News From Terre Haute, Indiana

At the Movies

November 25, 2009

‘Princess and the Frog’ is a hearty hop

HOLLYWOOD — The last time we heard from the hand-drawn animators at Disney, they offered up the barnyard tale “Home on the Range.” The 2004 ’toon was so forgettable it seemed as though it really might be the last time we ever heard from the hand-drawn animators at the studio where the art form was pioneered.

Thankfully, the spirit of animation maestro Walt Disney lives on. The studio has gone back to its roots with a fresh, funny retelling of a classic fairy tale in “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation after a five-year hiatus.

Like everyone else, Disney and subsidiary Pixar Animation mostly are fixated on computer animation. But Pixar masterminds John Lasseter and Ed Catmull, who now supervise all Disney animation, love cartoons of every kind and have renewed the studio’s commitment to the pen-and-ink variety along with the pixelated.

“Princess and the Frog” isn’t the second coming of “Beauty and the Beast” or “The Lion King.” It’s just plain pleasant, an old-fashioned little charmer that’s not straining to be the next glib animated compendium of pop-culture flotsam.

Updating the Brothers Grimm tale “The Frog Prince” into a toe-tapping musical set on the Louisiana bayou in the 1920s, directors Ron Clements and John Musker deliver a satisfying gumbo of snappy dialogue, lovable characters and bright-hued images, spiced up with just the right touch of voodoo peril.

Starting off in New Orleans, the film centers on hardworking waitress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), who saves every dime in hopes of opening the restaurant that was the dream of her late father (Terrence Howard). In a small role, Oprah Winfrey provides the voice of Tiana’s mom.

Tiana is sidetracked by some dark magic after Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a jazz-loving dreamboat from a land far, far away, comes to sample the vibrant New Orleans music.

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