As you might guess by the title, “The Princess and the
Frog” is a fairly familiar story. And because this animated musical comes
from Walt Disney Pictures, you can expect talking-animal sidekicks, a perilous
journey, a budding romance and a moral to the tale.
What’s new, if you haven’t heard, is the debut of Disney’s
first African-American princess, Tiana. She adds another dash of color to a
nine-member lineup of ink-and-paint Caucasians, such as Snow White and
Cinderella but also the Arabian Jasmine (“Aladdin”), the Chinese Mulan
and American Indian Pocahontas.
By setting “Princess” in the New Orleans of the
early 1900s — a briefly seen newspaper headline reads “Wilson
Elected” — Disney gets to focus on Cajun food, Southern accents and
Dixieland jazz rather than on skin color. In fact, although Tiana (pleasantly
voiced by the Broadway singer Anika Noni Rose) begins the film as a hardworking
waitress, she spends most of her screen time as a frog.
That’s the result of her chance meeting with Prince Naveen
(Bruce Campos), a freewheeling playboy hoodwinked by the local voodoo man, Dr.
Facilier (Keith David, delightfully wicked). The newly green Naveen manages to
charm Tiana into a kiss, but after that backfires, the two amphibians travel
the bayou to find their voodoo fairy godmother, Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis).
Along the way, they’ll befriend a trumpet-playing gator, Louis (Michael-Leon
Wooley), and a gap-toothed Cajun firefly named Raymond (Jim Cummings).
With songs by Randy Newman (himself raised in New Orleans)
and some visually fizzy animation styles, “The Princess and the Frog”
sticks to a dependably pleasing Disney template. As for issues of race — you
were expecting maybe “Precious”?
The Princess and the Frog
Cast: Voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruce Campos, Keith David