THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG — ★★★1/2 — Animated feature starring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Keith David and others; rated G (violence, vulgarity, slurs, brief drugs); in general release
Forget all the hyperbolic statements and such. "The Princess and the Frog" probably won't be the film that "saves" traditional cel — or 2D — animation, which has been replaced for the most part by 3D and computer-generated cartooning.
This is the first animated that Disney has produced in-house and has released theatrically since 2004's less than impressive "Home on the Range," and the movie is a rousing return to form for the Mouse House.
(The movie is not to be confused with the efforts produced through the studio's many winning collaborations with Pixar.)
Among other things, this fantasy musical recalls such later period Disney classics as "Aladdin" (1992), "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "The Little Mermaid" (1989). Not too coincidentally, it comes from the makers of two of those hits, co-directors Ron Clement and John Musker.
Of course, there are a few unfortunate moments — such as some character stereotyping and a couple of silly crass jokes. But it's also tune-filled and fun, and it's very well animated.
The Jazz Age tale is based on Louisiana lore and folk stories and centers on Tiana, voiced by Anika Noni Rose. The New Orleans resident dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. And she's been working several jobs and saving money for that dream.
Unfortunately, Tiana's tireless devotion to those dreams has left her with no time for fun.
Tiana's spoiled, rich childhood friend, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), doesn't have such problems. She's set her sights on Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a visiting dignitary she hopes to snag.
Naveen, though, has been transformed into a frog by the evil Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David). He's also given Naveen's greedy servant, Lawrence (Peter Bartlett), his master's coveted human form.
But the real prince believes he can be changed back by the kiss of a princess. When the impoverished Tiana kisses him, though, she's also transformed into an amphibian.
So, now these two must find a way to stop Shadow Man's plans if they want to resume their original lives.
Refreshingly, there is little of the supposed "stunt casting" when it comes to the voice performers.
The bulk of the cast is made up either of Broadway stars (such as Rose and Cody), who do their own singing, or of animation veterans.
David is perhaps the most recognizable, and it certainly sounds like he's having fun with his meaty villain role.
The film also features some of the better songs heard in an animated film of late. They come courtesy of Oscar-winning composer Randy Newman and include the winning "Almost There" and the gospel tinged "Dig a Little Deeper."
"The Princess and the Frog" is rated G but features some animated, violent content (gunplay and shootings, animal violence, peril moments and slapstick), some scary imagery, some mildly vulgar humor (including a scatological joke) and references, derogatory language and slurs, and brief references to potions and other chemicals. Running time: 97 minutes.