Warning: some spoilers to follow.
Jordan and I went to see The Princess and the Frog with a friend on Sunday, and I am pleased to report that the early-90s dream team that made our childhoods so amazing still has what it takes.
The story is standard enough: Prince Naveen and poor New Orleans waitress Tiana are transformed into frogs and the movie follows their journey to become human again. Along the way, they pick up a couple of sidekicks, Louis the jazz-playing alligator and Ray the Cajun firefly, sing songs, and of course learn valuable life lessons.
Refreshingly, the sidekicks and their quirky personalities come across as endearing, rather than annoying. Maybe it’s because they stay well away from Disney cute, but maybe it’s because even the side characters have goals. Louis has his desire to become a jazz trumpeter. Ray has his love for the star he thinks is a firefly and calls Evangeline. These goals give them motivations for their actions, making their presence seem more justified than the standard Disney animal entourage that exists solely to crack jokes and act as foils for the main characters.
I thought that the most interesting character was Charlotte, the daughter of the richest man in town. She’s unequivocally spoiled (she bursts into tears, saying “I never get what I want!”, at her own masquerade ball), but she isn’t an antagonist, like an evil stepsister. She even demonstrates a few moments of kindness that counterbalance her general obliviousness to Tiana’s struggles, such as lending her a dress when hers gets spilled on. Her romanticism eventually wins out over her selfishness and she volunteers to kiss the frog Naveen so that he and Tiana can both be human again, putting Tiana’s happiness ahead of her own lifelong goal of marrying a prince.
The character with the weakest motivation turns out to be Dr. Facilier, the voodoo villain. His plan to gain control of New Orleans never feels quite serious enough to be threatening. Still, the implicitly demonic source of his power lends him a legitimate creepiness, and his inevitable comeuppance is pretty epic.
While plenty of Disney cliches are present, I think they all get outweighed by one unexpected event: a character who is neither a villain nor a parent gets killed and does not make any miraculous recoveries. Kudos to Disney for not shying away, but it makes this movie a little less kid-friendly than their other princess movies.
I don’t need to tell you that Tiana and Naveen get their happy ending, but this is no rags-to-riches story. Happily ever after turns out to include hard work as well as rewards. I found this more satisfying than the sailing-off-into-the-sunset endings of other Disney movies.
My recommendation is that you find a girl under twelve to take and hie thee to the theater.