- The Washington Times - Friday, December 11, 2009

Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” marks the revitalization of the studio’s 2-D animation arm and the premiere of its first black princess. How much you appreciate the film will likely depend on the weight you place on each of these factors and how much you expect the film to accomplish as a result.

Are you seeking mere entertainment? If so, Disney delivers likable characters, a decent story arc, lively song and dance, and some breathtakingly beautiful visuals. But if you’re expecting a searching exploration of racial issues or a total revision of the prototypical Disney princess tale, you’ll find a film that almost seems afraid of breaking too much new ground.

Our advice? View “The Princess and the Frog” on its own terms and see it for what it really is: evidence that 2-D, “hand-drawn” animation is still viable in this CGI-crazed climate and that this form still has territory to explore.

The film is set in 1920s-era New Orleans and centers around Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), a protagonist who — at least initially — resembles not Sleeping Beauty but the “Independent Women” of Destiny’s Child songs. This “princess” is actually a hardworking waitress who has been saving up for her own restaurant, and she hasn’t any time to waste pining for Mr. Right. In fact, when Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) arrives in town from the far-off land of Maldonia (wherever that is), Tiana is about the only gal in town who isn’t going gaga.

Naveen isn’t much of a catch anyway; while he does possess a royal title, fine olive skin and a sexy foreign (vaguely French-Italian) accent, he’s out of loot now that his parents have cut him off, he has no work skills or ambitions, and his ego is bigger than his homeland. Perhaps a creepy voodoo man who talks to his shadow can lend the prince an amulet — er, hand? Of course! Dr. Facilier (Keith David) is quite happy to alter the circumstances… by turning the prince into a frog.

Believing a kiss to be the antidote, Naveen the Green somehow manages to persuade the headstrong Tiana to plant a fat one on him — unfortunately, its sudden, magical effect is that it turns our working girl into a frog, too. The two hoppers then set off into the Louisiana bayou in search of safety. What they discover is much greater: beauty, love, an eclectic score by Randy Newman, friends like a Cajun firefly and a trumpet-playing gator, and down-to-earth advice from a 197-year-old voodoo priestess.

This entertaining flick will certainly help Disney recover from its last 2-D project, the 2004 box-office flop “Home on the Range” — but it is missing that extra spark (real originality? unforgettable songs?) that made prior efforts like “The Little Mermaid” such enduring favorites.

What else you find it lacking will, again, depend on your expectations: Does it matter to you that this Jim Crow South is repainted in a happily integrated hue or that despite the protagonist’s independence, she still can’t realize her dreams until she decides to marry a prince? If not, get out to the theater and catch this pleasant, somewhat groundbreaking flick.

TITLE: “The Princess and the Frog”
CREDITS: Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements. Written by Mr. Musker, Mr. Clements and Rob Edwards, loosely based on E.D. Baker’s “The Frog Princess.”
RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes
WEB SITE: disney.com/princessandthefrog

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