The Princess and the Frog (2009)

(In theatres, February 2010) It’s difficult to see The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first animated featuring starring an African-American lead character, without thinking about Disney’s troubled relationship with race, from the eternal embarrassment of Songs of the South to its tradition of whiter-than-white lead characters.  But this is a new decade, and it seems that Disney has caught up with the times and if the result is recognizably another Disney princess fantasy, it’s also a film that has a lot more to offer.  By taking place in 1920s New Orleans, the film is able to draw upon rich sources of inspiration for visuals and music: At its best, The Princess and the Frog is quite unlike anything else seen from Disney, with art-deco segments, and jazz, soul, blues and gospel music.  That’s when the film reaches its top velocity, and act as an old-fashioned crowd-charmer.  Unfortunately, the entire film’s not like that: More conventional segments are, well, more conventional, and while they tie the film together, they don’t do much more than connect the narrative dots in a plotting fashion.  Still, through it all, it’s almost too easy to forget that this is Disney’s first 2D feature after the resurrection of their hand-drawn studio.  The Princess and the Frog is a creditable success for the 2D division, and a proud successor in a long line of Disney features.  One that, indeed, will make believers out of even the most hardened Disney-basher.

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