With the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos and Keith David
Opens Nov. 25 (limited), Dec. 11 (wide)
The joke about the princess and the frog must be nearly as old as the original fable: she gives the homely amphibian a smooch, and rather than turning him into a handsome human, she instantly becomes a frog. Hardly less antique was the Disney company’s notion to turn the gag into a cartoon in the old, hand-drawn, “2-D” style. Disney introduced this feature-length format with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and, over the next 60 years, just about perfected the mixture of story, illustration and pop music. Today, virtually nobody does animated features as original musicals. As for the technology, CGI — the computer-driven animation used in Pixar’s and DreamWorks’ hit movies — is the princess, and 2-D the frog.
But frogs have more fun. The Princess and the Frog, which opens Wednesday in New York and Los Angeles, and Dec. 11 in the rest of the country, is a start-to-finish delight. It proves that 2- can be more than 3-, when gifted filmmakers put old-fashioned snap back into animation. The lines are freer here, the character movements more supple, the sense of fun unfettered. The movie is a triumph for its directors and co-writers, John Musker and Ron Clements — the guys who jump-started Disney’s cartoon renaissance with The Little Mermaid in 1989 and created a whole new world with the 1992 Aladdin, then coasted (Hercules, 1997), flopped (Treasure Planet, 2002) and vanished. Entrusting an expensive, freighted project like this to a couple of 56-year-olds might seem like letting an Old Timer’s Day pitcher start a World Series game, but Musker and Clements show no sweat. Their piece has the lightness of an inspired improv session by New Orleans jazz masters.