Tiana (Rose) works two waitressing jobs in order to earn enough to buy her own restaurant. Naveen (Campos) is a lazy prince who is turned into a frog by a voodoo man (David). When frog-Naveen persuades Tiana to kiss him in the hope of transforming back, s
Much has been said about the historic milestones this represents — the return of hand-drawn animation; the first African-American Disney princess — and that’s all worth remarking upon. But it doesn’t really sum this film up, because this is a thoroughly old-fashioned fairy tale, the epitome of a Disney movie that distils the essence of Walt for a new generation weaned on the cynicism of Shrek. In fact, this is the anti-Shrek, a sincere fairy tale with a good heart, but one that is never naive or boring.
Certainly, all the familiar fairy-tale elements are here. So, welcome a beautiful heroine, a handsome prince, overweight comic relief, a magic-wielding ne’er-do-well and a fairy godmother, of a sort. In 1920s New Orleans, our hero is turned into a frog; the heroine, kissing him in order to turn him back, finds herself trapped in the curse, and the pair hop off to the swamp in search of an old voodoo witch to turn them back. Hedging their bets, legendary animation directors Ron Clements and John Musker have made a film bookended by princesses in pretty dresses but with a middle section filled with comedy talking animals, following the sharp Disney practice of leavening the gooiest love stories with plenty of non-human slapstick (see also: Cinderella, Beauty And The Beast).
But there are differences, and a more recognisably modern feeling that prevents this feeling like a simple rehash of what’s gone before. For a start, the female roles belie the sometimes patronising attitude of Disney towards its past heroines. Tiana (Dreamgirls’ Anika Noni Rose) is a hard-headed heroine who works hard and displays a focus and drive — aimed at opening her own restaurant — hitherto entirely lacking from Disney princesses. Never mind her skin colour: her character is the biggest sign that things have moved on since Walt’s day, and the scenes with her mother, Eudora (Oprah Winfrey), ring true as a bell.
Our prince, too, has moved on. Naveen (Bruno Campos) is a feckless playboy without a lick of sense. And in this movie, that’s acknowledged as a character flaw rather than celebrated as a lifestyle choice. So while Tiana has to learn to lighten up a bit, Naveen has some growing up of his own to do. Throw in Tiana’s delightfully airheaded (but never avaricious) best friend (Jennifer Cody), a comedy alligator called Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a lovestruck firefly (Jim Cummings) and a truly frightening villain in the lizard-like Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and his demonic shadow, and you’ve got yourself a fairy tale. Add hand-drawn animation of unsurpassed beauty and some insanely catchy tunes from Pixar stalwart Randy Newman and it becomes a Disney fairy tale. It’s no spoiler to say that the ending is happy, but this will throw enough curveballs en route to make you doubt it. And it’s no use complaining to us that the ending’s implausible — don’t you know that true love conquers all?
Exactly as good as Musker and Clements earlier efforts, so a return to the form of Disneys early 1990s classics. The animation is gorgeous, the heroine feisty and the animals amusing but this may be too scary for the very small.