By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — "The Frog Prince," a fairy tale that was already generations old when the Brothers Grimm committed it to writing in the early 19th century, gets a clever new twist in "The Princess and the Frog" (Disney). But this snappy variation on an ancient theme — any more specific description would constitute a spoiler — is just one inviting element in what is, overall, an enchanting animated musical.
Eschewing computer technology in favor of traditional hand-drawn artwork, directors and co-writers (with Rob Edwards) John Musker and Ron Clements skillfully conjure up the New Orleans of the 1920s, complete with brassy jazz, Mississippi steamboats and a partially authentic, though sanitized, version of the social and racial divisions of the time.
At once subject to those divides, yet defying them — probably to an unrealistic degree — are best-friends-since-childhood Charlotte (voice of Jennifer Cody) and Tiana (voice of Anika Noni Rose).
Charlotte, the spoiled, headstrong but nonetheless endearing daughter of wealthy white patriarch Big Daddy (voice of John Goodman) can afford dreams of splendor, and has long had her heart set on marrying a prince. African-American Tiana — whose mother Eudora (voice of Oprah Winfrey) is Charlotte’s seamstress — has the more modest goal of fulfilling late father James’ (voice of Terrence Howard) wish to open an elegant waterfront restaurant.
Through diligent drudgery, Tiana has come close to earning the requisite money, and Charlotte’s cherished desire looks likely to be fulfilled as well when handsome, jazz-addicted playboy Prince Naveen of Maldonia (voice of Bruno Campos) arrives in the Crescent City.
But a shape-shifting spell cast by scheming voodoo sorcerer Dr. Facilier (voice of Keith David) complicates all their lives, leading to a journey to the bayou and the remote lair of its 179-year-old queen, Mama Odie (voice of Jenifer Lewis), whose good magic may undo the hex. Along the way, we meet two more vivid characters: sweet-natured, trumpet-playing alligator Louis (voice of Michael-Leon Wooley) and gap-toothed Cajun firefly Ray (voice of Jim Cummings).
As this lavish romance unfolds, enhanced by bouncy tunes from veteran pop star and film composer Randy Newman, hard-working Tiana and lazy, carefree Naveen — initially at Hepburn-Tracy loggerheads — eventually come to exercise a positive, balancing influence on each other. And the script, which emphasizes the value of love over material wealth throughout, reaches a resolution highlighting the transformative power of marital commitment.
Though images of fire-breathing masks and evil sprites may scare some tots, "The Princess and the Frog" otherwise provides quality entertainment for all ages.
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.
The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-I — general patronage. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is G — general audiences. All ages admitted.