By Charly SHELTON
Arguably the most anticipated animated movie of the decade, Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” opens in L.A. on Friday, Nov. 25.
The classic tale of a princess who discovers the inner beauty of a talking frog that turns into a handsome prince when kissed is a little out of date. This is an imaginative re-telling of the Brothers Grimm tale, set in New Orleans during the jazz age of the 1920s.
Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a workaholic who doesn’t see life past the front door of the restaurant where she is waiting on tables. She works all the time so she can save up for her dream of owning her own restaurant. Prince Naveeen (voiced by Bruno Campos) is a party boy who likes the ladies, and spending money, and playing jazz. But when a shady deal with the evil Doctor Facilier (voiced by Keith David, a voice over legend who lent his voice to Goliath of “Disney’s Gargoyles,” The Arbiter from the “Halo” series of games, and was the live action Spawn in “Spawn”) goes bad, Naveen is turned into a frog. Having heard the story of the “Frog Prince,” the couple assumes that a kiss is the way to make him human again. But instead of him becoming human, she becomes a frog too. They then set off to find who did this and make the villain return them to human. Along the way they meet Ray (voiced by Jim Cummings), a love sick Cajun firefly; Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley), an alligator who wants to become human, too, so he can “play jazz with the big boys,” and Mama Odie (voiced by Jenifer Lewis), a 197-year-old blind voodoo priestess who lives in an abandoned boat wreck in the bayou. Through their adventures, and a few show stopping songs, they each find what they really need to be happy.
For those who are familiar with Disney and the animated ventures that have come before, this film will thrill you. The story spans out in several locales from southern mansions to a boat in a tree, to a darkened alleyway to the mystical realm of evil voodoo spirits. In each part of the film, the animation is a little different. The beginning of the film is in the city of New Orleans. The lights and jazz and people…and the animation style is more like the films of old: “Peter Pan,” “Cinderella,” and “Pinocchio.” Then in a dream sequence the art deco style of painting comes to life as a song. The evil Doctor Facilier has a solo number that looks like a cross between “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Aladdin.” As the movie progresses, the animation style changes ever so slightly to help move the feel of the story along with the plot. It was a great technique, whether intended or not.
Now one thing Disney fans may pick up on is that some of the characters that look to be new and exciting are designs that have been done before. For example, Doctor Facilier is vaguely reminiscent in look to Oscar Proud of “The Proud Family” animated TV show for Disney Channel. The Facilier personality – the movements, the creepiness – is all new. But just seeing an illustrated picture of the body of the character one can see the similarity. The same for Mama Odie who resembles “Sugar Mama” from the same show. Eli La Bouff (voiced by John Goodman) also looks like Alameda Slim, the villain from “Home on the Range,” the last animated movie to come from Disney. This is because Bruce W. Smith, supervising animator on this film was in charge of those other projects as well. This may sound like he is stealing from himself, or that he isn’t using new ideas, just the same designs over again, but it really helped the picture I think. The characters have been changed here and there – tweaked – and definitely improved on to suit the needs of this role. It may sound bad stating this as such, but it is actually a great idea – the best of the characters of the past, new and improved and made unique again for this movie.
This could be the best animated film of the decade, and definitely the best in-house (as in not Pixar) animated film Disney has made in a long, long time. With great songs and score written by Randy Newman and great new ideas and characters from John Musker and Ron Clements, the writer/director team behind this film as well as “The Great Mouse Detective,” “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid,” and “Hercules.” This is going to be a huge success and an instant classic on the level of “Beauty and the Beast” and other such films. The one word of caution is to not take very young children: Doctor Facilier is called the shadow man in the film and the scenes where that becomes evident may be too scary for young viewers. A good age range is around 5 and up. And I do mean up – parents and teens should go as well, because this is a great movie even for those who think they’ve outgrown animated Disney musicals. Everyone will enjoy this. Rated G; directed by Ron Clements and John Musker. I gave this movie 5 out of 5 stars.
The release date for L.A. is Nov. 25, but it isn’t released wide until Dec. 11. Only one theater is playing this film until the wide release: the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The tickets range from $30 to $50. For more info and to purchase tickets, visit disney.go.com/princessandthefrog.