A Swamp Gem
I will be honest, my expectations of "The Princess and the Frog" were pretty low as I have never been a huge fan of the fairytale which it is a re-imagining of. But within minutes of this animation starting it had me in its grasp because in a world of 3D CGI animations this is old school Walt Disney where the skill of those animators who practice the art of hand drawn animations is on show. It's not just the fact it is beautifully hand drawn because character wise it is also old school and contains the old school musical number elements which have an almost surreal side which you don't see these days. Whether that works for a young audience I am not sure but for those old enough to have grown up on classic Walt Disney animations and miss them this is like a blast from a past.
As a child Tiana shared a dream with her father of opening a restaurant serving up her father's delicious Gumbo but whilst her father never returned whilst serving during World War I Tiana holds on to their dream and works hard as a waitress to raise the money to make their dream come true. But things take a strange turn when the visiting Prince Naveen who her best friend Charlotte hopes to marry falls foul of Dr. Facilier a Voodoo man who turns him into a frog and in need of someone to kiss him. When Tiana meets the frog she obliges and kisses him but unlike in fairytales she also finds herself turned into a frog and find themselves in a swamp where with some unlikely friends must find Mama Odie who might be able to return them to human form.
Now one of the things which surprised me was the amusing re-imagining of the classic "Princess and a Frog" fairytale as what they have done is to add a twist which makes it more interesting. The twist is that rather than on being kissed the Prince returns to his handsome human form we have Tiana also becoming a frog. This allows it to evolve into a bit of classic Disney adventure which in itself is not that original but makes it more interesting. And on the subject of interesting is the fact that the central characters is an African-American which certainly breaks with the tradition you will find in many animations.
But in truth whilst the altered storyline entertained it was the old school Disney styling which entertained me more. Now I have grown to accept and even like some modern CGI animations but this is like a nostalgic trip with beautifully hand drawn animations and characters who are sweet and amusing. In a way because this is very traditional in look it is less of an assault on the eyes and ears. And even when it introduces the musical numbers it is still old school rather than noise we get some great jazz music and old fashioned comedy surrounding musicians playing. It even manages to bring in that aspect of surreal which was also once a big part of the Disney animation make-up but has been lacking for a long time.
But what seals this off is the choice of actors to voice the characters because whilst names such as Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey and Keith David are well known the characters they voice never become dominated by the voices being recognizable. Plus Anika Noni Rose as Tiana and Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen have something very old school about their voices, something which makes them elegantly clear but not false.
What this all boils down to is that "The Princess and the Frog" was a pleasant surprise because quite simply it is old school Walt Disney and it makes it a refreshing change in an animated world dominated by CGI and 3D.