Hollywood Product: The Princess and the Frog

Amorous amphibians make new Disney ‘toon a hit

GENRE: Old-school Disney princess cartoon feature

THE PITCH: In 1920s New Orleans, hardworking waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) hits a bump on the road to buying her own restaurant when she kisses enchanted prince-turned-frog Naveen (Bruno Campos) and — oops! — transforms into an amphibian herself.

MONEY SHOTS: The film’s musical numbers shine, including the sinister “Friends on the Other Side” by evil hoodoo man Dr. Facilier (Keith David); the zydeco-flavored “Gonna Take You There” bayou tour by Cajun firefly Ray (Jim Cummings); the gospel tune “Dig a Little Deeper” by friendly witch-woman Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis); and Tiana’s spunky “Almost There,” animated with a witty Art Deco flourish. Dr. Facilier’s shadow, which has a wicked life of its own, also provides a highlight.

BEST LINE: “I’m green, and I’m slimy…” “That’s not slime.” “I’m secreting mucous!” Tiana declares upon being frog-ified. The mucous line becomes an unexpected running joke.

BODY COUNT: Two, sort of. After the childhood prologue, Tiana’s beloved Daddy becomes an off-camera casualty of World War I. Near the end, a likeable supporting character croaks (sorry) with an appropriately melancholy note that’s not nearly as traumatic as, say, the shooting of Bambi’s mother.

INSIDE JOKES: Prince Naveen’s manservant, Lawrence, has an ape-like aspect reminiscent of King Louie from The Jungle Book. A dog named Stella footnotes Tennessee Williams’ famed New Orleans play A Streetcar Named Desire. Louis, the jazz-loving alligator, resembles Louis Armstrong as interpreted by the crocodile from Peter Pan. Mardi Gras parade floats look suspiciously similar to the designs of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin (both films from co-directors Ron Clements and Jon Musker).

SOUNDTRACK HIGHLIGHTS: Randy Newman’s song and score are good pastiches, although Dr. John’s introductory “Down in New Orleans” could be titled “Generic Big Easy Song.” “Never Knew I Needed” by Ne-Yo and Cassandra Steen is the film’s equivalent to the Peabo Bryson-Regina Belle duet of “A Whole New World” from Aladdin.

RACIAL SUBTEXT: The film features Disney’s first African-American princess (and, technically, only its second American princess after Pocahontas). Generally the film implies racial injustice through class inequities, including Tiana’s condescending white Realtors and the contrast between her neighbors’ humble shacks and the mansions of the Garden District.

DOES IT RULE THE OTHER PRINCESS FILMS? Clements and Musker walk a line between reviving the Princess-oriented features and subverting their formula. Tiana’s air-headed friend Charlotte obsesses over marrying a prince, but Naveen is penniless. Meanwhile, Tiana scoffs at the idea of wishing on stars and obsesses over hard work. Being a Disney film, however, it leaves room for magic by the end.

HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Am I the only one bothered by the fact that, in frog form, Tiana and Prince Naveen spend most of the movie naked?

THE BOTTOM LINE: Like its workaholic heroine, The Princess and the Frog tries a little hard and tends to rush through songs and character introductions, so it lacks the ease of classics such as Beauty and the Beast. The screwball bickering of hardheaded Tiana and hedonistic Naveen holds few surprises, but it’s still a lovely, tuneful film that makes the average CGI feature look sterile by comparison.