"The Princess and the Frog" is a delightful change in animated features.
"Princess" is a return for Disney to old-school, mostly hand-drawn animation, similar in style, pace and appearance to the successes, "The Little Mermaid" (1989) and "Aladdin" (1992), which revived the studio.
"Princess" is in keeping with the studio's traditional animation that stretches back through "The Fox and the Hound" (1981), "The Rescuers" (1977), "101 Dalmatians" (1961), all the way to Disney's first animated feature, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" (1937).
"Princess" is a switch for Disney, which has had its greatest recent success with computer-generated animation from Pixar ("Toy Story," "Cars," "WALL-E").
"Princess" was co-directed and co-written by Ron Clements and Ron Musker, who handled the same duties on "Aladdin" and "The Little Mermaid." Also co-writing the "Princess" screenplay was Rob Edwards (TV's "In Living Color"). A few other writers (Greg Erb, Jason Oremland) contributed to the story.
The story is based on the classic fairytale, "The Frog Prince" by E.D. Baker, where a frog kissed by a princess is transformed into a prince.
The phrase, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince," which has entered the lexicon, is used here for comedic effect.
"Princess" is touted as the first Disney animated film where the princess is an African-American woman. That aspect isn't particularly significant in the storyline.
The story is set in New Orleans during the Jazz Age, which allows the use of a Dixieland, zydeco, blues and gospel-inspired score and some eight songs, mostly written by Randy Newman ("Toy Story").
Dr. John sings the opening-credits song, "Down in New Orleans." Ne-Yo sings the closing credits song, "Never Knew I Needed."
"Princess" is really an animated musical, again in the Disney style, especially during the 1990s. The songs are catchy and given splashy production numbers.
That's why Anika Noni Rose, of "Dreamgirls" and a Tony award winner, voices the title role of Tiana and sings several of the songs.
The other character voices are equally strong, including Bruno Campos (TV's "Nip-Tuck") as confused but likeable Prince Naveen; Keith David, who voices and sings as the evil Dr. Facilier; John Goodman, as "Big Daddy" La Bouff; Oprah Winfrey as Tiana's mother Eudora; and Terrence Howard as Tiana's father James.
There are also some funny sidekick characters, especially Louis, a trumpet-playing alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley), and Ray, a firefly (Jim Cummings).
The character animation is smooth. The backgrounds are lush. There are some spectacular scenes influenced by psychedelic poster art of the 1960's.
"The Princess and the Frog" returns Disney to its roots, proving that the House of Mouse animation still reigns.
"The Princess and the Frog": MPAA Rated G (General Audiences. All Ages Admitted); Genre: Animation, Family, Fantasy, Musical, Romance; Run time: 1 hr., 37 min.; Distributed by Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Princess and the Frog" opens and concludes with a clip from "Steamboat Willie" (1928), with Mickey Mouse in Disney's first synchronized sound animated film.
Box Office, Dec. 11: "The Princess and the Frog" reigned, opening at No. 1, with $25 million for the weekend and $27.8 million since its opening, taking "The Blind Side" down to No. 2, $15.4 million, $150.2 million, four weeks. "Invictus," directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, opened way back with only $9 million at No. 3.
4. "The Twilight Saga: New Moon," $8 million, $267.3 million, four weeks; 5. "Disney's A Christmas Carol," $6.8 million, $124 million, six weeks; 6. "Brothers," $5 million, $17.4 million, two weeks; 7. "2012," $4.4 million, $155.3 million, five weeks; 8. "Old Dogs," $4.3 million, $39.9 million, three weeks; 9. "Armored," $3.5 million, $11.7 million, two weeks; 10. "Ninja Assassin," $2.7 million, $34.3 million, three weeks
The box office tally topped $9.7 billion for 2009, now the highest-grossing year in Hollywood history, with 2002 still the peak for attendance.
Unreel, Dec. 18: James Cameron directs the much-anticipated computer-generated science fiction film, "Avatar," which stars Sam Worthington as a Marine sent to a planet via a remote-control body.
"Nine" is a star-studded musical adapted from the Broadway show, which was based on the classical Italian movie, "8 1/2," and stars Daniel Day-Lewis, Penelope Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren and Fergie, directed by Rob Marshall ("Chicago").
Jeff Bridges stars as a hard-driving country singer in "Crazy Heart," a drama also starring Maggie Gyllenhaal.
"Did You Hear About the Morgans" stars Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker in a comedy about an estranged New York City couple who witness a murder and are put in a witness protection program in Wyoming.
"The Young Victoria" stars Emily Blunt as the young queen and her romance with Prince Albert.
Three Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes