Review: The Princess and the Frog

* * * out of four stars

While James Cameron sits across the street churning out the mega-budget, larger-than-anything, computer-generated 3-D flick “Avatar,” the Walt Disney Studio is returning to its roots with a hand-drawn, simple comedy they like to liken to “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” I’m not so sure it’s that good, but it’s a welcome break from “Ice Age” and “Madagascar.”

It’s called “The Princess and the Frog,” and it retells the story of “The Frog Prince” in early twentieth century Louisiana. As always to Disney movies, there’s a catch. We can’t just give you “Hamlet,” we have to give you “Hamlet… with Lions!”

So in this story, our princess, who originally kisses the frog, who then turns into a handsome prince and marries her, is nothing but a down-on-her-luck waitress at the local diner. Her name is Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose), and she aspires to one day own and run her very own restaurant. When handsome (and broke) Prince Naveen (voice of Bruno Campos) comes to town looking for a young rich lady to settle down with, Tiana’s rich best friend (not knowing Naveen is broke) sees an opportunity to marry royalty. However Naveen is tricked by a Voodoo master and turned into a frog!

There’s the set-up. What eventually happens is, Naveen, as a frog, convinces Tiana to kiss him. Little do either of them know it isn’t exactly how the spell works. Tiana is then turned into a frog and they must journey through the dangers of the bayou to find a way back to normal.

The wonderful Disney humor is here. I snorted a number of times at the trumpet-playing alligator and the love-stricken firefly. And Naveen himself, so inept in his “suaveness,” is a hoot too! There are plenty of laughs in the film, but where’s the music? Let me be more accurate… where’s the really good, hummable, memorable music? Walking out of the theater I couldn’t remember a single tune in the whole movie and there had to have been at least seven or eight! Remember “The Little Mermaid,” and how “Under the Sea” was instantly pounded in our heads for all eternity? Why can’t I remember a single tune from this movie?

The music isn’t the only problem with “The Princess and the Frog,” but it is its biggest. Another problem with the film is its hesitation to get on with the story. The first twenty minutes or so take too long in developing the plot and characters and surroundings in the human world. This makes for very dull storytelling, as the humans are some of the more boring characters. It isn’t until our heroes are frogs that the film really takes off.

All this said, I really did like “The Princess and the Frog.” It had its heart (and Louisiana soul) in the right place, it was quite funny, and above all, it left me smiling.

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