And we thought the era of cartoon Disney princesses was over. Old-school animation and all of its trappings - the tiaras, the enchantment, the wishing on stars - make a gently bewitching comeback in "The Princess and the Frog," a starry-eyed, two-dimensional, G-rated anachronism that pairs its retro aesthetic with a few small adjustments for the modern world.
For starters, The Mouse has officially crowned its first African American princess. Her name is Tiana, and she's not sitting around waiting for some pretty fella in tights to whisk her away on horseback. Voiced by Tony Award-winner and American Conservatory Theater alum Anika Noni Rose, Tiana is a jazz-era waitress in New Orleans; and once she scrapes together a down payment, she plans to open a classy restaurant. Her mother (Oprah Winfrey) objects, thinking she ought to get out there and "meet (her) Prince Charming," but Tiana has zero interest in men.
Naturally, one arrives: Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos), a rakish party-boy who's in town shopping for a wealthy bride. He gets sidetracked when an evil witch doctor (Keith David) turns Naveen into a frog - and Naveen, mistaking Tiana for a princess, gives her a smooch and turns her into a frog.
Our leads then spend the bulk of the film in amphibious form, searching for blind voodoo queen Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) in the hopes they might switch back. Directed by Ron Clements and Jon Musker of "Aladdin," "The Princess and the Frog" is packed with infections tunes, all of them courtesy Randy Newman. To my ears, this is some of the catchiest, smartest Disney music since "Beauty and the Beast." The animation, sparkling and graceful, also ranks as the studio's best traditional work in ages (and its first since 2004's "Home on the Range").
Still, not every kid will pirouette on tippy-toe in excitement. Although my eighth-grade daughter adored the film, my fourth-grader and his buddy found it a tad schmaltzy. As for Disney, it's nice to know that the studio behind Cinderella can still cast a spell in two dimensions.
E-mail Amy Biancolli at [email protected]