The big selling point behind Disney’s latest feature isn’t that is employs old-fashioned, hand-drawn animation techniques.
Neither is it Disney’s much-ballyhooed return to the Mouse House’s fairytale roots.
The real push involves the heroine, Disney’s first African-American “princess.” Whether this is social progress or opportunism is debatable.
What can be said for certain is that “The Princess and the Frog” is a lively, entertaining feature that young girls will fall in love with right along with the rest of their family.
This Americanized re-imagining of the classic tale involves a young woman named Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose from “Dreamgirls”) who lives in New Orleans during the early years of the Jazz Age.
Tiana is a poor but hard-working waitress and cook who dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. Naturally, there are considerable obstacles in her way.
As we learn in a breezy prologue, Tiana’s mother Eudora (Oprah Winfrey) is a seamstress who works making dresses and doll clothing for Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), the daughter of a wealthy businessman, Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman).
Tiana’s doting father James (Terrence Howard) had big dreams for his daughter, but he was a casualty of WWI.
Flash-forward a decade, and we see Tiana still working and saving her pennies for a down payment on a restaurant property. She hasn’t any time for fun.
It just so happens that an opportunistic young European prince named Naveen (Bruno Campos) is visiting the Big Easy. Because of the curse put on him by a voodoo man named Dr. Facilier (Keith David), Naveen has become a frog.
Froggy Naveen manages to talk Tiana into a transformative smooch, but it backfires. Tiana becomes a frog and the reptilian twosome go off to find a magical swamp lady named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) in an attempt to break the spell.
Randy Newman has penned nine toe-tapping tunes for this musical fantasy, and the cast members deliver them beautifully. David is particularly effective, making the evil Dr. Facilier and truly memorable baddie.
Naysayers will undoubtedly complain about a few politically incorrect elements of the story. In spite of being a hard worker, Tiana apparently needs a man in order to succeed…and he’s not African-American.
There are some stereotypical elements, too, but those concerns will probably be tempered by the goodwill that the movie generates.
Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (“The Little Mermaid”) have returned to form, and so has Disney. “The Princess and the Frog” will turn the other animation studios green with envy. (G) Rating: ****
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it