The same old Disney, not that it's not enjoyable.
Rhianwen Benner: THE LOWDOWN
Disney returns to traditional 2D animation with this adaptation of E.D. Baker's young adult novel, "The Frog Princess," based on the classic Grimm Brothers tale. In this version, both prince and (eventual) princess are turned into frogs.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
It's hard to believe, but Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is Disney's very first African-American princess. And she is a good role model too: a focused, entrepreneurial young woman who knows hard work is necessary to achieve her dreams. Unlike many princess characters, Tiana is not looking for a man to complete her, and that should encourage your young daughters.
Tiana's male counterpart, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), transforms from a misogynistic playboy into a man who truly appreciates strong and independent women.
We are reminded over and over that wishing and wanting will only get you so close to your dreams, that hard work and dedication will take you the rest of the way. A timely message in an age when everyone wants to be famous and nobody wants to work, even if we are kind of beaten over the head with it.
The movie is set during Mardi Gras in New Orleans, circa 1913. As you can imagine, it's quite a rich setting: rowdy jazz, crazy parades, scary voodoo, and an all-around party atmosphere. Musician Randy Newman clearly has deep love and respect for traditional jazz, and his score makes "The Princess and the Frog" hop off the screen.
There is a lovable cast of supporting characters, including a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley), and Ray (Jim Cummings), a Cajun firefly in love with a bright star. As Louis and Ray accompany Tiana and Prince Naveen on their journey, sweet and genuine friendships are formed.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
Cheers to Disney for breaking their princess color barrier, as it were, but Tiana spends the vast majority of the movie as a frog. As the Disney Princess brand grows and strengthens its grasp, how popular is poor Tiana going to be when most little girls will know her best as a mucous-covered reptile?
There is also an unrealistic depiction of race relations in the early twentieth century American south. Tiana's best friend is a wealthy white heiress who lives in a mansion, while Tiana lives in poverty on the edge of town in a small shack. The movie acts as if this makes all the sense in the world. Tiana's dream is to open a restaurant that "brings people from all walks of life together," but given the historical context of the film, she would probably be dreaming of just achieving some semblance of equality. Disney has Disney-fied American racial tensions.
As for things that may scare your children, there is a voodoo practitioner named Doctor Facilier (Keith David) with "friends on the other side" who do his bidding. Eventually, he is dragged away into his own grave by these "friends" -- which might frighten children who are, you know, afraid of ghosts killing them.
Doctor Facilier also ruthlessly kills Ray, and there is a funeral (of sorts) held for him before he ascends skyward to join the star in the sky he loves. With all the death and ghoul stuff going on, you might want to leave kids younger than elementary age at home.
While "The Princess and the Frog" is very entertaining, it certainly is not breaking new ground. In fact, it follows the same old Disney formula. As satisfying as the formula may be, there's not enough new in this film to be a classic.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Though not on par with classics like "Beauty and the Beast" or "Aladdin," this movie is a return to form for Disney. It also presents you opportunities to talk about race, history, and dreams with your children.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|