Let me give you some of my background regarding this film. I was a senior in high school when this was released. When I saw the advertisement for it, I rolled my eyes. I wasn’t annoyed because it was a princess movie or because I felt like I was too old for it. I was annoyed because it was Disney. As someone who didn’t go to movie theaters much, the most Disney I got was the Disney Channel. Back then, they had a lot of really bad shows like Zack and Cody, Hannah Montana, Cory in the House, and Wizards of Waverly Places. I also wasn’t impressed by the advertisement for their live-action movies. In other words, I was not on good terms with Disney! When I saw Disney was releasing a new film, I got annoyed quick. I didn’t care that it was the first hand-drawn film in a long time! I didn’t care if it was reviving Disney animation! I didn’t care if it featured Disney’s first Black princess! I thought this movie was going to suck! Well, I saw the film about a year and a half after its theatrical release, in May 2012; and…I fell in love! I love this film! This is my second favorite Disney film after The Lion King! I love this picture so much! Why do I love it? That’s what this review is going to answer!
ANIMATION: My goodness, Disney’s animation has never looked better! The animation in this film is stellar! It’s gorgeous! I can see why Disney really talked up the animation in its marketing! Look at this film and tell me you don’t want more hand-drawn animation! You can’t do it; it looks too wonderful in this film! The colors really stand out and blend! The lighting is also amazing! Look at the way the water is animated here! Look at how smooth the lines are! I also appreciate the different style they use in the “Almost There” number! They use the artwork of famous artist Aaron Douglas, and it looks amazing! Finally, look at the backgrounds! I know I said in my Tarzan review that the hand-drawn and CGI animation was distracting, but it’s not that distracting here! I honestly cannot tell what is hand-drawn and painted and what’s CG. But it all blends together so well! I believe These characters and the objects and places can live in the same world together. There are some things that distract me, like Daddy La Bouff’s car, but as a whole, everything works wonderfully!
SONGS/MUSIC: I really do wish the songs in this film were appreciated more. It’s interesting when I think of how much the songs in Tangled (Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, 2010) where loved (even though they didn’t match with the tone of the film), and these songs are considered bland and forgettable (even though they match perfectly with the film). The songs and the score are brought to us by Randy Newman, whose music and songs can also be heard in several Pixar films, like Toy Story (John Lassester, 1995). I love these songs, I remember almost all of them, and I have such a great time listening to them and singing along with them! Let’s talk about each other them.
1) Down in New Orleans/(Prologue): OK, this song isn’t that memorable. The melody isn’t very fun, and you don’t really remember what Dr. John says during the number. However, it does do one of the things a song should do in musicals. It gives us exposition for our story. This takes place in New Orleans. We hear that in both the lyrics and the music. It’s not a great song, but it’s a nice one.
2) Almost There: This is a great song! It has a great memorable melody, and I have a lot of fun listening to it! This song also does something songs in musicals are supposed to do. We learn more about Tiana and her objectives and motivation. We learn more about, not just who she is, but also why she works so hard. We learn what she’s working hard for. This song shows us Tiana’s character wonderfully, and I enjoy it a lot!
3) Friends on the Other Side: I LOVE THIS SONG!!! This is my favorite song in the movie, and probably my favorite villain song ever! My goodness, this song just OOZES goodness! Keith David sounds great here! The song sounds cool, to match the personality of the villain, but it can also sound menacing. The background vocalists are voodoo dolls – how much more creepy does it get?! We get some exposition on Naveen and Lawrence as well. But one of the main reasons this song is great is because it continues the story. We still see the important events that take place in this plot.
4) When We’re Human: I enjoy this song, but it doesn’t add anything to the movie. Think about it: we already know what Tiana and Naveen are going to do when they become human again – they already told us. Louis never becomes human, so it doesn’t really matter in the grand scale of things what he’s going to do if he becomes human. Then why do I enjoy this song? Well, aside from looking at the beautiful animation during this number, the song is a lot of fun. I like singing the words with the characters. I like the melody. I like listening to this piece. I know this song could have been removed and it would not have changed anything about the film, but I still like it. It sounds nice, and I have a lot of fun with it. I enjoy it a lot! Actually, does it kind of remind anyone else of the “When We’re Human Again” number from Beauty and the Beast?…Just me?
5) Gonna Take You There: I hate this song. This is the only song in the film I cannot stand at all. Like I said earlier, I fell in love with this film about 3 years ago, in May 2012. I must have watched it about 75 times that summer. The first 50 times I watched it, I ALWAYS forgot this song was here. Every time I saw it I thought, “Oh yeah, that is a thing…” After I finally remembered it was here, I got annoyed with it. The characters were already going down the bayou, so now they’re going to sing a song about it?!? The music doesn’t excite me at all, but that’s a personal thing. The song does nothing for the film except make it longer…with an irritating song.
6) Ma Belle Evangeline: I am in love with this song! Oh my goodness, it sounds so amazing! It is so romantic! It is a beautiful, lovely song that can cause anyone to fall in love. I love the words. As you’ll see later, I’m not crazy about Ray as a character (which is part of the reason I hate “Gonna Take You There”), but he does put the heart and passion into this song that makes it so angelic. Again, Newman’s melody and lyrics do a magnificent job of engaging you as well! I love it! It’s awesome! Also, we get to see our main characters fall in love with each other, which is critical for the film; so one could argue that it does do something songs in musicals are supposed to do.
7) Dig a Little Deeper: I like this song. I don’t think it’s the best or the strongest song for the movie or Disney, but it’s still enjoyable. The melody is good, the lyrics are cool, and I remember the number. It also gives us the moral, which, I would argue, does something a song should do in a musical. If done well and strong, a song will help the moral stand out strong. This is good way for audiences to remember the lesson in this film.
8) Friends on the Other Side (Reprise): Anytime I get to hear this song is a great moment for me!
9) Down in New Orleans (Reprise): I really like the reprise of this number a lot better than the main song with Dr. John. Maybe it’s because the instrumental is more upbeat. Perhaps it’s because Tiana is singing it. Maybe it’s because the music sounds happier and brighter than it did before. I don’t know why, but I love this song a lot! It ends the movie rather nicely.
10) Never Knew I Needed: This song was written and performed by R&B singer Ne-Yo. I think this is the movie’s Number One song, which I find very interesting. I don’t know how many people think of this song first when they think of this film. That doesn’t make this a bad song; on the contrary, the song is great! I love it! I don’t listen to a lot of Ne-Yo’s music, but this song really makes me want to change that. His voice is fantastic! The song itself is a wonderful sum up of the romance between Tiana and Naveen. Speaking of which…
ROMANCE: The romance is pretty good between Tiana and Naveen. I really like watching them together. Much like Tarzan and Jane, there’s a wonderful chemistry between these two people. They’re so charming together. As I was thinking of their romance, I thought of Ne-Yo’s song. He says “You’re the best thing I never knew I needed…So now it’s so clear, I need you here always.” That actually does define Tiana’s and Naveen’s relationship, doesn’t it? Tiana’s a workaholic and Naveen’s a party animal. It doesn’t make any sense to me that they would need each other, and I’m sure it made less sense to them. However, after they got together, they couldn’t live without one another. They were willing to do whatever they needed – give up anything in order to be with each other. Now I will say, in all fairness, that the way they realize this isn’t explained that well. I guess it’s explained OK regarding Naveen, but how and when did Tiana realize she wanted to be with the prince? I don’t know when it happened, it just kind of…happened. I didn’t really see the progression for her. That’s just me, though. Maybe I’m missing something. Their romance is still enjoyable, though. I still love watching these two together. There’s still a great chemistry between them, and they are very, very charming. I can tell they’re in love! It’s precious. It’s adorable. It’s not the best Disney romance, but it is faaaaaaaaar from the worst.
CHARACTERS: Unfortunately, I’m not going to add Dr. Facilier, A.K.A. the Shadow Man, to this list. I already talked about him a lot in my Top 10 Favorite Disney Villains list, and I don’t know what else I could say about him. He’s still the best, he’s still boss, and he’s my favorite character in the movie! Having that been said, let’s talk about some of the other characters.
1) Tiana – I love Tiana so much! Yes, Shadow Man is my favorite character, but that’s not because Tiana is underwhelming at all. Tiana is one of Disney’s best female characters ever! I love her! She’s smart. She’s determined. She’s kind, but she has her limits. Something I noticed is that she does not rebel at all! Think about it, how many Disney leads can you name that have rebelled against someone or something? Whether it was for good or bad reasons, Disney leads have a tradition of rebelling somehow. I don’t like that. But Tiana doesn’t rebel. She knows what she wants, and she goes after it; and it doesn’t require her to rebel against authority or against the rules. Her goals and ambition come from the principles and ethics she got from her parents. WHAT?!? A Disney lead – and a FEMALE at that – who APPLIES the principles and ethics from her PARENTS?!? Mind! Blown! She’s also very hard-working, which is another quality that you don’t see in a lot of Disney leading ladies. In my opinion Tiana is the best Disney princess ever! Why? Because a couple of other qualities about her is she’s smart and she’s quick. She knows how to get herself out of a negative situation, and she knows how to act fast. This is something she’d need to do in a royal position. If the King and Queen are out of commission and she has to step in, I believe she’ll know what to do…I’m not saying she’s the greatest Disney female lead, I’m saying she’s the best Disney princess…But Tiana is boss! And she was voiced by Anika Noni Rose! Yay!
2) Prince Naveen – Almost half of the Disney leading men in my past reviews have been bland and boring, and more than half of the remaining were just OK. Naveen blows them all out of the water! He’s not boring, not even a little bit! I love watching this guy! He’s so much fun! He’s all about having fun! He wants to play, he wants to sing, and he wants to have a good time. What I like about him is that despite the fact he’s all about fun, he’s not stupid. He’s rather smart. I like the scene where he tricked Louis into giving him and Tiana a ride. He knows how to get what he wants, but what he wants most of the time is to have fun. He wants to have fun, and he’s fun too!…But what’s up with his catchphrase? “A she danza?” What does that mean?
3) Ray…and his family – Ray and the family are the only characters I can’t stand in the movie. They are annoying as crud! I love Jim Cummings, but I can’t stand Ray! Remember how I said the gargoyles from The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be better in a cartoon? I feel the same way about Ray and his family. This movie isn’t a cartoon, it’s an animated piece. An animated piece is classy. It has style and artistic integrity to it. A cartoon is silly, goofy, stupid, and over the top. Ray and his family are cartoons in an animated film. I don’t like Ray’s design, his character, his accent, his sense of humor, his dialogue, his voice – I DON’T LIKE HIM! The only people to be more annoying are his family, like his grandmother. Why the crud does she have old lady hair? Do we really need to give a firefly old lady hair? And why the crud does she have a walker? Did walkers even exist in the 1920s? Even if they did, she’s a firefly! She can fly! Why does she need a walker? I will say that Ray does have some engaging emotional scenes. Like I said earlier, I do like the “Ma Belle Evangeline” song. I actually do feel sorry for him when Tiana tells him he’s only in love with a star…In fact, why the crud is he in love with the Disney star? Let’s be real, people, Evangeline is the Disney star, the “When You Wish Upon a” star…Is that legal? Can he love the Disney star? I don’t know. He’s a good guy, he supports our main characters, he helps move the story along, and I even connect with him a couple of times. But Ray is annoying! As crud!
4) Mama Odie – Mama Odie is another fun and interesting character. This is a very different kind of “fairy godmother,” but it’s done very well here. What keeps her both fun and interesting isn’t that she’s a voodoo queen, though that certainly helps. However, if you were to strip that title away from her, you’d still want to watch her. She keeps you guessing what she’s going to do next. You wonder whether or not she knows what’s going on. As a matter of fact, is she even blind? I don’t believe it! But that’s the kind of person she is, she keeps you guessing. I like Mama Odie!…Plus, she’s voiced by Jennifer Lewis! WHAT!!
5) Charlotte La Bouff – I love Lottie so much! This character is hi-larious! I love watching her! Almost every time she’s on screen, she makes me laugh! Remember when Lawrence, in the form of Prince Naveen, proposed to Lottie? Do you remember her reaction? She wasn’t excited about being in love, it was about her getting married! That is funny! All she wants to do is marry a prince. That’s all she wants to do. That would be horrible if she didn’t have any other good qualities or if she were the main character (like Ariel…). But her motivation is obviously played up for laughs. She still supports her friend. She helps Tiana anyway she can. She loves her. She just has quirks to her as well. She is incredibly energetic. She loves life to the fullest. She is just a ball of fun and excitement, and I can’t help but love her!
STORY AND THEMES & MESSAGES: The story is good, but there are some problems with it. Many people have pointed out that this movie creates a lot of loopholes for itself, and…it does. “Tiana turned into a frog because she’s not a real princess.” …What? Royalty can refute a voodoo spell? How does that work? “Lawrence has to marry Charlotte in order for the Shadow Man to get rid of Mr. La Bouff and take over New Orleans.” …Why? Why can’t Shadow Man come up with a plan to do away with La Bouff now? Does he have to wait until the daughter’s married? “Tiana married Naveen, which makes her a princess; thus the two become human again.” …OH! THAT just solves everything, doesn’t it? It makes sense, but it feels like a cop out.
For as many details they give the film (and there are a lot of details, there’s a lot going on here), there are some things I don’t know if the film answers. (1) Why does Shadow Man have to get rid of Daddy La Bouff in order to take over New Orleans? He can’t take over the town now? In fact what is Daddy La Bouff? The movie never answers that question. Is he the mayor? Even then, it’s not like he’s the King. Shadow Man should either take over the town now, or go after something bigger than the city! (2) Right before Ray dies, he destroys some of the shadows by hitting them with the bright light from his…butt (ew). How does that work? How can he do that? What is he even doing? (3) If Naveen is kissed by Charlotte on this certain day before midnight, he and Tiana will turn human because Charlotte is technically a princess. However, when she kisses him, it’s midnight. It’s the next day. Charlotte isn’t a “princess” anymore. Why doesn’t she become a frog herself? Isn’t the whole reason Tiana’s a frog because she wasn’t a real princess when she kissed the prince? Charlotte isn’t a “real princess” anymore either. Why doesn’t she turn into a frog?
I think the reason the story has so many loopholes and plot holes is because, like I said earlier, there are way too many things going on in this flick. I can follow it fine, but there’s almost always something happening on screen regarding the story. The story never gets to breathe. Think back to films like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. They had simple stories that knew how much focus to give to the details. This film has a lot of details to focus on. It’s not bad, it’s just a lot.
Am I the only one who finds it odd that the actual Frog Prince story is used in this film? Yeah, the film opens up with Eudora, Tiana’s mother (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), reading the fairy tale. When Naveen first meets Tiana, he tells her that he believes a kiss from a princess will make him human again because of that story. I find that really odd. Disney has always been known for recreating the fairy tale. When they advertise that this is the REAL version, and yet the film refers to the actual story, that becomes confusing. It’d be like Ursula knowing how to trap Ariel by reading the original Little Mermaid book.
I like that this film actually promotes hard work. Tiana is a great role model because she always believes in working hard for what she wants. Great job, movie!
I don’t think the movie ever says to throw away your dreams for a man or for a woman. I think the film is just emphasizing the power of true love. Tiana isn’t necessarily throwing her dream away when she agrees to be with Naveen. She realizes that she can’t live the rest of her life without Naveen. She’d rather be with him as a frog than have her restaurant instead of him. She realized being with him would make her happiest of all. It’s not that she doesn’t want her restaurant anymore, but she learned that won’t make her as happy as being with Naveen.
I know I said I don’t like Ray (he’s not the most awful character, he’s just really annoying), and I really don’t like his death scene! It comes out of nowhere, and it has nothing to do with anything! It’s unnecessary! However…I do respect it. When you really think about it, this is the first Disney death that allows us to rejoice that a character is in a better place. Think about that. How many Disney films really let us do that? We either cry over a character’s death because they were a great person (Musfasa, Bambi’s mom, etc.), we shrug because we didn’t know the person (Cinderella’s father), or we’re relived because the person deserved to die (villains). But this is the first time Disney tells us that it’s OK. Ray’s in a much better place now, a place where he doesn’t experience pain and grief anymore. I love that message…I hate the scene, but I love the message.
This is Disney’s first film centered around a predominately Black cast, and I think it’s done well. Obviously, that was one of the major aspects the studio was pushing in the advertisement. The film does not insult or degrade the African-American race at all. I know there were controversies before when Tiana the waitress was going to be Maddy the maid, and that was rioted (as it should have been). Some people take issue with the fact that Disney’s Black princess was a frog for most of the movie, or that the film didn’t have Disney’s first Black prince. I guess I can see why people would get upset over that, but I hope no one’s screaming “racism” over it. This goes back to what I said in my Mulan review. People will always be upset about something, even if there’s no need in being upset about it. If Tiana were another White princess, I’m sure no one be upset. Ariel was human for most of her movie, and no one said it was fish-ist (I know that’s not a thing). I’m not saying I don’t see why people are upset about this, but it’s nothing to get upset over. Is this the worst portrayal of African-Americans from Disney? Crud no! Let’s remember Disney gave us racist crows AND laborers from Dumbo (Samuel Armstrong, 1941), primates from The Jungle Book (Wolfgang Reitherman, 1967), and the black fish from The Little Mermaid (Ron Clements and John Musker, 1989). This film is fine! It’s great, in fact – especially given Disney’s track record of representing African-Americans! Part of what makes that great is that the characters here are not Black first. They’re people first! They are relatable to everybody! This movie rocks! Let the children have their fairy tale!
CONCLUSION: I adore this movie! I love it so much! I love the characters, I love the songs, I love the animation, and I love the romance! Even though the story has some issues, I love the story as well! I am upset, again, that this film isn’t as popular as it should be, or that it wasn’t as much of a financial success as the studio was hoping for! Why the crud not? This picture’s great! In fact, why was Tangled the more successful film? That’s a good movie, but this picture is definitely better! I have my own theories, but you’ll have to look into my review of that film to read them. In any case, this movie is fantastic! This is definitely the Little Mermaid of this generation! This is the film the made people get excited about Disney again. The colors, the return to the classic Disney style, the beautiful hand-drawn animation, the return to the fairy tale adaptations – it just speaks Disney! People got excited to see the next Disney film after they saw this! They felt as though the Disney we got during the Renaissance had finally returned, and it did not disappoint! This is a wonderful and beautiful film!