Disney’s New Orleans fairy tale fails to enchant

Though the animation is lovely, “The Princess and the Frog” leaves us wanting.

Oh no! Prince Naveen needs a princess kiss to transform back into a real boy.
PHOTO COURTESY DISNEY

Oh no! Prince Naveen needs a princess kiss to transform back into a real boy. PHOTO COURTESY DISNEY

by Kara Nesvig

The Princess and the Frog STARRING: Anika Noni Rose, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard RATED: G PLAYING AT: Area theaters YouâÄôd like to think going to see a Disney film at the ripe old age of 22 is a lot different than seeing a Disney movie as a 5-year-old. YouâÄôre older and wiser and you donâÄôt believe in fairy godmothers or brooms that dance. Big kids have gotten over that silliness, right? Wrong. Not even the jadedness of years gone by can dim the excitement of a Disney movie that promises to recapture the magic of its golden years. As of late, the House of Mouse has churned out a lot of mediocre fare âÄî âÄúHome on the RangeâÄù (2004) and âÄúMeet the RobinsonsâÄù (2007) were half-assed attempts at the whim and fun Disney had previously proffered. Thankfully, Disney has returned to the hand-drawn animation that made them famous (and perhaps paid to have Walt DisneyâÄôs remains cryogenically frozen) with âÄúThe Princess and the Frog,âÄù sure to ignite plenty of princess merchandise for the little girls (and maybe boys) who love Ariel, Aurora and Jasmine. Set in the roaring âÄô20s in swinging New Orleans, âÄúThe Princess and the FrogâÄù introduces us to hardworking, sensible Tiana (voiced by âÄúDreamgirlsâÄô âÄù Anika Noni Rose), who busses tables to save up the money she needs to open her fantasy restaurant. She doesnâÄôt flutter or sing duets with birds like most Disney girls; instead, sheâÄôs headstrong and snappy, raised to believe in hard work and perseverance. She lives in a tiny French Quarter apartment, not a mansion or castle, and she wishes on a star with a grain or three of salt. When a hoodoo man turns naïve visiting Creole-y Prince Naveen into a frog, Tiana reluctantly agrees to kiss him to make him human again. Sounds like pretty standard fairy tale fare until she becomes a frog too, a lithe and leggy one at that. The two have to venture through Louisiana bayous and Mardi Gras parades to break the spell and try not to fall in love along the way. Though âÄúPrincess and the FrogâÄù thrums with color and up-tempo Randy Newman musical numbers harkening back to the jazz and zydeco that made New Orleans famous, it feels a bit forgettable in the end. ThereâÄôs no âÄúUnder the SeaâÄù here, nor are there characters as memorable as the French candlestick Lumière or neurotic bird Zazu. The animation is lovely, saturated with vibrant oranges and murky bayou greens. The songs arenâÄôt great, but the Cajun fireflies are. What makes this film notable is the first thing anyone pointed out when stills from the movie were released: Tiana is black. How would Disney handle the story of a black princess versus a Snow White one? Your answer: Pretty much the same as they always have. Though Tiana is a more modern princess character in the vein of âÄúBeauty and the BeastâÄôsâÄù bookish Belle (she doesnâÄôt even waltz!), she still falls victim to the tender trap of love and considers abandoning her dreams for a man. In âÄô50s-era Disney movies, Prince Charming rarely utters a word. But in âÄúThe Princess and the Frog,âÄù their romance feels real. But no matter how modern the relationships in this film might seem, the flimsy story line will probably keep it from spawning a fleet of straight-to-DVD sequels.