DVD Release Date:  March 16, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  December 11, 2009
Rating:  G
Genre:  Family/Animated
Run Time:  97 min.
Directors:  Ron Clements, John Musker
Voices by:  Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett

Once upon a time, Disney's creative team actually used to churn out regular programming that didn't involve Hannah Montana. Or "the suite life" of Zack and Cody. Imagine that.

In fact, long before Pixar ruled the animated roost, Disney's animators used to dream up fabulously enchanting 2-D movies (yes, no nerdy glasses required) with characters so memorable and beloved that you'd laugh, cry and have their accompanying songs stuck in your head for weeks right along with them. These are actually the movies I grew up watching and loving well into my twenties, thrilling cinematic fare like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King and Mulan.

Perhaps hoping to prove they still have some of that old magic left, the creators of The Princess and the Frog get nostalgic and try capitalizing on everything that's worked so well in the past while taking advantage of new technological advancements, too. 

Not only are there plenty of show-stopping musical numbers worthy of Broadway, but the colorful, hand-drawn animation has never been more spectacular. Even the heroine, the feisty, hard-working Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a step forward for princesses. Not only is she Disney's first African-American royalty, but she's a down-to-earth girl with a goal far greater than simply landing herself a hottie prince. 

Instead, the girl who mastered her dad's gumbo recipe long before her peers probably learned to ride a bike wants to accomplish what her father couldn't:  a lifelong dream of opening a Cajun restaurant in an old mill nearby.

Of course, the odds are definitely stacked against Tiana, given her modest upbringing in New Orleans' famed French Quarter. When Tiana's mom isn't hanging out with her husband and daughter, her favorite activity by far, Tiana's mom (lovingly voiced by Oprah) is whipping up elaborate dresses to satisfy the fashion whims of Tiana's privileged peers.

No doubt from her mom's and dad's example, Tiana realizes the value of hard work from a young age and wholeheartedly believes her dream will come true if she puts in the time and elbow grease. And when time and elbow grease isn't enough, well, there's always the requisite "wishing upon a star." While virtually every Disney movie extols this dreamy notion, Tiana does so with the fervency of prayer. She wants this restaurant so much, so desperately, that she's even willing to put aside fun social events and momentary pleasures to get a little closer.

Then, just as she's about to finally close on the mill she's always envisioned as "Tiana's Place," she's suddenly outbid and forced to go back to the proverbial drawing board. Well, until a talking frog, claiming to be a prince promises that her fate could change with one little kiss. And even though she made it clear, very clear, in the beginning that she'd never, ever kiss a frog, she's willing to reconsider if it helped her future restaurant's cause. So she reluctantly smooches him, and poof, he doesn't turn into a prince.

Yep, she turns into a frog instead, thanks to a voodoo curse that's been put on Naveen (Bruno Campos) a gorgeous but vapid rich kid who's fresh out of money. Hoping to marry up so he can retain the luxurious standard of living he'd been accustomed to, he actually believed Tiana was the answer to his prayers because she was sporting a tiara.

Turns out, that tiara was just part of the costume Tiana donned for the ball, an event she was serving tasty treats at rather than really enjoying. But once she bumped into Naveen the frog, she hoped, like oh-so-many Disney princesses before her that there would also be a fairy-tale ending for her.

Now embodying the very body of the slimy creatures she's always hated, Tiana wants nothing more than to be human again, coincidentally, the opposite plight that Ariel faced in The Little Mermaid. But regaining her former human status isn't quite as easy as she or Naveen hoped, which leads them on a decidedly retro journey involving a smattering of unconventional friends, a wealth of opportunities to sing (which is what Disney characters always do in peril, right?) and a happy-ever-after ending that audience is ultimately clamoring for.

The Princess and the Frog certainly delivers in many ways, however, there's still something slightly hollow about it. While magic and sorcery have played a part in virtually every Disney story, the heavy emphasis on voo-doo definitely weighs down what's ultimately a enjoyable, family-friendly event. 

Not only are there a slew of scary, darker moments that won't sit well with the younger set (and will leave their parents scratching their heads), but even the confident, go get ‘em spirit that made our heroine so engaging is eventually toned down in favor of a familiar, disturbing end.

Basically when in doubt, the script suggests that a woman shouldn't be afraid to exchange a kiss for a shot at the big time, a misleading notion that doesn't exactly send the right message, no matter how noble the cause.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Wine and champagne served and consumed at social events.
  • Language/Profanity:  No actual profanity, just one use of "dang" and "heck."
  • Sex/Nudity:  Some cleavage-revealed gowns on a few of the women. At one point, Ray (a Cajun firefly) mentions that one of his lightning bug pals got in trouble when he flashed the neighbors. Prince Naveen is quite the ladies' man and references that on a couple of occasions.
  • Violence:  Mostly of a comedic nature, although there are a handful of perilous situations when the frogs are chased by hunters and other swampland creatures. In another scene, Ray actually gets squashed. Other characters are chased and dragged by shadow-y figures.
  • Religion:  Given that it's set in New Orleans, it's probably no surprise that voo-doo makes it into the movie somehow. In this case, it drives the evil part of the plot. The Shadow Man, a shady nemesis with his own endgame consults tarot cards and gets help from his "friends from the other side" to carry out his plans. He eventually uses these dark powers to turn Naveen into a frog (and Naveen's butler into a prince, something he's always wanted to be). But when The Shadow Man's spell on Naveen loses its potency because it's running out of the prince's blood, he promises his dead friends (who are now masks hanging on his wall) that when he's in charge, they'll have control over the wayward souls in the city if they help him. 
       

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.