Naveen, left, and Tiana, both humans turned into frogs in "The Princess and the Frog," meet a trumpet-playing alligator as they search for a way to become human again. (Walt Disney Pictures)
An instant if minor classic, "The Princess and the Frog" eschews the advances in computer animation over the past decade for a more traditional look, showing that old dogs -- or in this case frogs -- can still swing.
These swinging frogs come from vintage, pre-Katrina New Orleans, although neither starts out an amphibian. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a waitress who dreams of opening her own restaurant; but she doesn't just dream, she works hard and saves all her tips, hoping to make the restaurant a reality.
Newly arrived in town is Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a royal with empty pockets, looking to marry into money. His most likely and willing target is Charlotte (a spirited Jennifer Cody), the spoiled daughter of Tiana's sometime wealthy benefactor (John Goodman).
But before he can hook up with Charlotte, Naveen is enchanted by the voodoo-wielding Dr. Facilier (Keith David). And soon enough he finds himself transformed into a frog.
The froggy Naveen is hopping around the party where he was supposed to meet Charlotte when he runs into the lovely Tiana, who he mistakes for a princess.
He figures one kiss from a princess will turn him human again, so he entices her to give him a smooch. Against her better judgment, Tiana agrees. But because she's not a real princess, not only does Naveen continue to be a frog, but Tiana becomes one, too.
This will undoubtedly cut down on the number of small children who kiss frogs. But in the film it sets up a bayou-crossing adventure as Naveen and Tiana search for a way to become human again.
Along the way, the uptight Tiana and lackadaisical Naveen learn from one another while encountering the sort of creatures -- a trumpet-playing alligator, a spunky firefly -- who have made Disney magic for 70 years.
Understand, "The Princess and the Frog" is not on the same level as "The Lion King" or "Beauty and the Beast" -- it just doesn't have the same emotional heft. It's more romance and fun than dramatic statement.
That said, the score by Randy Newman is a blast, the New Orleans setting pays tribute to a treasured past, and the fact that Tiana is the first black Disney princess is made even better by the film not dwelling on race at all (it's more about rich and poor, a Disney hallmark).
The result is your basic delightful-for-the-whole-family film. Yes, Pixar rules the world of animation these days. But "Princess" shows Disney is still in the game.
Princess Tiana (Walt Disney Pictures)
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