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Spellbinding Princess and the Frog absolute magic
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Spellbinding Princess and the Frog absolute magic

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Princess and the Frog
Opening December 11


Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) longs to open her own New Orleans Creole restaurant filled to the rafters with excellent food and toe-tapping jazz music. Raised with a zealous work ethic by her late father James (voiced by Terrence Howard) and with unparalleled compassion by her loving mother Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), she knows how to keep her eyes on the prize. Unfortunately, her doing so has allowed much of life to sadly pass her by, and her insistence that fairy tale endings don't come true has been keeping her from seeing the magic happening all around her.

While catering a ball for the arrival of Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruce Campos) given by her somewhat spoiled childhood friend Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody), Tiana is given news which puts her restaurateur dreams in jeopardy. Things get even stranger when a frog stumbles into her room claiming to be Prince Naveen, asking for a single kiss so his humanity can be restored.

Things never progress quite the way you think they're going to in The Princess and the Frog, Walt Disney Pictures' first hand-drawn animated film since 2004's Home on the Range. I'm not saying there aren't happy endings; this is a fairy tale, after all. And I'm also not implying that friendships aren't forged, love isn't found or that good does not triumph over evil - again, fairy tale. Disney movie. 'Nuff said.

The Princess and the Frog celebrates the time-tested conventions of the Disney animated movie while also gleefully subverting them. Its leading lady doesn't just get turned into a frog, she doesn't just want to get married and share her life with another man, she also has no wish to become a princess and live that royal version of happily ever after. Not since Belle fell in love with a Beast has a Mouse House heroine been this much her own woman. Even better, watching her evolve rapturous, as Tiana is such an engaging and infatuating character that I adored everything about her.

Directors Ron Clements and John Musker were part of the reason for the studio's hand-drawn rebirth in the 1990s, helming such winning favorites as The Great Mouse Detective, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. They were, however, also part of its downfall, and while the mostly second-rate Hercules made money, the pair's terrible Treasure Planet was the nail CGI fanatics and traditional animation naysayers were ready to pound into the art form's coffin.

Thankfully Pixar chief and current head of Disney animation John Lasseter wasn't quite ready to bury this form of filmmaking quite yet, and trusted the duo could rise to former heights and once again cement the studio (sorry, Hayao Miyazaki) as kings of the hand-drawn jungle. He knew that, not only was the art form itself in jeopardy, so was the studio's highly cherished legacy, and if Clements and Musker failed, the chances they'd be returning to it any time soon were pretty much nil.

Not only does the pair rise to the occasion, they arguably exceed expectations to the point that their three prior successes pale in comparison. This movie doesn't just concern itself with magic; it is magic, pure joy and rapturous glee oozing off of every frame. It is beautifully realized on a multitude of levels; the same dedication to character and script development Lasseter perfected with Pixar blissfully on display here. The directors balance everything from comedy to music to drama to romance with grace and sincerity, and when it was over I wasn't sure if I was crying because I was moved by the story, or if I was just happy the movie was such a marvelous success.

There's more, much more. I could go on all day about Randy Newman's (Toy Story) superb music and songs or the outstanding vocal work. I could talk about how the animation ranks as some of the finest the studio has ever produced, or how certain scenes cast that same wondrous spell as the "Be My Guest" sequence from Beauty and the Beast or the climactic battle between Maleficent and Charming in Sleeping Beauty.

I could speak about all that and more, but I'm not going to. The truth is that this is one of the few motion pictures that speaks for itself better than I ever could. The simple act of seeing it with one's own eyes is the only way to know just how perfect it truly is. In my opinion, The Princess and the Frog isn't just wonderful, it is another in a long line of traditionally animated Disney masterpieces.

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