While the last few years have focused on exclusively computer-animated projects, like Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, Walt Disney Feature Animation finally returned to the classic art of 2D hand-drawn animation this past year, with The Princess and the Frog. Directed and written by The Little Mermaid’s John Musker and Ron Clement, the film is loosely based on the classic fairytale of "The Frog Prince", but with a few twists. First, the story and action is set in early 20th century New Orleans, giving the film a uniquely American angle. For her whole life, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) dreamed of opening a restaurant, but she’s struggling, working two jobs, while trying to save up money to buy a place where she can bring her dream to life. Her childhood friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) comes to the rescue when she hires Tiana to cater a Mardi Gras party with her scrumptious beignets, giving her the right amount of money to buy the place.
Meanwhile, the Maldovian Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) arrives in New Orleans, hoping to marry a rich southern belle, having been cut-off financially from his parents. Sensing opportunity, the malicious voodoo doctor Dr. Facilier (Keith Richards) cons Naveen, turning him into a frog. At the Mardi Gras party, Naveen mistakes Tiana for a princess, and believing what he knows of "The Frog Prince", convinces her to kiss him. But this is where the story takes a twist. Tiana – not being a real princess – is turned into a frog as well. Now the two must navigate through the challenges of the Louisiana bayou to find out how to reverse the spell. In the process, they meet a trumpet-playing alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), and a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) who is in love with Evangeline – actually a star in the sky. With their help, the mismatched pair seek out Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), a voodoo queen who lives deep in the bayou. She explains how they can reverse the curse, and soon the race is on to return to New Orleans, culminating in a showdown with Dr. Facilier.
The Princess and the Frog is structured like most Disney animated musicals – songs drive the storyline, provided by Pixar favorite Randy Newman. He lends his uniquely American songwriting skills to the film, digging deep into the rich musical history of New Orleans. The result is a wide variety of songs that range in style from jazz to bluegrass to Cajun ballad, all while moving the story forward. There are a few intense moments, so it’s not quite for little kids, and there are a few plot issues and story cheats, for the most part The Princess and the Frog is a well-crafted story that re-introduces the nearly lost art of traditional hand-drawn animation to a new generation of kids, while keeping adults entertained.