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Disney magic alive in jazzy fairy tale

Article Published: Dec. 17, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Disney magic alive in jazzy fairy tale

"So, you're the amphibian formerly known as Prince?" Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos star in 'The Princess and the Frog.'

The boom of computer animation has been dazzling, creating a slew of majestic visions and grand adventures. Whether in the depths of Finding Nemo or across the galaxy with Wall-E, films have gone to places with the kind of detail that classic hand-drawing, two-dimensional animators never dreamed.

The success of computer animation has come at a price, however, as audiences begin to shun classical 2-D pictures. Since Toy Story broke the ground on computer animation in 1995, many excellent classically animated films have been financial disasters, including The Iron Giant, Titan A.E. and The Road to El Dorado.

Even Disney, king of traditional animation, couldn't find success: after Tarzan made $171 million domestically in 1999, Lilo and Stitch is the only one to make more than $100 million, while five films (The Emperor's New Groove, Atlantis, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear and Home on the Range) performed well under expectations. Right before Range was released, Disney announced it would be its final feature in traditional animation. For many, it appeared to be the end of an era that was mystical, memorable and magical.

But wait! Disney changed their minds in 2006, shortly after Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, the pioneers of Pixar, became president and chief creative officer of Disney's animation department after Disney bought Pixar. They decided to give traditional animation another shot, a decision that proved worthwhile - artistically, at least - with The Princess and the Frog.

What's wonderful about this film is that there's nothing particularly ground-breaking here - it's meant to be captured in the same simple style that brought Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bernard and Bianca to life. It doesn't only capture the beauty of the animation, but the adventurous, fun spirit audiences expect from Disney films. It's no surprise that Frog is directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, the men behind The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.

Frog tells a story that would have been just as popular in 1950, when Cinderella was released, as I believe it will be today. Tiana dreams of opening her own stylish restaurant but hasn't been able to make the money to open the restaurant despite waiting tables at two different restaurants. Charlotte, a Southern belle and Tiana's friend since childhood, is a parody of a classic Disney princess who has the traditional Disney dream: Prince Charming ... happily ever after. Charlotte's in luck, too, because Prince Naveen just arrived in town and is going to be at her daddy's costume party.

Unfortunately for Naveen, the voodoo magician Doctor Facilier has other plans and he turns the prince into a frog. Later, the frog prince runs into Tiana and, thinking she is a princess, asks for a kiss. She obliges but, due to not being a princess, is turned into a frog herself.

It's quite silly at points, much like a lot of Disney animation, but that's not an insult. I enjoyed many Disney films because they were so gleefully silly and fun, and Frog is no exception: these are fun characters that frequently break into toe-tapping songs (Thanks, Randy Newman!) as they swim, fly and dance their way through a hectic adventure.

Frog has the benefit of a fantastic villain in Facilier, or "The Shadow Man," a man who wouldn't be scared to look Scar, Jafar or Shere Khan square in the eye to see who blinks first. Facilier is voiced perfectly by Keith David (They Live, Pitch Black; also the voice of Apollo in Disney's Hercules), who brings the loud character to life in deep, menacing tones. Facilier isn't only a sinister, intelligent villain, but also provides plenty of comic relief.

Frog has gotten a lot of public attention because it features an African-American protagonist in Tiana after years of white princesses (to be fair: Mulan featured a Chinese princess, Pocahontas was Native-American, Jasmine was Arabian and Lady was a Cocker Spaniel). But it was a different aspect of Tiana that I found ground-breaking: her "work until my hands bleed" attitude.

Unlike most Disney princesses, whiny characters that sit around day-dreaming of being rescued from boredom by their perfect dream man, Tiana believes the only way to achieve her dreams is to work hard and make it happen herself. She wakes up to go to her morning job as soon as she gets home from her night job and doesn't offer a single complaint. This spirit shines through as the film goes on and helps shape Tiana into an interesting, likable character.

Of all the Disney princesses, I think Tiana is also the best influence, and that's no small compliment. She's also one of the most interesting and the star of The Princess and the Frog, which is worthy of standing high with other Disney classics.

The Princess and the Frog, rated G, is currently playing at the Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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