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'The Princess & the Frog' is a delight

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'The Princess & the Frog' is a delight
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One of the saddest things that happened to feature films a few years ago was the demise of the 2D animation arm of Walt Disney Studios. Sure, they still outsourced television shows and continued to crank out the direct-to-DVD product, but after the unfortunate mediocre success of "Home on the Range," the Mouse House put an end to the hand-drawn features in lieu of the CGI juggernaut.

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Ironically, it was Pixar executive and new head of Disney animation John Lasseter who helped revive this almost lost art form. Now, Disney 2D animation is back with the new feature "The Princess and the Frog." Also notable is that this is the first time an African American character has been brought into the Disney Princess fold. (And now Tiana joins the Arabian Princess Jasmine and the Chinese heroine Mulan in the Princess rainbow.)

The biggest question I had going into "The Princess and the Frog" is whether this film will stand up well against the other successful Disney 2D features like "Aladdin," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid." And the answer is that it does. It's not as clean and simple as these other films because while it tells a familiar fairy tale, the story is quite different than anything you've ever seen.

In this film, Tiana is a young girl living in New Orleans who has been working all her life to save money so she can open a restaurant. When young, sexy and broke Prince Naveen visits the Big Easy, she gets her chance by catering his welcome event. Unfortunately, during the event, she makes a wish on a star and kisses a frog, hoping that he will become a prince. The catch is that she turns into a frog instead, and Tiana must use some voodoo magic to help return her back to normal.

The story isn't as cut-and-dried as the previous Disney fairy tale stories, but that's okay. A standard retelling of "The Frog Prince" would be a little boring, in my opinion. In this sense, the plot is shaken up quite a bit, giving a very unique take on the tale. Sometimes things seem to be shoe-horned into the New Orleans style, but I'll forgive the film for going all out to make the setting work.

The charm of "The Princess and the Frog" comes from the likeable characters and the rogue's gallery of weird supporting roles, including a Cajun firefly and a jazz-trumpeting alligator. Of course, being the kind of guy I am, I felt that the evil voodoo wizard Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) stole the show throughout most of the scenes. This was definitely the case in terms of the musical numbers, which are plentiful in the film.

The music was fine, though it hardly reached the glory days of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. But at least they got Randy Newman instead of Elton John, whose Disney music has been horribly overrated throughout the years.

There are times when the songs do drag the story a bit, but not too often. And the numbers with Dr. Facilier are where the movie reaches a rare level of brilliance.

"The Princess and the Frog" is a smart movie that can be enjoyed by kids and their parents alike. And it taps into a die-hard audience by bringing African American characters to the forefront of the story. It's a return to Disney's glory days of animation at the end of the last century, and hopefully it proves to be profitable enough to keep hand-drawn 2D alive for the studio.

***

Movie and DVD reviewer Kevin Carr is an independent writer, journalist and filmmaker who lives in Columbus, Ohio.

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