Tiana is the young daughter of a seamstress who makes princess dresses for her rich friend Charlotte during the Jazz Age of New Orleans. Charlotte loves the story of the princess kissing a frog and marrying a prince. Tiana thinks kissing a frog is yucky. She is more down to earth and has dreams of opening a restaurant that would be called Tiana’s Place. But due to Charlotte’s prompting, she dared a wish on the evening star.
Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), now grown, has taken her parents’ (Terrence Howard and Oprah Winfrey) advice to heart that wishing on a star is only part of making your dreams come true. One must also work hard. She does double shifts as a waitress, saving all her tips to purchase an old building where she plans to open her restaurant. Her childhood friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) hires her to bake for the Masquerade Ball that her father (John Goodman) is throwing for the Prince Naveen (Burno Campos) of the fictional kingdom of Maldonia. The prince needs to marry a wealthy heiress, as his parents have cut him off due to his fun loving ways. Along the way, they encounter Doctor Facilier who is a voodoo magician and fortune teller. He casts a spell on the prince and his valet which turns the prince into a frog, while the man-servant shape shifts into the prince. The fake prince dances with Charlotte while Tiana makes a mess of her specialty pastries when she finds out that she has been outbid on her building. Charlotte takes her upstairs and dresses her like a princess. Tiana is too bummed to go back to the party. She wishes on the star again and she sees a frog. When she sarcastically says’, “I suppose I must kiss you,” she is freaked out when the frog talks to her in response and tells her that he is indeed the real prince. Before you know it, she is puckering up and instead of turning the frog into a prince the princess is turned into a frog.
Their human personalities clash as the prince is irresponsible and spoiled. Tania has never known a carefree life as she had to work hard to achieve her goals. Suddenly, they have to team together to correct their predicament. After being chased from the party, they embark into the bayou where they encounter Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a trumpet playing alligator who previously tried to eat the frogs. They meet a snaggletooth Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) who is in love with the evening star. He helps them find a blind voodoo priestess, Mama Odie (Jennifer Lewis), to ask her assistance in turning the bickering frogs back to humans. That is, if they can avoid being captured by Doctor Facilier and the evil shadows who are doing his bidding. He needs the prince’s blood to keep his charm working so he can control the money and power when the fake Prince marries Charlotte.
Directors John Musker and Ron Clements (who also wrote the screenplay) were responsible for 2D classics The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules. The animation technology that used hand drawings scanned into computers is impressive. After all the Pixar types of animated movies, it’s nice to see something old school. The colors work well in conveying the atmosphere of the French Quarter. The soundtrack has a little bit of blues, jazz, zydeco, and gospel by the ever reliable Randy Newman and sang by Dr. John, Jennifer Lewis, Ne-yo, and Anika Noni-Rose. Although, nothing will keep you humming after you leave the theater.
Disney has a tried and true formula for its “princess” movies even if they are frogs most of the time. Add one plucky heroine, one chisel-jawed stud, some cute animals, and a crisis they have to endure to find each other, stir and market at a fast food chain. You can already imagine the new ride at Disneyland. The movie is impressive in putting lead characters of color in the main roles. The Tiana Barbie dolls are already flying off the shelves for holiday gift giving. But you don’t get a sense of racial discrimination - just racial stereotypes. The characters of all colors and species intermingle and get along. The Shadow Man and his shadow minions may be a little scary for the younger audience, but he does get his due in the end. The story does leave you with the lesson that hard work is needed to follow your dreams and that you should use what is most important like family and love to guide you. (Review by Reesa Cruz-Hawkins)