By Ann Hornaday
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009
Few movies have been greeted with as much anticipation -- and outright apprehension -- than "The Princess and the Frog," Disney's first animated movie to feature an African American princess. You can exhale now: "The Princess and the Frog" is a triumph on every one of the myriad levels it has been asked to succeed on.
Anika Noni Rose ("Dreamgirls," "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency") gives mellifluous spoken and musical voice to Tiana, who works as a waitress in 1920s New Orleans and dreams of opening her own restaurant. When the handsome Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) arrives in town, at first it looks like he'll be married off to Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), a spoiled Southern belle whose family employed Tiana's seamstress mother. But when villainous voodoo doctor Facilier (Keith David) intervenes, everyone's plans go awry, with both Tiana and Prince Naveen winding up as frogs lost in the Louisiana bayou.
With a lilting, catchy score written by the venerable Randy Newman and hand-drawn animation that evokes the most cherished Disney classics, "The Princess and the Frog" effortlessly takes its place in one of cinema's most-revered canons, managing to be groundbreaking and utterly familiar at the same time. The film's setting in New Orleans, with its African, European, Caribbean and Native American influences, allows for a gratifyingly diverse mix of ethnicities and hues among its characters, which also include a Cajun firefly named Ray and a trumpet-playing alligator named Louis. Most important, Tiana turns out to be not just pretty but competent and self-sufficient, embodying the principle that wishing upon a star might help you express your dreams, but hard work, character and perseverance make them come true. "The Princess and the Frog" has been a long time coming, but it's well worth the wait.
**** G. At area theaters. Contains nothing objectionable. 95 minutes.