Steve’s Wonderful Reviews of Disney: The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog

Release Date: November 25th, 2009 (released nationwide December 11th)

Inspiration: “The Frog Prince” by the Brothers Grimm and “The Frog Princess” by E.D. Baker

Budget: $105 million

Domestic Gross: $104.4 million

Worldwide Gross: $269 million

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%

IMDB Score: 7.1/10

Storyline (per IMDB): A modern day retelling of the classic story The Frog Prince. The Princess and the Frog finds the lives of arrogant, carefree Prince Naveen and hardworking waitress Tiana crossing paths. Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by a conniving voodoo magician and Tiana, following suit, upon kissing the amphibian royalty. With the help of a trumpet-playing alligator, a Cajun firefly, and an old blind lady who lives in a boat in a tree, Naveen and Tiana must race to break the spell and fulfill their dreams.

Pre-Watching Thoughts: We continue on with the canon as we come to the last film of the 2000s, and this was the only other film from this decade beside Lilo and Stitch that I had seen before this and I remember watching this in the theaters when it came out. This is also pretty historic for being one of the last Disney films to be hand-drawn as opposed to being CGI which made it feel even more special. With how dismal the decade has been for Disney in terms of the animated films, I am at least hoping that this film can end the decade on a high note and give them some momentum going into the 2010s.

Voice Cast: After the last few films of having the casts be mostly new people with only one or two returning actors, we have quite a few more returning stars for this one though the majority of the cast is still brand new. When it comes to the returning actors, we first have the return of John Goodman as he voices Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff and we also have the return of Frank Welker who voices Stella the dog, and then we have Jim Cummings who voices Ray the firefly, Corey Burton who voices one of the Fenner brothers, Don Hall who voices Darnell, and Kevin Michael Richardson who voices Ian the alligator. We now move onto the newcomers as we have Anika Noni Rose who voices Tiana in arguably the biggest role of her career with Elizabeth Dampier voicing Tiana as a child, and then we have Bruno Campos who voices Prince Naveen in his final film role as he would transition into law shortly after this. Next, we have Keith David who voices Dr. Facilier as he was hitting the peak of his career at this point, and then we have Michael-Leon Wooly who voices Louis the alligator in one of his few film roles of his career with Terence Blanchard providing the trumpet playing. We then have Jennifer Cody who voices Charlotte La Bouff in one of her only film roles with Breanna Brooks voicing Charlotte as a child, and then we have Jenifer Lewis who voices Mama Odie as she was hitting the peak of her career as well. Next, we have Peter Bartlett who voices Lawrence in one of his only film roles and then we have TV icon Oprah Winfrey who voices Eudora in one of her few films roles, and then we have Terence Howard who voices James in a minor role and we have Dee Bradley Baker who voices Juju the snake in a minor role. We then have Jerry Kernion who voices the other Fenner brother in a minor role and then we have Ritchie Montgomery and Paul Briggs who voice Reggie and Two Fingers, and finally we have legendary chef Emeril Lagasse who voices Marion the alligator in a minor role. This was an interesting film in that the big-name stars were mainly in minor roles while relative unknowns took the bigger roles, but it worked because for a few of them this film would be one of the biggest films of their careers.

Hero/Prince: After going through about a decade and a half of not having a prince in these films, we finally buck the trend and have our first prince since Simba from the Lion King and that is Prince Naveen of Maldonia. He comes to New Orleans intending to have fun only to be reminded that he has been cut off by his parents and must marry a rich girl to be financially stable, and he runs into Dr. Facilier who offers to help him out only to turn him into a frog and he is imprisoned by his servant Lawrence. Naveen escapes and runs into Tiana as he believes that she’s a princess and offers to help her get her restaurant if she turns him back into a human, but because she is not a princess she is turned into a frog and they get into a fight which leads them being thrown into the swamplands. They make their way to Mama Odie with the help of Louis and Ray as Naveen starts to become more responsible, and he also starts to fall in love with Tiana as they make their return to New Orleans though he is captured by Facilier. With Ray’s help, he escapes and after Facilier is defeated by Tiana, Naveen agrees to marry Charlotte as long as she helps Tiana get her restaurant though Tiana reveals that she loves Naveen. Charlotte agrees to turn them back into humans by kissing Naveen though she is too late and they accept their fate, and Naveen and Tiana get married and kiss which turns them back to humans as Tiana is now a princess after marrying Naveen. They obtain the building to create Tiana’s restaurant and Naveen helps her run it with his parents’ blessing. Naveen is an interesting prince as he wants to be free from responsibility and live his life with no boundaries, but he clearly cannot take care of himself and is too trusting of people which allows Facilier to take advantage of him. Throughout the journey, he learns that love is what he needs and he falls in love with Tiana though is willing to be with Charlotte if it means Tiana will get her restaurant, but Tiana reciprocates his love which leads to them becoming human again and he becomes a more responsible adult and earns his parents’ respect. It will be interesting to see where he ranks amongst the other princes in the canon because he is such a unique prince and stands out here in the later part of the canon.

Princess: We have our first legit princess since Mulan which is a long time to go considering the princess was such a staple of these Disney films, and much like Belle this princess doesn’t start off as a princess and that is Tiana. She grows up loving food and has a dream to own a restaurant following in the footsteps of her father, and she works two jobs and saves up to purchase an old sugar mill which she would turn into a restaurant. At the La Bouff’s masquerade ball which she is catering, she learns that she has been outbid for the mill and she prays for a miracle as she comes across Prince Naveen who has been turned into a frog. Seeing her dressed as a princess leads him to believe she is a princess and he offers to help her in exchange for her turning him back into a human, but the spell backfires and she ends up turning into a frog as they fight and end up in the swamp. They meet Louis and Ray as they lead them to Mama Odie and she teaches Naveen how to cook, and after they make it to Mama Odie she tells them that Naveen can kiss Charlotte who is the Princess of Mardi Gras which would turn them back to humans. During the trip, Naveen learns he is in love with Tiana and tries to propose though he can’t and he ends up being captured, and Ray tells Tiana of Naveen’s love for her though she sees Lawrence disguised as Naveen with Charlotte and she believes Naveen betrayed her. Ray takes the amulet from Lawrence and reveals the deception to Tiana though she is captured by Dr. Facilier, and he offers to help her get her restaurant if she returns the amulet though she refuses and destroys it instead. She tells Naveen that she loves him and Charlotte tries to help them though she is too late and they decide to stay as frogs, and they are married by Mama Odie and they kiss which turns them back to humans as Tiana is now officially a princess. She is able to purchase the mill and with Naveen’s help, she turns it into a thriving restaurant as they officially get married and live happily ever after. Tiana is an example of someone who values her life by her hard work and the success to come from that, but in doing so she lets work and this desire consume her to the point that she can’t see Mama Odie’s message to her about what she really needs in her life. Through her experience as a frog, she comes to learn what she is missing in her life and learns that it is love that she needs, and this leads her to marrying Naveen who himself has become changed by his experiences with her. Tiana is one of the most memorable princesses in the canon partially due to the fact that she is the first African American princess, and it will be interesting to see where she ranks amongst the more famous princesses in the canon.

Villain: After having some fairly subpar villains for the majority of the decade, we do end on a pretty strong note with our villain here and that is the voodoo bokor known as Dr. Facilier or the “Shadow Man” as he is referred to. He longs to be rich and control New Orleans as he learns of Prince Naveen’s arrival to the city, and he brings Naveen and his servant Lawrence to his hut and offers them to help them with their problems. He ends up turning Naveen into a frog and uses his blood to fill an amulet that can turn Lawrence into Naveen, and after Naveen escapes he turns to the voodoo spirits to track him down which they eventually do. Just before Lawrence marries Charlotte under disguise, Naveen escapes and steals the amulet which he gives to Ray who in turns gives it to Tiana though Facilier squashes Ray, and he offers to turn Tiana back into a human and help her get her restaurant though she refuses and she destroys the amulet which causes the voodoo spirits to drag Facilier to the other side leaving his image on a tombstone. Facilier is a classic example of someone who thinks that they can control something that they don’t fully understand, and he is motivated by greed and power as he looks to rule New Orleans and become the richest man in the city. But as mentioned, he ultimately doesn’t understand the full extent of the power of voodoo and he gets in too deep with the spirits which leads to his demise, and to this point he is the best villain of the decade though it will be interesting to see how he ranks amongst the more memorable villains.

Other Characters: We have quite a number of other characters to talk about in this film and a lot of them play a big role in the film as opposed to previous films that was mainly more about the main characters with the others being more minor. The first character to talk about is Louis the alligator who finds Naveen and Tiana as frogs in the swamp and he showcases his trumpet playing skills, and he says that his dream is to play with the big boys without causing chaos due to being an alligator. He helps bring Naveen and Tiana to Mama Odie before helping bring them back to New Orleans as he is mistaken for a costumed person and he plays in the band, and he reveals he is a real alligator when he tries to go after Ray though he is too late to save him. After Naveen and Tiana become human again, he “coaxes” the Fenner brothers into giving Tiana the old sugar mill and he plays nightly at Tiana’s new restaurant fulfilling his dream. We then have Ray the firefly who meets Naveen, Tiana, and Louis as he and his family help lead them to Mama Odie, and Ray tells them about the love of his life which is a star that he mistakes for a firefly that he named Evangeline. On the way back to New Orleans, Naveen reveals his love for Tiana to Ray and Ray tells Tiana the same though they believe they see Naveen as a human again about to marry Charlotte, and Ray learns the truth as he helps the real Naveen escape from his cage. Naveen steals the amulet and gives it to Ray who gives it to Tiana as he fights the evil spirits, but he is knocked away and squashed by Facilier which leads to his death though he reappears as a star in the sky next to Evangeline. Next, we have Charlotte La Bouff who is the spoiled daughter of Eli La Bouff and she is Tiana’s best friend, and when she learns of Prince Naveen’s arrival her father hosts a ball so she can meet him though unbeknownst to her it is Lawrence disguised as Naveen. They become engaged and plan to marry on Mardi Gras only for the deception to be revealed and she learns that Naveen is a frog, and after learning that Naveen and Tiana love each other she agrees to restore them and help them though she is too late. After Naveen and Tiana marry and become human again, Charlotte continues to support Tiana and seemingly makes advances at Naveen’s younger brother. We then have Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff who is one of the most successful businessmen in New Orleans, and he spoils and pampers Charlotte though he is kind to Tiana and her family. He throws a masquerade ball in honor of Prince Naveen and he is also named King of Mardi Gras, and after Tiana and Naveen open the restaurant he becomes one of the loyal customers due to his love for Tiana’s beignets. Next, we have Lawrence who is Naveen’s servant and after Naveen is turned into a frog by Dr. Facilier, Lawrence is given an amulet which turns him into Naveen and he plots to marry Charlotte so he and Facilier can take her father’s wealth. After some close calls with his cover nearly blown, the plan falls apart when Naveen takes the amulet and gives it to Ray as Charlotte sees Lawrence for who he really is and he is arrested. We then have Mama Odie who is a voodoo priestess who lives in the swamp and she is visited by Naveen, Tiana, Louis, and Ray as she tells them that they need to dig deeper to learn what they really need, and she tells them that Naveen needs to marry a princess to restore him and Tiana. In the end, Naveen and Tiana get married with Mama Odie presiding and they become human again as Mama Odie reminds them of what she said. We then have Tiana’s parents James and Eudora as James dreams about owning his own restaurant though he dies before achieving it, and Eudora supports Tiana’s dream though she tells her that she is missing something from her life which she finds when she falls in love with Naveen. We finally have the other minor characters like the Fenner brothers who Tiana tries to buy the old sugar mill from, the various other people living in New Orleans, and the animals in the swamp that Naveen and Tiana interact with. It was nice to see a lot more characters get focused on aside from the main characters and we will see if that continues on in the next decade.

Songs: After having the music take a backseat in the films throughout this decade after being a focal point for such a long time, we go back to the films being written as musical films and it is so refreshing to see. This film feels like a throwback to the films of old specifically during the Disney Renaissance, and the first song in this film is “Down in New Orleans” which is sung a few times during the film as it is a fun song to set the tone for the film. We then have the song “Almost There” sung by Tiana as she tells her mother that she is close to her dream, and it is a good solo song and showcases the vocal skills of Anika Noni Rose. Next, we have “Friends on the Other Side” which Dr. Facilier sings when he changes Naveen into a frog, and it is a good song for the villain which you don’t hear too much in these films. We then have “When We’re Human” which Louis, Naveen, and Tiana sing as they head towards Mama Odie’s, and it is a good song for the trio as they express their individual desires when they become human. Next, we have “Gonna Take You There” which Ray sings when he leads the trio to Mama Odie and he also sings “Ma Belle Evangeline” as a ballad, and both songs are good showcases for Ray and his likable nature. We then have “Dig a Little Deeper” which is sung by Mama Odie as she tells Naveen and Tiana they have to figure out what they need in their life, and it is a fun song that harkens back to the big numbers of the past. Finally, we have the song sung during the credits which is “Never Knew I Needed” sung by hip-hop star Ne-Yo, and it is a good song to close the film out on. This was a pretty solid collection of songs and while they probably don’t rank extremely high against more memorable songs from the past, they are still very good songs and far better than most of the songs we got during this last decade.

Plot: Prior to this film, I’m pretty sure that most people were familiar with the story of the princess and the frog prince, and while that story has been adapted numerous times this was one of the few adaptations that would go the other way in having the princess become a frog. Adding to the fact that the film was moved to early 20th century New Orleans and having characters of color be the main characters, and it was a fairly big risk for Disney in addition to having it be a traditional hand-drawn film as well. In the film, Tiana is a young lady working towards owning her own restaurant as her friend Charlotte is looking forward to the arrival of Prince Naveen, and Naveen wants to be free and live life to the fullest as he is drawn towards Dr. Facilier who tricks him into being turned into a frog with his servant Lawrence being given an amulet that turns him into Naveen. As a frog, Naveen meets Tiana who he believes is a princess and he offers to help her if she helps him become human again, but it doesn’t work as she turns into a frog instead and they end up in the swamp where they meet Louis the alligator and Ray the firefly. They meet Mama Odie who tells them Naveen has to kiss Charlotte before midnight to turn them back, and they head back to New Orleans as Naveen and Tiana become close with Naveen realizing that he loves Tiana. Naveen is captured by Facilier and Tiana sees Lawrence disguised as Naveen which leads her to feel betrayed, but Ray saves Naveen and they take the amulet which Ray gives to Tiana and she destroys it which causes Facilier to be banished to the other side. Charlotte agrees to kiss Naveen and let him stay with Tiana though she is too late and they decide to remain frogs, and they get married which turns them back to humans since Tiana is now a princess and they open her restaurant as they live happily ever after. It is always unique when they take a classic story and put their own twist on things which could either make it better of even possibly make it worse, and I thought that it worked here as it was a nice spin on the story and it felt like a classic Disney film.

Random Watching Thoughts: We have the Disney logo open with a star in the sky and the film itself also opens with a star in the sky; If you look closely, the dolls on the shelf looks very much like the Disney princesses; I believe this is the first time where a story that the film is based off of is actually featured in the same film as Eudora reads Tiana and Charlotte “The Frog Prince”; That is such a common trope in cartoons that a cat gets stuck on the ceiling though I’m fairly sure they can’t do that in real life; That cat looks like it’s been through hell; Eli is such a pushover when it comes to Charlotte; I hope Eudora is getting paid nicely by Eli to make so many dresses for just Charlotte; Eli says that he will no longer be a pushover only to give Charlotte a puppy seconds later; So this first part was set in November 1912 due to the “Wilson Elected” headline on the newspaper; We get a clear divide of the classes in New Orleans with the elegant mansions of the rich to the shanty town that Tiana and her family live; She’s confident that the gumbo is done only to quickly put in Tabasco sauce before her father tastes it; James is right that good food brings together all different type of folks; Foreshadowing there of the frog sitting next to Tiana on the windowsill; That’s a lot of cans full of money; So it looks life her father served in World War I and died in combat, hence the medal that he received; She was literally dead tired when she arrived home though she is suddenly full of energy when she goes to her day job; Ladies’ International Cookery; Only in New Orleans can random bands just play in the streets; I know the café is not too big, but does Tiana have to be the only waitress?; The guy wants Facilier to give him a full head of hair only for Facilier to basically turn him into the Wolfman; Eli gave that newspaper boy a very nice tip; “Chester Mac’s 50 pound tomato wins prize”; More foreshadowing with Naveen and Tiana meeting each other just randomly; That chef could be a little more supportive of Tiana and not mock her about it; If you’ve been named King of Mardi Gras for 5 straight years, it’s not much of a surprise by this point; Charlotte tells her father to tell Tiana all this news yet she ends up doing it herself; I do find it weird that Charlotte calls her father “Big Daddy”; All Eli wanted to do was enjoy his beignets yet he can’t even do that; I don’t know what Eudora was expecting when they went inside the old mill, did she think it was going to be pristine?; Tiana is clearly much different now than when she was a child as she doesn’t believe in fairy tales anymore; She’s got some high hopes for the success of this restaurant; The animation style during “Almost There” feels like a tribute to the 40s; Naveen was willing to buy everyone a drink knowing that he has no money to do so; Of all the things for Lawrence to point out in telling Naveen he might need to get a job, he would point to someone shoveling horse manure; Naveen says Lawrence finally got into the music by being stuck in a tuba; “Doctor Facilier: Tarot Readings, Charms, Potions, Dreams Made Real”; Facilier is too trusting into thinking that the spirits on the other side are his friends; More foreshadowing with Facilier saying that Naveen needs the green though it is not money he is talking about; Naveen is hesitant to shake his hand while Lawrence wastes no time; The guy dressed as the octopus grabbing 8 wine glasses; How did that guy get coerced into dressing up like a sheep?; At least Charlotte is honest with that jester when she says that to a woman, “later” actually means “not ever”; Sweating like a sinner in church; Tiana says that Charlotte can’t just wish for everything yet “Naveen” shows up after she prays hard for it; Charlotte is literally throwing herself at Naveen; They tell her that the person who outbid her offered to pay in cash, yet she had all those jars of cash in her drawer; I’m surprised they didn’t get called out for them telling Tiana that someone of her background should stay where she is and that it could get interpreted as racist; Charlotte is going on and on while Tiana is clearly suffering after the news she got; Good callback as she wishes on the star and Naveen as a frog shows up; I didn’t realize that “The Frog Prince” was so big in Maldonia; It is interesting they had Tiana change into a frog after the kiss as opposed to just having Naveen not change back; I love how he makes it seem better that she is secreting mucus and it is not slime; The way Eli yells for Stella makes it seem like he was quoting “A Streetcar Named Desire”; The octopus guy now decides not to drink anymore; Lawrence didn’t think to just poke holes into the lid; Facilier says they will split the money down the middle before saying 60-40% under his breath; Tiana was right in that she never said she wasn’t a princess and Naveen just assumed she was based on her dress; Nice reference there to “Mission: Impossible” with Tiana stuck on the spiderweb; Laveen is not sure if Charlotte will accept him only for Tiana to say she will because he is a prince; That alligator says he will like Naveen basted, battered, and fried yet he plans to just eat him as is; An alligator who plays the trumpet; So according to him, the bayou is the best jazz school in the world; Louis just assumed the humans would accept him because he could play the trumpet; Louis will only take them to Mama Odie so that he can be turned into a human; That poor turtle getting caught up in this musical number; She works Louie around the swamp while he focused on playing the trumpet; So when the blood drains out of the amulet, Lawrence’s façade is erased and he becomes himself; If anyone was curious, etouffee is just shellfish over rice; It would’ve been interesting if they did a subplot of Naveen and Tiana becoming more like frogs and less like humans the longer they stayed frogs; Louis trying to help and instead he just made it worse; Ray treats his bulb like it is a real light bulb; Naveen says they are from a far, far world and Ray interprets that as them being from Shreveport; Confused by the topography and the geography and the choreography; Ray has got quite the large family; Facilier certainly has some grand plans; If the spirits could talk, I guarantee they would tell Facilier that this is his last chance; Louis is certainly overreacting to one little prickle in his paw; The one hunter is named Two Fingers and he literally has two fingers; Louis foolishly jumps into the prickly bush to avoid the hunters; He chipped his favorite tooth yet he doesn’t have many teeth to begin with; How did Naveen go from the water to under Reggie’s hat so quickly?; I know the South doesn’t have a sterling reputation when it comes to dumb hillbillies, but they really made these three hunters as stupid as possible; Naveen is really struggling just to slice up a simple mushroom; It wasn’t just below the belt, it was below the frog belt; That’s quite a lot of spirits for just one frog; Ray is singing this ballad for Evangeline while Naveen and Tiana also start to fall in love; Mama Odie has some good aim for being blind; Is it just me or does Juju look so much like Kaa from “The Jungle Book”?; Mama Odie is ready to sleep but is awakened when she smells her gumbo burning; We saw Tiana cook gumbo in a pumpkin and now Mama Odie cooks her in a bathtub; Naveen quickly realizes what it is he needs yet Tiana still can’t figure it out; Doesn’t Ray know the rules that once you do a big musical number, you can’t just do it again immediately?; Even Louis knows that if he wants a belly button, he wants one that doesn’t stick out; It would be bad if it turns out that steamboat wasn’t going to New Orleans; How was Naveen able to lug that bottle of wine to the top of the ship?; Naveen using a black butterfly for a bowtie; If you are trying to propose, not the best idea to talk about the thousands of other women that you dated; You literally want to yell at the screen and tell Naveen just to admit his feelings; Ray says Tiana won’t get anything out of him yet he ends up spilling the beans; Shouldn’t Tiana have figured something was amiss if Naveen turned back to a human and she didn’t?; Just a few minutes ago, Tiana was praying to Evangeline and now she tells Ray that Evangeline is not real; So apparently Ray is a master locksmith as well; Why is Facilier just standing there and not trying to help Lawrence?; So a firefly is able to fight and kill shadows; Talk about cold, the look on Facilier’s face when he squishes Ray; You have to give Facilier credit in that he has a way with words and can make you believe that he is genuine; Tiana finally realizes that it’s not about what she wants, it’s what she needs; That was a good tease with her throwing the amulet down only for the shadow to catch it; Tiana brings it full circle with the slime and mucus correction; Facilier being dragged down into the grave is low key one of the more scarier moments in Disney history; For the second time, Naveen is squashed by someone with a book when introducing himself; Charlotte is trying to take in the situation while Naveen looks at her like “Just kiss me, already”; Glad to know that Tiana loves Naveen even with the warts; Wouldn’t the kiss still have worked until after the bell chimed 12 times?; Ray dying is one of the saddest moments in Disney history that is rarely ever talked about; I guess this is a Bayou funeral; Nice touch having the second star there to symbolize Ray joining Evangeline, right down to having it look like they are holding hands; Naveen now uses a white butterfly for a bowtie; So since Tiana and Naveen got married, that makes Tiana a princess which breaks the spell; Even though they got married in the swamp, they had to do another wedding with people to make it official; Of course Charlotte would make sure she was the one to catch the bouquet; She gives the Fenner Brothers all her money, but it took that extra bit of “persuasion” from Louis to give her the building; So it went from Tiana’s Place to Tiana’s Palace; The Firefly Five plus Lou; Charlotte better be careful considering she’s 19 and Naveen’s brother is only six and a half; We opened the film with the fireflies flying around Evangeline and now we close with them flying around Evangeline and Ray; It seems like having the little animations during the beginning of the credits is now becoming a common thing with these films.

Overall Thoughts: Overall, this film was a pretty good film and easily the best film of the decade though again the bar was pretty low so there wasn’t much competition for it. I remember when this film came out and it was looked at to be the one to finally turn things around for Disney, and it did do a fine job though it was somewhat overshadowed by Avatar in December. However, it was clearly a step in the right direction and now the prospects for the films upcoming in the new decade were looking much better than when the decade started. The 2000s have been a tumultuous decade for Disney as they had some good moments, but for the most part it was not the best decade they’ve had and now we will see how the films from the last decade fare. As for this film, it is a pretty good film and could hold up fairly well against some of the classics of the past.

Final Grade: 8/10