In the last couple of years (let’s be honest, the last decade or so), Pixar has held the monopoly on good animated kiddie films. Sure, other companies have been producing films here and there, but the ones I can remember the clearest belong to that little upstart company married to Disney.
I’d even go so far as to say that other childrens’ films really get a bad rap for not being Pixar films. So when I can, I try to branch out to other companies, just to see what’s going on out there. And while Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” has a lot to offer (especially to girls looking for a nonprincess character to love), I can’t help but think how much better this film would have been with Pixar’s magic touch.
Our story begins with Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), an animated heroine unlike any other. She’s obsessed with money (she works two jobs) because she wants to fulfill her deceased father’s goal of turning an abandoned sugar mill into a restaurant. He taught her all about working hard to achieve her dreams, and she’s determined, even if her disadvantages far outweigh her chances.
On the other side of the story is Naveen (voiced by Bruce Campos), a prince who has been cut off from his family’s wealth until he either 1) marries a rich woman or 2) gets a job. He’s set on option one with Tiana’s rich friend Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody) until a voodoo doctor named Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) transforms the prince into a frog.
Of course, the desperate prince mistakes Tiana for a princess, and when she kisses him, she becomes a frog too, and their adventure begins as they attempt to foil the bad guys and return to their normal states.
Really, it’s a creative twist on a classic fairy tale, and Tiana makes for one endearing and unconventional “princess.” She’s capable, intelligent and determined, not the most common adjectives used when talking about a fairy tale heroine. And Charlotte is another revelation; sure, she’s obsessed with marrying a prince, but she’s not so driven that she wouldn’t help out a friend in need (I was completely expecting her to be the evil rich girl).
But as much as I liked the characters (even Naveen, as spoiled as he is, is a pretty nice guy), there probably wasn’t enough story for a full running time, so the writers stuffed it will all the Disney troupes (animal sidekicks, wacky misdirection, uninspired musical numbers) that just don’t work anymore.
Which brings me back to my original point; I’m sure Pixar could have taken this story’s skeleton and made the movie soar (even if I haven’t loved them all, they know what they’re doing). As is, it’s got some good parts but it’s also got a middle act the drains the film of momentum and erases that solid setup.
“The Princess and the Frog” (2009)
Written by Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Anika Noni Rose (Tiana)
Bruce Campos (Naveen)