I like New Orleans, a lot. I like the city and its history. Bourbon Street, if you can get past the insane parts, is lovely, as is the rest of the French Quarter. I love the food. I love gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, and even frog legs. I do not care how that colors your reading of this review, I will eat them by the plate full, and have done so on more than a few occasions. In case you have ever wondered what they taste like, imagine chicken and fish fused together, and you are in the gastronomic neighborhood. I love the music. One my most treasured live performances is when I got to see a band in the intimate setting of Preservation Hall. The walls practically drip with musical history, and I imagine other history as well. I love the European feel of the town. One of the more famous French Quarter landmarks is Jackson Square. It is the face of the area, and it is pretty much exactly as it is pictured in movies and shows. Speaking of movies, I do not love The Princess and the Frog (2009). I know that is going to bum a few of you out, and hopefully the rest of this will soften the blow.
As soon as The Princess and the Frog began, I thought, great, another animated musical. That is already two themes on which I am not particularly keen. It is set at a point in New Orleans’ past when race was a problem, but because this is Disney, they are going to skirt that delicate topic as much as possible. By my count, that is already three strikes, so I just sat back and let the rest of the film wash over me with all of its predictable plot points. Our main character is Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), who, along with her mother, Eudora (voiced by Oprah Winfrey), serve the richest family in the city, the La Bouffs. Again, because this is Disney, the family patriarch, Eli “Big Daddy” La Bouff (voiced by John Goodman), is quite friendly and jolly, and his daughter Charlotte “Lottie” (voiced by Jennifer Cody) grows up as best friends with Tiana. At the end of the day, though, the La Bouffs get to stay in their mansion while Eudora and Tiana return to the other side of town. There waiting for them is Tiana’s father, James (voied by Terrence Howard), and father and daughter share a love of cooking. So entranced is Tiana by the food they prepare that she dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. This drives her as she grows up, working two jobs and saving every last penny she could to one day buy the property so that she can open her place. Unfortunately, dad is no longer around, and it seems that he died in World War I, though that could just be my history brain talking. During one of her shifts at a local diner, Big Daddy and Lottie come in with some incredible news. The newly arrived to town Prince of Maldonia (another made up Disney country), Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos), has agreed to stay at the La Bouff residence for the duration of their visit to New Orleans. Being in the Crescent City is a dream come true for Prince Naveen. There is one problem: his parents have decided to cut him off from further finances. Hence, at the encouragement of his valet Lawrence (voiced by Peter Bartlett), Prince Naveen agrees to this arrangement in the hopes that he could marry into the La Bouff family. This is apparently Lottie’s dream, too, and she throws a bunch of cash at Tiana to make beignets for the expected party. Lurking in the shadows, literally, is Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David), also known as the Shadow Man. He is jealous of the power wielded by Big Daddy, and devises a convoluted trick to bring down the La Bouffs. The first phase involves luring Prince Naveen and Lawrence into his voodoo shop, and get them to agree to his magic in exchange for what they each supposedly want. Because Prince Naveen can only see the green on money, which he feels will buy him freedom, he is turned into a frog. As for Lawrence, who is envious of Prince Naveen, he is turned into the next in line for the thrown of Maldonia. They both end up at the party anyway, where Tiana is told that her bid on the hoped-for property for her restaurant has been exceeded. In her sadness, she allows Lottie to comfort her in Lottie’s old room. This is when she meets Prince Naveen, albeit in frog form. Out of desperation, he agrees to give her the extra money she needs to complete her dreams if she will just kiss him. Doing so has the opposite effect, and she is also reduced to the form of a toad. This surprises many of the guests, but they are able to escape to the swamp. Once there, again because this is Disney, they make friends with a couple swamp creatures: a trumpet playing alligator named Louis (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley) because why not; and a Cajun sounding firefly named Ray (voiced by Jim Cimmings). Given Prince Naveen and Tiana’s stated desire to once again be human, they agree to guide our two eventual lovers to the good voodoo witch, Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). Time is against them. For one thing, Dr. Facilier’s charm on Lawrence’s neck only lasts so long before it needs to be recharged by Prince Naveen’s blood. Hence, Dr. Facilier sends out his shadow henchmen to bring Prince Naveen back into his clutches. Prince Naveen and Tiana are saved thanks to Mama Odie’s intervention. In turn, she tells them that the only thing that can lift the curse is for the hoped for smooch to happen, and that it must take place before midnight. This means Lottie, since she is the closest things to a princess the town has to offer. What complicates matters is the fact that life long loafer Prince Naveen has fallen for the hard-working Tiana. Prince Naveen hesitates when all Tiana talks about is much she is looking forward to her restaurant. As such, he decides that he will do anything to keep her goals alive, even marrying Lottie. When Prince Naveen and Tiana get to New Orleans, the Mardi Gras celebration underway and it is to culminate with Lawrence in the guise of Prince Naveen marrying Lottie. In the ensuing scuffle, Tiana gets a hold of Dr. Facilier’s amulet, which lifts the curse and sends the Shadow Man back into the shadows. On the frustrating side is the fact that they did not accomplish this before midnight. This means they shall remain frogs, though they are resigned to their fate. One more time, however, because this is Disney, they are returned to their human forms when Mama Odie marries them. The film closes with them having a proper wedding in St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, and then finally opening the restaurant.
There are a lot of directions I can take as a Catholic film reviewer with a movie like The Princess and the Frog. There is the obvious route of voicing my disapproval of the use of magic throughout. While it is something that the villain is a practitioner of voodoo, and it less ideal that Mama Odie is presented as essentially a “good witch.” Such practices, good or bad, attempt to contravene the power of God, and that never works out well. Instead, what I will focus on is the lesson Tiana learns about love. It is voiced early on by James, who reminds his daughter that hard work is needed, but it cannot be at the expense of your loved ones. Eudora reminds Tiana of this one more time when the daughter believes she is “Almost There,” a musical piece from the film, after her initial failed real estate transaction. It continues to drive her throughout the film, making her ignore the attempts by a reformed Prince Naveen to win her heart. Though she eventually realizes her mistake, the biggest test comes at the climactic moment when, holding the amulet that is the lynchpin of Dr. Facilier’s plan, the Shadow Man conjures a vision of her establishment and having in it everything she could ever want. The Bible discusses these kinds of situations directly, saying there is no use in gaining the whole world if it means losing your soul. Your soul is the part of you that is closest to God, and will remain that way, with any luck, for all of eternity. Much of that “luck” comes from loving something bigger than oneself, and through the movie it is a star that Ray refers to as Evangeline. It is also a heavenly body that Lottie and Tiana essentially pray to, even if in the movie it is called making a wish. The film covers this, too. The lesson that is eventually learned by Tiana is that we can get too wrapped up in our wishes and forget to see what is right in front of us. Our desires become an idol for us, or we tend to think of God as some wish-granting magical fairy. Instead, God is love, and that is all that matters. The rest will take care of itself.
I will, and have, acknowledge the good aspects of The Princess and the Frog. I do not mind saying that I would recommend it to children. I do not know why adults would be interested in it as it is a bunch of nonsense outside of the things discussed in the previous paragraph. Nonetheless, there is no stopping those that are in to these kinds of things.