After this review and Monday's Musical review, I'm sure you think I'm either a mom with school- age children, or a school-age child. Sadly, I am neither, but have maintained my affinity for animated movies. However, my need to go see them in the theater or even as soon as they're available has waned considerably. I was still excited, though, when The Princess and the Frog arrived in my mailbox recently. So while researching available population demographic datasets for Africa in the mid-nineties, I threw it in the player (I told you my work can get boring). Perhaps I'm finally outgrowing Disney, but their newest flick didn't impress me too much. It seemed like a cobbled together version of many of their older animated films, with an African American heroine, and a few fun new songs. They stuck very closely to the tried and true Disney formula - introduce characters, big opening number to explain the theme of the main characters (e.g. "Circle of Live" or "Belle"), then introduce the bad guy and let him sing his song about the evil things he's going to do ("Gaston" or "Be Prepared"). Next, the bad thing comes to pass, and our hero/ine find some new sidekicks who explain to them why life isn't really so bad (usually in the most memorable song - "Hakuna Matata", "Be Our Guest", "Under the Sea" "Prince Ali"). Then our main guy and girl fall in love, and that's the end of the songs, which is always my biggest criticism with musicals, why do the good songs nearly always occur in the first half? Finally, everything comes out right in the end. There's usually a pretty good score throughout the film too. Anyway, The Princess and the Frog follows this guide precisely.
Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) wants to open a restaurant in New Orleans in memory of her dearly departed father (the mother stays alive throughout this movie, voiced by a notable Oprah). She works really hard to save up the money ("Almost There"), but can't really figure out how to get all the way. A prince arrives in New Orleans, and Tiana's best friend Lotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody who I knew as a teen working in musical theater - so cool that her voice was awesome) wants to fall in love with a prince. However, the bad guy steps in ("Friends on the other side") and turns the prince into a frog. Now, the fairy tale we all know kicks in, he needs to get a princess to kiss him and he'll turn back into a prince. He mistakes Tiana all dressed up in Lotte's fancy clothes for a princess, but when they kiss, she gets cursed too. They escape to the bayou and meet up with a trumpet-playing gator and a Cajun firefly ("When we're human", my fav song). Of course all goes well, but I won't spoil it because it actually has a pretty good twist at the end that was unique enough to make me smile in surprise. It's a good movie, not the best, but fairly original, well voiced, very well sung, but weak on the songs. Mary Poppins has 5 songs I could name right now that are memorable, and even The Little Mermaid has a couple not to be forgotten, but I'm not sure The Princess and the Frog lives up to that legacy. It feels a bit like a copy of a copy of a copy, with some new scenes and a twist at the end, but nothing particularly new. What newness it does have comes from the New Orleans and cajun feel, though Randy Newman's score does sound a bit like watered down NOLA. 3 of 5 star/lambs
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