For decades Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures has been the king of animation, going back to Snow White (1937) all the way up to WALLÂ·E(2008). It has made the world safe for young kids who want to dream.
Scenes from Disney's "Princess and the Frog" Courtesy PhotoNow, not without controversy, it has specifically opened its animated doors up to the hopes and ambitions of little African American kids. And,what is the result? A story everyone can enjoy. As a little girl in living in New Orleans' French Quarter during the Jazz Age, Tiana had a dream; she wanted to own a restaurant. Her dad James (Terence Howard) instilled strong blue collar working values in her. So did her mom Eudora (Oprah Winfrey); she was a seamstress who made clothes for a wealthy clientele, like â€œBig Daddyâ€ La Bouff (John Goodman, TVâ€™s Roseanne) and his spoiled daughter Charlotte (Jennifer Cody).
Years go by. James has passed away.
Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), now a young adult, is a waitress whoâ€™s been saving her tips so she can reach her goal of turning an abandoned building into a restaurant. Fate takes her on a different path the day she meets a frog that swears he is Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) from the kingdom of Maldonia.
A treacherous local con man named Dr. Facilier (Keith David) has consorted with evil spirits, cast a spell and turned the Prince into a frog and the Princeâ€™s valet into the Prince. If that werenâ€™t bad enough, Tiana kisses the frog and turns into a frog herself. Their journey back to being humans hooks them up with an alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley, Dreamgirls), a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) and a 197-year-old, mystical Bayou woman, Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis).
The character of Tiana, the creation of writer/director Ron Clements and writer Rob Edwards (Roc, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, In Living Color, A Different World) is a Black Snow White with backbone. Unlike her predecessor, she is not passive. Tiana, a vulnerable yet spunky and determined protagonist, wrestles with all the demons that come her way. She is aided by a flurry of odd ball characters that never give up on her.
And in this post-feminist age, she has her head firmly planted on her shoulders; itâ€™s her flaky male suitor who needs a reality-check.
For little girls, Tiana is a heroine. For little Black girls, specifically,she is blessingâ€”a mini Oprah. Setting the young womanâ€™s story in New Orleans was a smart idea. The region is ripe with colorful culture (costumes to folklore), was one of the first areas in the U.S. to send Black legislators to the House of Representatives (way back in the 1800s) and topical (Hurricane Katrina).
The Black community in New Orleans is strong and close-knit. Their experience may not be mainstream to the rest of America, but what is mainstream Black culture these days?
Not every African-American family lives in Harlem (Preciousâ€¦), or South Central (Boyz â€˜n The Hood), or Chicago (Good Times). Why not explore the bayou, voodoo and all. Afterall, the Princess and the Frog is pure fantasy. Ms. Rose not only talks the Princess talk, she sings the Princessâ€™s songs in a lilting, bewitching soprano voice. The other clear standout voiceover belongs to character actor Keith David, who plays the venomously sinful Dr. Facilier.
David played a judge in the movie First Sunday, and has done voice-overs for countless animated movies and TV commercials. Heâ€™s a class act and seasoned actor. Wooley hits all the comical notes as the portly gator. Winfrey seems wasted in the mother role. Howard gets too little screen time as the dad.
Goodman and Cody make a nice father-daughter team. The colors in this hand-drawn animated movie are rich and textured, very old school. The pacing is quick and easy. The music elevates the right moments, courtesy of new songs composed by Randy Newman that flirt with jazz, blues, gospel, Dixieland and zydeco.
Ne-Yo sings the movieâ€™s theme song â€œNever Knew I Neededâ€ with certain conviction. Overall, the filmsâ€™production elements are solid. Some will stumble over the fact that a Brazilian actor, Bruno Campos, plays a Prince with a tan complexion from a fake country, but little kids wonâ€™t care as we head into a post-racial, multi-cultural society.
Others will complain that voodoo is not a subject fit for children, but kids wonâ€™t distinguish voodoo from any other magic that is depicted in a make-believe movie. What they will take away from this film is that if you strive, help others, have good parents and stick to core values someday,after youâ€™ve wished upon a star, your dream may come true. Even if you have to kiss a frog in the process.