Friday, 1 January 2010


Now Showing
Walt Disney Films

A year after the US elected its first black president, Disney has decided it is time they gave us their first black heroine. Admittedly, Disney have come a little late to the ball, and some curmudgeons have pointed out that said heroine, Tiana, spends most of the film as a frog. It's not the first time Disney has been accused of racial insensitivity, but politics aside, this is a charming film that should be embraced by littlies of all colours (and ages).

Indeed, Time magazine film critic Richard Corliss named The Princess and the Frog the best film of 2009. I wouldn't go that far but I would say that Disney have rediscovered their magic. That may have something to do with their returning to traditional 2D animation; this is the studio's first film in this format since 2002's Lilo and Stitch, and their best since 1994's The Lion King (though it's nowhere near as accomplished as that - in my opinion - masterpiece).

Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), inspired by her late father's culinary gift, is an aspiring restaurateur in 1920s New Orleans. She works as a waitress, hoping to save enough money for a deposit on a property where she'll open her own eatery. A loan from her friend, spoilt Southern princess Charlotte (comically voiced by Jennifer Cody), who has her own dream of marrying a prince, seems out of the question. Then Prince Naveen (an Indian sounding name but voiced by Spanish-accented Bruno Campos) arrives in town. He's out to have some fun and is ripe for the picking by local voodoo man, Dr Vacilier (David Keith), who turns him into the titular frog.

A case of mistaken identity has Naveen request a kiss from Tiana whom he believes to be a princess, resulting in her also transforming into an amphibian. Escaping Vacilier into the bayou, they meet an alligator, Louis, who just wants to play jazz, and Ray, an elderly firefly, who help them find Mama Odie who may or may not be able to reverse the spell.

Recalling Disney's female-centric films of the '90s – Pocahontas and Mulan – The Princess and the Frog is lighter and much more easily engaged than those two and that's thanks in no small part to the music. The tunes here are not of the Broadway musical variety that came to define Disney's animated features post-The Lion King but are more in keeping with the New Orleans setting: jazz, blues, gospel and Dixieland are all influential.

So, too, is the colour of its heroine's skin. But it is not the intention of directors Ron Clements and John Musker (who were also responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) to bludgeon the audience over the head about race: the objective here is enchantment.

It's been a great 12 months for animation in film, and The Princess and the Frog is one of the shining lights; expect it to be nominated for the Best Animated Film Oscar, as well as to feature in the music categories. Irrespective of that, go along for an enjoyable and enchanting 100 minutes of animation – borrow someone's five year old if you have to.

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