hands and then the real magic begins.  Facilier takes a drop of Naveen’s blood and uses that to charge a talisman.  Naveen then goes through a transformation process though we don’t exactly see what happens to him.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That evening is the masquerade ball and Tiana is one of the caterers.  Charlotte grows more and more impatient with each passing minute as Prince Naveen has yet to arrive.  He finally does arrive and Prince Naveen and Charlotte have an elegant dance.  The Fenner brothers also show up at the party, but they have bad news for Tiana.  Another buyer has paid the full amount for the property in cash.  Unless Tiana can come up with that difference in money in a couple of days, the the realtors will sell the property to the other bidder.

Tiana is devastated by the news of losing the old sugar mill.  Her dress gets ruined and Charlotte takes her inside the house to change into a princess gown.  Charlotte then leaves Tiana to go chase after Prince Naveen and try to get a marriage proposal from him, leaving Tiana alone.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

As Tiana is feeling sad for herself, suddenly she’s joined by a frog.  She freaks out when the frog starts talking to her.  Tiana wants to smash him with the book A Frog Prince when the frog stops her, claiming to know that very story.  The frog claims to actually be Prince Naveen.  He’s from a wealthy family.  If Tiana kisses him, then it’ll change him back into a human and he’ll give her the rest of the money that she needs to purchase the old sugar mill.

When Tiana kisses the frog she’s also transformed into a frog.  It turns out that Tiana wasn’t really a princess, she was just dressed as one for the masquerade.  Now she’s part of Facilier’s voodoo spell and now a frog as well.  Tiana is angry and she and Naveen get into a fight and end up outside in the masquerade.  Chaos follows and the two frogs ultimately grab some party balloons and float away into the night sky.

When Facilier sees the frogs escape he confronts the human version of Prince Naveen.  It turns out that the human version of Naveen is really Lawrence in disguise.  As long as Lawrence wears the talisman, and it’s charged, then he’ll look like Naveen and be able to woo Charlotte, marry her, and access her father’s fortune.  Facilier is very protective of the talisman though we really don’t know why.  Anyway, Facilier convinces Lawrence to continue with the plan and then split Charlotte’s family fortune with him 60%/40% with Facilier keeping the majority of it.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The balloons carrying the two frogs begin to pop, and the frogs make a splash landing in a watery bayou.  They’re quickly attacked by a fish, then a heron, and then a small pack of alligators.  The two frogs hide in a hollow tree until morning arrives and the gators are gone.

The next morning Tiana has already made a raft by the time Naveen wakes from his sleep.  Her plan is to get back to New Orleans so they can find a way to break the voodoo spell.  While Tiana rows their raft, Naveen sits back and relaxes.  When she asks him for some help, Naveen plays his makeshift guitar a little bit louder.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The two frogs are quickly spotted by another alligator.  Instead of attacking them, the alligator, named Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley), pulls out his trumpet and plays along to Naveen’s song.  It turns out that Louis is a huge fan of jazz music enough though he’s an alligator and not a human.  He learned how to play jazz music after listening to the musicians on passing riverboats.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Louis is fascinated to learn that both Naveen and Tiana are really humans, and that a voodoo spell changed them into frogs.  He then tells them about a voodoo woman named Mama Odie who lives there in the bayou.  Perhaps she knows of a way to break Facilier’s spell and change the frogs back into humans.  The trio then sing “When We’re Human” while making their way to Mama Odie’s place.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Back in New Orleans, Lawrence, disguised as Prince Naveen, keeps wooing Charlotte and winning her heart.  He’s successful until the talisman loses its power and Lawrence starts looking like his old self.  He manages to disguise himself and quickly proposes to Charlotte, which she accepts.  Charlotte is excited as it’s going to be a Mardi Gras wedding.  When Facilier appears he tells Lawrence that they’re going to need more of Naveen’s blood to re-charge the talisman.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In the swamp, Tiana and Naveen are tangled together when they meet Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings), a Cajun firefly.  When Ray learns that they’re heading to Mama Odie’s place he informs them that they’ve been heading in the wrong direction.  Louis tries to explain himself, but he really doesn’t have an answer as to why they’ve been going the wrong way.  Ray offers to help and his firefly friends light the path in the correct direction.  He sings the zydeco song “Gonna Take You There” while they head to Mama Odie’s place.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

At his voodoo shop in New Orleans, Doctor Facilier turns to the voodoo spirits for help. He promises them that once Lawrence marries Charlotte, he’ll then use a voodoo doll to kill Lawrence and gain control over New Orleans. He’ll then be able to offer the citizens’ souls as payment for his past deeds. The voodoo spirits agree to Facilier’s deal, and they dispatch shadow demons to go find Naveen.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Back in the swamp, the frogs run into a little bit of trouble when three Cajun frog catchers try to catch them. First Naveen is captured and then Tiana is captured as Naveen frees himself. He returns to help Tiana and the two frogs jump around the hunters, causing them to beat up one another in a scene you’d find from The Three Stooges. The Cajun hunters race away when they learn that the strange frogs can also talk.

After the encounter with the hunters, Tiana cooks them some dinner. Naveen reveals that he’s never had to do any work his whole life as he’s had servants everywhere. It helps explains his spoiled behavior. Tiana teaches him how to slice and dice a mushroom, and Naveen seems grateful to learn this skill.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

After their dinner, Ray tells the group that he is in love with a firefly named Evangeline. What he believes to be Evangeline in the night sky is really the Evening Star, also known as planet Venus. Ray then sings “Ma Belle Evangeline” and Tiana and Naveen start to fall in love with each other.

At the end of the song some shadow demons try to grab Naveen, but they’re scared away by Mama Odie’s (voiced by Jenifer Lewis) supernatural powers.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Inside of Mama Odie’s home, the voodoo priestess seems to be talking in circles. Although the two frogs tell her that they wish to be human, Mama Odie tells them that they are blind to what they really need. She sings the gospel song “Dig a Little Deeper” and passes on a stronger message. During the song Naveen realizes that he’s in love with Tiana.

After the song, Mama Odie looks into her magic gumbo and her and the frogs see that on this day Charlotte is a real princess as her father is this year’s king of the Mardi Gras parade. Mama Odie warns that Charlotte is only a princess until the stroke of midnight. If Charlotte kisses Naveen before midnight, then he and Tiana will become human again.

Ray, Louis, Naveen and Tiana then sneak on board a steam-powered paddle wheeler heading to New Orleans and hitch a ride to the Crescent City. Some jazz musicians dressed in costumes mistake Louis for also being a person in a costume, and he’s invited to play in their band.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

That evening on the ship, Naveen tries to impress Tiana by preparing for her a meal. He tries to propose to her but stops when Tiana talks about her dream of having her own restaurant. He promises to do whatever it takes to make her dream come true.

Just as the ship arrives in New Orleans, Naveen is captured by a shadow demon and taken to Doctor Facilier. Facilier takes more of Naveen’s blood, recharges the talisman, and has Lawrence disguise himself as the prince so that he can marry Charlotte during the Mardi Gras parade.

Tiana is confused on why Naveen disappeared when they arrived in New Orleans. She becomes happy when Ray accidentally tells her Naveen’s plans of marrying her, getting a job, and helping her with the restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tiana hops through the crowds and finds the Mardi Gras parade, but she’s devastated when she sees the final float with Charlotte, her father, and Prince Naveen. It’s a wedding ceremony.  She thinks that Naveen had Charlotte kiss him to become human again, and then married her to gain her family’s fortune. Ray tries to figure out how Naveen can be a human yet Tiana is still a frog when he notices that Tiana has disappeared. He quickly finds her in a cemetery.  When Ray tries to talk to Tiana about wishing for a happy ending, Tiana becomes upset and tells him that wishing doesn’t make things come true.  She also tells him that his beloved “Evangeline” is nothing more than one of millions of stars in the night sky.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Ray heads out to investigate the wedding ceremony on the Mardi Gras float when he discovers that the real Prince Naveen is still a frog and trapped in a box.  He unlocks the box and Naveen jumps onto Lawrence and pulls the him off the float.  When Lawrence takes the frog into a church, they’re joined by Doctor Facilier.  Ray also appears and flees with the talisman, leaving Lawrence in his true form.  When Ray flees Facilier sends some shadow demons after him.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Ray reaches the cemetery and gives the talisman to Taina, showing her proof of the voodoo magic.  Suddenly the shadow demons arrive.  Tiana flees with the talisman while Ray fights off some of the demons.  Ray loses the fight though when he’s knocked to the ground and stepped on by Facilier, mortally wounding him.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Facilier then corners Tiana and she threatens to smash and destroy the talisman.  Before she can do so, Facilier uses his voodoo magic to show Tiana a life of luxury, one where her restaurant is real and a success.  Facilier offers to make this reality happen if she’ll give him the talisman.  He makes a convincing case for the girl.  Tiana refuses and tries to throw the talisman to the ground, but it’s caught by a shadow demon and taken to Facilier.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Just as Facilier thinks that he has won, Tiana uses her frog tongue to snatch the talisman and make it shatter on the ground.  This infuriates the voodoo spirits and, using Facilier himself as a payment for his debts, they drag him away to their version of Hell.

In the other part of the city Charlotte discovers that Lawrence is a fraud and he’s arrested.  She then meets the frog version of Naveen, and he explains everything about the voodoo curse.  Tiana arrives and overhears Naveen explain to Charlotte that Tiana deserves the money for her restaurant, and that she is also his “Evangeline.”

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Time is ticking until midnight and Charlotte is about to kiss Naveen and break the spell, but she’s stopped by Tiana.  Naveen is confused as breaking the spell would be giving Tiana her dream.  She tells him that her true dream wouldn’t be complete without having Naveen at her side.  The clock then strikes midnight.  Charlotte kisses Naveen and tries to break the spell, but it’s too late.

Louis comes running to Naveen and Tiana and brings them Ray as he’s breathing his last few breaths.  Tiana and Naveen tell Ray that not only are they going to keep living as frogs, but they’ll be living together.  He remarks that he likes that very much.  Ray then dies.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

There’s a funeral procession into the bayou and everybody says goodbye to their friend.  Ray’s body is placed onto a leaf and sent to drift into the swamp.  Just after the leaf disappears into the mist, everybody notices the clouds clear and reveal the night stars.  Shining next to the Evening Star is a new star, and it’s just as bright.  It seems like Ray has finally joined his beloved Evangeline.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Some time after that Naveen and Tiana get married in the bayou.  Mama Odie officiates the ceremony.  When the two frogs kiss there’s a burst of magic and suddenly they both become human again.  The voodoo spell has been broken!

Remember that Charlotte was only a princess through Mardi Gras.  The opportunity for Charlotte to kiss Naveen ended at midnight.  Otherwise, as long as any princess, including a girl recently made into one in a wedding ceremony, kiss Naveen, then the spell would be broken.  That’s what happened here.  The wedding ceremony made Tiana into a princess when she married Prince Naveen.  When they had their kiss as husband and wife it broke the spell.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Tiana and Naveen then have their official wedding at the St. Louis Cathedral before returning to New Orleans.  After that Louis helps “convince” the Fenner brothers to accept Tiana’s offer for the old sugar mill, and she and Naveen convert it into a restaurant.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – (c) Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

The Princess and the Frog ends with Tiana living her dream of owning a restaurant.  Prince Naveen is at her side and also working in the restaurant.

So is The Princess and the Frog a good movie?

Absolutely!

This is a fantastic animated film that fits right in with Disney’s glory days of animated films.  The characters are great, the locations are quite fascinating, and the artwork itself is nothing short of spectacular.  This is how animated films *should* look.

Throughout The Princess and the Frog there are moments of familiarity where although you’re looking at new material, it feels like you’ve seen it somewhere before.  That’s not a negative issue at all.  For those of us who have grown up with Disney animated films, this one looks and feels like it belongs with the best of the best of them.

The Lawrence character looks similar to Mr. Smee from Peter Pan.  The scenes in the bayou look similar to the forest scenes in Bambi.  The voodoo masks look similar to the tiki gods in the The Enchanted Tiki Room at the Magic Kingdom of all places.  Don’t forget that the Magic Kingdom also has a steam-powered paddle wheel boat, another part of this film.  And of course, pretty much all of the scenes in this film remind me of places throughout Disney’s Port Orleans Resort.  Perhaps one of the reasons why I like The Princess and the Frog so much is that it has a ton of Disney sights in the Disney film.

If anything, this film needs more of the bayou, more of the voodoo, more of New Orleans and Mardi Gras, and more of the villain, Doctor Facilier.  We know so little about Facilier yet he seems like somebody with a much bigger story to tell.

As much as I like this film, there are some areas where I have some concerns and questions.

First of all, a newspaper in the film claims that the date Prince Naveen arrives in New Orleans is Friday, April 25, 1926.  Was Mardi Gras held in April back in those days?  Normally the holiday occurs in February, and it’s Good Friday and Easter which commonly take place in March or April.  The animators must have had a reason for picking that date, but it’s beyond me.

Second, the songs in the film seemed to be on the short side.  Just as you’re getting into the music (like with “Gonna Take You There”) all of a sudden it’s finished.  The songs are good, but they seem to be a little bit too short.

Third, racial segregation was still a very big issue in the 1920s, yet in this film black and white people seem to be getting along together just fine.  We even see a mix of the people gathering in Tiana’s restaurant at the end of the film.  Considering that the American Civil War ended about sixty years before the events in this film, would people have really behaved like that in public?

I really don’t know, but it just seems to be a little bit off when watching the people in the film.

Otherwise, the rest of the animated movie is great.  The lead female has strong morals and values.  Tiana is definitely a positive role model for today’s youth.

Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Tiana's Showboat Jubilee! - 01 Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Tiana's Showboat Jubilee! - 02 Walt Disney World - Magic Kingdom - Tiana's Showboat Jubilee! - 03

In the fall of 2009, there was a short stage show in the Magic Kingdom called Tiana’s Showboat Jubilee!  The show took place on the Liberty Belle riverboat and featured most of the characters and songs from the movie.  The show was mostly a promotion for the upcoming movie, but it was catchy and it pleased the audience.  It’s too bad that the park didn’t find a way to make it a permanent addition.  It was impressive seeing the riverboat with music playing and the characters from the film.

The Princess and the Frog (2009) – movie trailer

The Princess and the Frog is a must-see for lovers of animated films as well as subjects such as New Orleans, voodoo, the 1920s, and fairy tales in general.  Fans of the Disney theme parks will also feel right at home in this animated movie.

four stars

Namecheap