The Princess and the Frog (5/10)

Picture in your head the “Ain’t never had a friend like me” song from the classic “Aladdin.” Remember how crazy the visuals were, how epic and fast-paced the lyrics? Every single song and dance number in “The Princess and the Frog” aims to be just as show-stoppingly insane, and the result is a film that tries way too hard to push all the buttons and pull all the levers of the Disney musical animated classic, to a point where, much of the time, it loses itself in over-zealous incoherence.

The main story running through the movie is a strong one: Tiana, a young girl born and raised in New Orleans, works hard throughout her life to fulfill her dream – operating a classy restaurant that will serve the best gumbo and beignets in town. Her plans are cut short, though, thanks to the machinations of a voodoo witch doctor who has turned the carefree Prince Naveen into a frog. When Tiana kisses the wisecracking amphibian in an effort to fulfill childhood fairy tales of old, the smooch backfires and transforms her into a frog too. The two of them must then brave the treacherous Louisiana swamps to reach an infamous lady witch doctor who is their only hope for a human life.

Their relationship is the strong focal point of the movie, reminiscent of classic screwball comedy, and their well-defined characterizations make them easy to watch and sympathize with. Naveen is a lazy carefree prince, disowned by his family and who arrives in New Orleans only wishing to woo the women of the town and play his old banjo. Tiana is a hard-working realist, aware that wishing on a star is not enough – you have to work to make your dreams come true. It’s a clever play on the Disney staple; if only the rest of the movie was that clever.

But alas, the film seems bent on stuffing itself to the breaking point with every stock Disney character imaginable, and then some. There are not one, but two villains. Not one, but two quirky sidekicks. Not one, not two, but three idiotic “villains” with no connection to the main story at all. There’s the caring mother figure, a couple of wacky animals, the crazy old lady, the caring father figure, another caring father figure for another character who is Tiana’s necessary polar opposite. (Right down to the color of her skin.) Each them only adds running time and maybe, if they’re lucky, a sight gag or an over-the-top slapstick scene. Even the animation itself is kind of choppy and simplistic. Tarzan, Brother Bear, even Enchanted outshines it.

Desperately stuffing every single element of every single Disney film for the past 50 years into one attempt to bring hand-drawn animation back to its glory days has resulted in a film that practically has no qualities that are unique to itself. It’s fun to watch, mostly, while you’re watching it, and Tiana and Naveen make for a unique and original pair, but the psychedelic yet meaningless musical light shows, the forgettable lyrics, and the familiar cookie-cutter cast are all so bland and unoriginal that the movie is a flat-out disappointment, a hodge-podge of Disney’s greatest hits, nowhere near a hit in its own right.


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