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The Princess and the Frog Blu-ray & DVD Review

The Princess and the Frog movie poster The Princess and the Frog

Nationwide Theatrical Release: December 11, 2009 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: G

Directors: John Musker, Ron Clements / Writers: Ron Clements, John Musker (story & screenplay); Rob Edwards (screenplay); Greg Erb, Jason Oremland (story); E.D. Baker (story The Frog Princess)

Voice Cast: Anika Noni Rose (Tiana), Bruno Campos (Prince Naveen), Keith David (Dr. Facilier), Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis), Jennifer Cody (Charlotte), Jim Cummings (Ray), Peter Bartlett (Lawrence), Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie), Oprah Winfrey (Eudora), Terrence Howard (James), John Goodman ("Big Daddy" La Bouff), Elizabeth Dampier (Young Tiana), Breanna Brooks (Young Charlotte), Ritchie Montgomery (Reggie), Don Hall (Darnell), Paul Briggs (Two Fingers), Jerry Kernion (Mr. Henry Fenner), Corey Burton (Mr. Harvey Fenner), Michael Colyar (Buford), Emeril Lagasse (Marlon the Gator), Kevin Michael Richardson (Ian the Gator), Randy Newman (Cousin Randy)

Songs: "Down in New Orleans", "Almost There", "Friends on the Other Side", "When We're Human", "Gonna Take You There", "Ma Belle Evangeline", "Dig a Little Deeper", "Never Knew I Needed"

Buy The Princess and the Frog from Amazon.com: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy • 1-Disc DVD • 1-Disc Blu-ray

and Kelvin Cedeno

For over eighty years, the name "Disney" has been associated with animation. Live-action output exceeded animation in volume at Walt Disney's studio by the 1950s, but the cartoons remained a company cornerstone widely celebrated. Disney rode out the 20th century with traditionally-animated features still ranking as one of the biggest draws in the entertainment world.

In those eighty years, the medium has experienced countless advances, from synchronized sound and color to sophisticated techniques involving computers. Toy Story, Pixar's 1995 entry into feature filmmaking, underscored just how significant the computer could be to animation.
One after another, computer-animated movies -- by Pixar and newly-formed studios on their tail -- achieved hit status. At the same time, the returns were shrinking and costs rising on Disney's in-house feature animation. Management decided that 2004's Home on the Range would be the last of its kind, selling off animation equipment and decimating the workforce. The Disney animated feature lived on, but in CGI and, as 2005's Chicken Little illustrated, with rather different sensibilities.

While fans of hand-drawn animation lamented its evident demise, a changing of the guard at Disney brought hope of resurrection. In fact, with Pixar's John Lasseter and Ed Catmull now also calling the shots for Disney animation, traditional methods were soon set to return. Amidst all this change, the gap in "2D"-animated projects would end up being just slightly longer than the time elapsed between Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty. After animated portions of the predominantly live-action Enchanted (done by the independent studio of '90s Disney animator James Baxter) seemed to prep us, the hand-drawn method made its full-fledged return with The Princess and the Frog, number 49 in Disney's malleable official canon.

Despite the title and her preemptive admission into the Disney Princesses, Tiana is just a New Orleans waitress who believes in hard work and beignets. Transformed to a frog, Prince Naveen is hopeful that one good kiss from Tiana is all that's separating him from his humanity.

There is good reason that The Princess and the Frog feels like an absolute return in spirit and style to Disney's most recent animation heyday. The film is a musical comedy written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, animation veterans responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, two of what some Disney fans call the "Fab Four" classics released from 1989 to 1994 (the others being Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King). Princess aspires to a similar type of entertainment, one as heavily inspired by Broadway musicals.

Set in 1920s New Orleans, the film tells the story of Tiana (voiced by Dreamgirls' Anika Noni Rose), a young black woman. Inheriting the work ethic of her parents (Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard), Tiana is rarely idle while waitressing around the clock at two restaurants. She dreams of opening her own establishment, to be named Tiana's Place, which she foresees serving the people her family's signature southern cooking with colorful local flavor. For now, it's just a dream as she fills her dresser with coffee jars of tip money.

Tiana's best friend, southern belle Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), excitedly shares the news that a real prince will be visiting their city. From childhood, Charlotte has dreamed of marrying royalty and her decent, wealthy father "Big Daddy" La Bouff (John Goodman) has already made plans for the handsome foreigner to attend a ball at the family mansion.

Against Lawrence's skepticism, he and Naveen wind up getting a card-reading from voodooist Doctor Facilier. Now equally amphibious, Naveen and Tiana hitch a ride on Louis, a swamp alligator who dreams of playing trumpet for humans.

Hailing from the (fictional) Mediterranean country of Maldonia, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos, "Jesse") arrives with a big secret; his parents have cut him off, leaving him broke. Semi-voluntarily, Naveen and his servant Lawrence (Peter Bartlett, "One Life to Live") pay a visit to New Orleans voodooist Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who provides them with a complimentary tarot card reading and unrequested bonus.

At the La Bouff ball, an event which should clear the path between Tiana and her dream restaurant's fixer-upper location, Naveen reveals himself to be not the stuffy looker with whom Charlotte is excited to waltz, but a small, slimy talking frog. In the hopes that he'll return to human form as in the well-known story of The Frog Prince, amphibian Naveen persuades Tiana to kiss him. Reluctantly, she does and it triggers a transformation, but it is hers into froghood.

Adjusting to their reduced dimensions and new biology, Naveen and Tiana brave swamp and bayou in the hopes of finding blind voodoo priestess Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) and having her make them human again. Joining the two on the journey are trumpet-playing alligator Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and Cajun firefly Ray (Jim Cummings).

The animation takes a stylized turn as Tiana vocalizes her dreams in the Oscar-nominated I Want Song "Almost There." Neither blindness nor being 200 years old prevents priestess Mama Odie from dabbling in song and dance with her snake Juju.

Plenty of original songs, composed and arranged by Pixar favorite Randy Newman, turn up throughout the film. All but one are performed by characters and the exception is sung not by Newman (whose own voice hasn't been heard in a Pixar film since A Bug's Life) but by New Orleans native son Dr. John.
As the setting mandates, Newman's creations take on a jazzy sound with shades of blues and gospel. The numbers serve familiar needs, comfortably aligning with the songs created for Disney's '90s Renaissance features. They're generally agreeable, advancing story in a fun way.

Much of The Princess and the Frog is fun, if a little familiar. Clements and Musker seem to have been energized by their time off (their last collaboration was 2002 flop Treasure Planet and last comparable musical was 1997's Hercules). The duo hasn't forgotten what made their biggest hits so popular; this spunky mix of character, story, and song feels close to those they've previously supplied, without seeming tired or overly derivative. If this film doesn't strike you as being as winning and magical as past triumphs, it could be that the past 15-20 years have hardened you. It could also be that this lacks the sweetening power of nostalgia. Or, like me, you could be a little underwhelmed by the personalities and comedy.

Tiana and Naveen are solid leads, whose clashing backgrounds and personalities make them suitable for the kind of romantic comedy arc the film gives them. Charlotte and her father are strong peripheral characters who are less predictable than you'd expect. In Dr. Facilier, a man whose shadow has a life of its own and who boasts having "friends on the other side", we find one of Disney's strongest villains in a long, long time.

It is beyond these early introductions that the film's characterization efforts stumble. We get one goofy caricature after another: the gentle giant gator with jazz band dreams, the lovesick lightning bug with the funny accent, a trio of hillbillies seemingly descended from the Gogan family of Pete's Dragon, and, to top it all off, the wacky, wrinkled Mama Odie. Each of these creations seems designated to score laughs from little ones. But the broad antics are more distracting than diverting. They threaten our investment in the story and the leads and come close to derailing the picture. I hope that I come to warm to the sections involving these personalities in future viewings, but after three, I am doubting it. On their own, most of the characters have some charms (with the exception of obnoxious Odie, who reminded me of the kind of thing I might have seen on Disney Channel's "The Proud Family" before changing the channel). When thrown into the mix one atop the other, though, they weigh down on the film, revealing it to be less adept as slapstick laughfest than as earnest fairy tale.

Spoiled romantic Charlotte can't help but be ecstatic at news of a prince's arrival. Meanwhile, her "Big Daddy" seems quite pleased with the privilege to host the royal. Dr. Facilier shows Tiana how simple realizing her dream can be so long as she does what he wants.

Despite earning plenty of accolades from critics, The Princess and the Frog didn't exactly supply the "happily ever after" for traditional animation at Disney. Following a substantial promotional push from the studio, the film struggled to cross the $100 million mark domestically. Still playing in cheap theaters, the film finds its North American gross slowly approaching the $105 M cited as its production budget. That puts it in the same neighborhood as Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, if you ignore a decade's worth of considerable ticket price inflation. The numbers aren't a far cry from Feature Animation's modest-performing CGI films Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, but no doubt Disney was hoping (and many were expecting) they'd be a lot higher.
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In the wake of Princess' soft performance, there has been news of one computer-animated film similarly set in the southern U.S. (King of the Elves) getting stalled and another hand-animated fairy tale (The Snow Queen) being shelved. And Feature Animation's next release, the long-awaited Rapunzel, has been curiously renamed Tangled to avoid the girls-only connotations believed to have hurt Princess.

The aspect of The Princess and the Frog that once dominated its production coverage seems worthy of addressing only now as basically an afterthought. I'm referring to Tiana being touted as Disney's first African American princess. The racial implications of that seem pretty minor, although some have speculated a connection between this design and the film's underperformance. For most of the film, Tiana (whose original name Maddie was apparently changed in response to preemptive complaints) isn't a princess or even a human. The marketing oddly chose to hide the "two frogs" focus that forms the bulk of the film and instead emphasize the image of a pretty woman in a fancy dress and tiara. Aside from one repeated ambiguous remark, race is ignored. We see that the well-off characters are white, while black characters have to work hard for their humbler living. But with no vilification or social commentary in sight, the film can't easily be charged with political correctness or progressivism.

Nine days after leaving the Oscars empty-handed, The Princess and the Frog comes to DVD and Blu-ray in single-disc releases on each format plus a 3-disc combo pack that combines them and adds a digital copy.

Buy The Princess and the Frog: Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

BD: 1.78:1 Widescreen, DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby 5.1 (French, Spanish)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1 (Eng, Spa), 2.0 (Descriptive)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Most Extras Subtitled and Captioned
Release Date: March 16, 2010
Three single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-9, and 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $44.99
Wide blue keepcase with tray in Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in 1-Disc DVD and 1-Disc Blu-ray


The Blu-ray disc maintains the film's 1.78:1 aspect ratio and looks magnificent. Disney is happily predictable when it comes to their high-definition transfers, and it's hard to truly screw up a 2009 animated feature that was inked and painted via computers. Any artifacting the DVD might exhibit is completely absent here. Colors are lush and literally burst out of the screen while sharpness is always clearly delineated. Some may say that traditional animation doesn't benefit much from HD, but a look at this (and Disney's recent Ponyo release) should be more than enough proof to silence the naysayers. It's a reference-quality image through and through.

The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track also works tremendously well. The advantage of having all the different elements recorded in sound booths certainly makes a difference in audio mixing. Speech is crystal clear even during musical numbers. Some directionality is provided with these, but it's mostly front and center. Effects and score are what really open up the sound field, the former offering some good surround usage in key sequences, and the latter coming across as rich and robust. There are no complaints with this superb track.

The Princess and the Frog also looks pretty great on its DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors pop and the element stays clean, as you would expect and hope. One shortcoming I noticed is that some compression artifacting could be spotted in some of the busier scenes. Having not watched much 2D animation on my new HDTV, I'm not sure how common an occurrence this is. Your mileage will vary based on viewing distance and screen size. It certainly isn't prevalent here, but it is something that the Blu-ray hopefully eliminates.

The DVD's Dolby 5.1 soundtrack is pretty solid. The mix gets more out of music than effects, but both are used to nice effect and engulf when appropriate. In a decreasingly rare move for Disney, a descriptive track for the visually impaired has been provided. Perhaps because of that, the disc sadly disables audio toggling during playback.

Tiana's mother Eudora (voiced by Oprah in the film itself) is far less supportive of her daughter's dream in this deleted scene. Ray's firefly family apparently enjoy forming Disney princess portraits. Will you enjoy identifying them in "What Do You See"?


Princess and the Frog is treated to a meager selection of bonus features on DVD. First, longest, and most exciting is an audio commentary featuring writers/directors John Musker and Ron Clements alongside producer Peter Del Vecho. Talking all the way through the end of the end credits with no gaps whatsoever, these three have lots of information to share, beginning with how the project was born out of separate ones being developed at Pixar and Disney. The discussion stays screen-specific, relevant and grounded. Among the topics arising are vocal cameos, the invented Maldonian language, caricatures of crew members, and development of scenes. Many of the remarks detail the styles and techniques employed and others credit the many influences. To someone who listens to a lot of commentaries
and feels so many of them could be boiled down to a 10-minute highlight reel, this one was refreshingly enlightening and worth hearing in full.

Next up are four deleted scenes, presented mostly in a pre-animation state of storyboards and scratch recordings. They offer a less encouraging moment between Tiana and her mother, an alternate introduction to Louis, a swamp bit, and a variation on a Naveen and Ray exchange. They run 11 minutes and 47 seconds altogether, including collective and individual introductions by Musker and Clements.

Mama Odie narrates the game "What Do You See: Princess Portraits", which finds Ray and countless family members coming together to form the outlines of Disney princesses and other characters. You simply identify the likeness from five choices (or choose the sixth to indicate it's none of them). It's a bit fun a few times. If you do it several more times, Mama Odie eventually offers to tell you the stories (over 90 seconds of silent clips) of the only six princesses curiously in play here: Ariel, Cinderella, Jasmine, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Belle. This second stage is sort of entertaining, if you can put up with Odie's grating voice (which doesn't sound like Jenifer Lewis). But I'm confused why Tiana and her ethnic forerunners Pocahontas and Mulan are neglected here.

Neck-tattooed R & B singer Ne-Yo sings to a dream woman from the streets of New Orleans in his "Never Knew I Needed" music video. The live-action reference models for Charlotte and (fake) Naveen play out the proposal sequence in "Bringing Life to Animation." Directors Ron Clements and John Musker discuss how they came onboard with the project in the featurette "Magic in the Bayou."

The DVD's last bona fide bonus feature is the 4-minute music video for the end credits song "Never Knew I Needed" performed by Ne-Yo. It's refreshingly different from the standard tie-in video.
There's nary a film clip in sight, but the entire piece hits upon themes from the movie: with scenes of a New Orleans jazz band, southern cooking, and a final scene featuring frogs and stars. It's nicely shot too. Unfortunately, the song and its R & B stylings do nothing at all for me.

Beyond that, we get Cole and Dylan Sprouse's Blu-ray shilling (4:45) and one-minute spot on DisneyFile.

As is seemingly becoming the norm for Disney's highest-profile titles, most bonus features are kept exclusive to the Blu-ray disc. Arguably the most significant addition is one that's not listed on the packaging or in the press release: a work-in-progress version of the film viewed via picture-in-picture. Through the duration of the feature, both rough and cleaned-up animation are set against black and white backgrounds in the upper left hand corner of the screen. With studios throwing around PiP supplements on their Blu-rays left and right, it's surprising that Disney has never utilized the technology in this way before. One wonders if this an experiment for future, similar features. Perhaps the biggest indicator will be the Blu-ray release of Beauty and the Beast, the only other Disney animated film to have had a full work-in-progress version shown to the public. If there's one setback to this feature, it's that one cannot listen to the commentary track at the same time. That quibble aside, the inclusion is an excellent one that raises the value of the package quite a bit.

Next comes "Bringing Life to Animation" (8:08), which starts with an introduction by Musker and Clements explaining the use of live-action reference footage. This is followed by two sequences: "Dig A Little Deeper" and "The Proposal." Both sequences alternate between the reference footage shot and a split screen that offers a comparison with the final film. Throughout each, the directors offer commentary, revealing things such as the stage markers that determine height or how certain poses were exaggerated for animation. It's a fascinating feature that makes one wish for more.

Acting as the disc's central featurette, "Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess" (22:11) looks at the production as a whole. A lot of topics and information are crammed here, ranging from Disney's past history with fairy tales and the shaping of the story to the character animation and New Orleans research. Footage of the trip to the memorable city is shown along with more behind-the-scenes footage of the animators at work and the actors recording their lines. While the tone is at times a bit self-congratulatory, there's plenty to appreciate in this brisk piece.

"The Return to Hand-Drawn Animation" interviews several animators about the medium, among whom is an enthusiastic Andreas Deja (supervising Mama Odie). Frank Thomas takes Ron Clements under his wing on "The Fox and the Hound" in one of many archival photos shown in "The Disney Legacy." Actress Anika Noni Rose shares her thoughts and perspective on the character of Tiana, "Disney’s Newest Princess."

The next six featurettes were originally released online throughout 2009 as part of the film's promotional campaign. "The Return to Hand-Drawn Animation" (2:42) interviews several key animators about the day they learned The Princess and the Frog was going to be traditionally animated and what they think of the medium. Several more animators make an appearance in "The Disney Legacy" (2:31), where they reflect on Disney's famed Nine Old Men, how these men trained them in the field, and the challenges of creating something that can stand next to the classics. For a look at the story's heroine, there's "Disney's Newest Princess" (2:51). Various cast and crew members, including actress Anika Noni Rose, discuss Tiana's character arc and comparing her to past heroines.

"The Princess and the Animator" (2:25) focuses on supervising animator Mark Henn, He reveals his approach to Tiana, how he tried to set her apart from his past characters, and what touches Rose brought to the role. A similar approach is taken with "Conjuring the Villain" (1:50), with supervising animator Bruce Smith discussing Dr. Facilier and the way actor David Keith's vocal performance shaped him. Finally, the film's score is given the spotlight in "A Return to the Animated Musical" (3:12). Along with other cast and crew, composer Randy Newman briefly shares a few anecdotes about each of the songs and what sets them apart.

These six promotional featurettes are too brief to fully satisfy, and their very nature ensures lots of praise and story summaries. Still, they're fun to watch, and the Blu-ray disc certainly would've felt lacking without them. Note that for now, these short promotional videos remain freely available on the official Princess and the Frog YouTube channel as well. Clearly, there was room for them to be included on the DVD.

Randy Newman fills the openings for composer, lyricist, and conducting that come with "A Return to the Animated Musical." Another stylish version of Tiana's dream restaurant is shown on the disc’s extensive Visual Development gallery. The DVD's sparsely-animated main menu takes us to the balcony wish-making scene focused upon in the movie's trailers.

The Blu-ray's final exclusive listing is for a collection of art galleries. These are broken down into Visual Development (166 stills); Character Design sections for Tiana (23 stills), Prince Naveen (21 stills), Mama Odie (9 stills), Dr. Facilier & Lawrence (17 stills), Charlotte & Big Daddy (22 stills), Louis & Ray (18 stills); Layouts & Backgrounds (17 stills), and Storyboard Art (54 stills). The artwork on display here is impressive, and this is easily the most substantial gallery Disney's done for a new movie in years.

Those who search for Easter eggs will be pleased to find there's one hidden on the Blu-ray disc.
It involves Naveen's attempts at explaining the animation process while an unseen artist's pencil disrupts the lesson. While this has been done before with other characters, most famously Daffy Duck, it's still a fun treat, though the source of it is unclear.

As is almost always the case now, the second DVD found here won't be recognized by your player, unless your player is a DVD-ROM-equipped computer. Then, it will enable you to transfer the legal digital copy to your computer (in iTunes and Windows Media formats) and the portable device of your choosing.

The DVD opens with ads for Disney Blu-ray, Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition, an untitled fairy tale you'll recognize as Rapunzel Tangled (it's an entirely unrevealing teaser), Toy Story 3, and Toy Story & Toy Story 2 on Blu-ray. Menu sneak peeks promote genuine Disney treasure, Disney Movie Rewards, Old Dogs, Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue, My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Super-Duper Super Sleuths, this month's Studio Ghibli DVDs, The Black Cauldron: Special Edition, James and the Giant Peach: Special Edition Blu-ray & DVD, and Disney Parks. A trailer for the Diamond Editions of Fantasia and Fantasia 2000 is added to the Blu-ray's "Sneak Peeks" menu.

The DVD's main menu gives us a barely animated version of the wish-making scene around which the theatrical marketing campaign was built. Most other screens offer an unremarkable static and score combination, although the bonus features pages give a lively water view. For once, the Blu-ray's main menu completely differs from the DVD's, showing the bayou at night. Animated fireflies hover around the screen as the instrumentals to "Ma Belle Evangeline" play. The menu selections start off on a rusty metal sign on the left hand side, expand onto the frog catchers' boat in the center, and further submenu selections overlap a wooden sign on the right. The loading screen features Ray winking at the viewer.

Rather than the typical blue border Disney gives most of its Blu-ray/DVD combo packs, the Princess combo has its cover outlined in a yellow that's closer to mustard than gold. Holographic effects are noticed there and in selected foreground and background elements, like Ray's body and Tiana's dress and necklace. Inside the case, which is as wide as a standard DVD, one finds a booklet holding your unique Movie Rewards/digital copy activation code and instructions. A second booklet advertises Disney DVDs, Blu-rays, Princess and the Frog merchandise plus a couple of carefully-chosen non-Disney products (jambalaya, anyone?).

In frog form, Naveen and Tiana get a little illumination from friendly Cajun firefly Ray. Frog hunters Reggie, Darnell, and Two Fingers appear to have wandered off the set of "Pete's Dragon" and become animated Gogans.


The Princess and the Frog may have a few problems, but it stands as both a highly enjoyable film and a reminder of how great the traditionally-animated Disney musical comedy fairy tale can be. It's unfortunate to get another DVD so hopelessly scant on bonus features, but at least the strong commentary adds value. While most of the Blu-ray exclusives are ordinary, it'd have been nice to not have them withheld from standard DVD viewers. On the strengths of the movie, however, I recommend you check this one out.

Buy The Princess and the Frog from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo / 1-Disc DVD / 1-Disc Blu-ray

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Related Interview:
Read our interview with directors John Musker and Ron Clements
John Musker and Ron Clements, writers/directors of The Princess and the Frog

Related Reviews:
New: Ponyo • Planet 51 • Kiki's Delivery Service • Old Dogs • My Neighbor Totoro • Where the Wild Things Are
From John Musker & Ron Clements: The Little Mermaid • Aladdin • Treasure Planet • Hercules • The Great Mouse Detective
Lilo & Stitch • Brother Bear • The Emperor's New Groove • Home on the Range • Enchanted • Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
Up • Coraline • Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs • Bolt • Meet the Robinsons • Chicken Little
The Muppet Movie • Cars • Dreamgirls • The Curious Case of Benjamin Button • Pete's Dragon • Gargoyles: The Complete First Season
The Jungle Book • The Aristocats • Oliver & Company • Cinderella • Sleeping Beauty • Pocahontas • Mulan • A Bug's Life

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Reviewed March 11, 2010 / Updated March 12, 2010.