We just wanted to see girls kiss a frog and go "Ewww!"
As two guys, we were way, way reluctant to see the screening of The Princess and the Frog, but as it turns out, my 7-year-old nephew Donovan and I were delightfully surprised at how much we both enjoyed the villains, the story and the excitement of this new Disney film. And, if truth be told, there was even a moment of tears—by both of us—while watching this animated adventure.
You see, we aren't afraid of frogs, so we were hoping to see how girls squirm about getting their pretty faces up close to them. At home we have a bearded dragon lizard that was inspired by another supposed "girl's movie" with Jodie Foster called Nim's Island. (The best part of that movie was the cool bearded dragon, and so we have one—and we're not afraid to kiss him at all.)
No doubt, this looks like a girl's movie from the outset, with all the pretty dresses and crowns that are shown in the previews. But actually, it gets a bit dark and sinister, too, with a great evil character that has harnessed supernatural powers through voodoo. He is so scary that a few of the girls Donovan's age (and older) had to run screaming from the theater during the premiere at the Disney backlot. We laughed of course, but we were transfixed by the lanky and scary Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) every time he was on the screen.
Standing tall with a skull and bones emblem on his top hat and wearing purple spats, Dr. Facilier is a shady nemesis who lurks in the streets and lures unsuspecting tourists into his voodoo trap by offering to tell their fortune. He holds the power of dark spirits through an amulet that he wears around his neck, and with that he can grant wishes, especially if those wishes have an evil selfish bent to them. He sings a haunting song "Friends on the Other Side" that reveals the demons that he controls, and it's truly one of the best numbers in the movie.
Oh yeah, it's a musical. That's another way that makes it a "girl's movie," but frankly the singing diversions don't go on too long, and for the most part the numbers are jazzy, upbeat and part of the story.
You see, this is set in New Orleans, beginning in the early 1900s (headlines in the newspapers tout that Woodrow Wilson was just elected president). And, more amazing, this has a very strong female character that is African American. Now, it's true that Disney is famous for having minority lead characters, but this isn't as dreadfully boring as Pocahantas nor as weird as Mulan.
This story features a strong-willed, headstrong, hard-working African American girl Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), whose mother is a seamstress to a rich family, and whose father is a practical no-nonsense wise man.
And I'm not spoiling anything, but like most Disney movies, at least one of the parents is killed off early on in the movie (the father goes off to war and never returns). But, he leaves a message with Tiana to always keep focused on your goals, and her goal is to open a cool nightclub and restaurant.
Tiana grows up and she is scrimping and saving up money to buy an old warehouse to turn into her restaurant, with encouragement from her aging mother (voiced by Oprah Winfrey—was she an inspiration for this rags-to-riches story?)
Meanwhile, the town is abuzz because a handsome chiseled Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos), is in town and is staying with the rich family, Big Daddy LaBouff (John Goodman) and his daughter, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody). The prince's assistant is a squirrelly resentful servant named Lawrence (Peter Bartlett), and when they come across Dr. Facilier just as they arrive into New Orleans, Lawrence conspires with the voodoo master.
The prince is turned into a frog, and Lawrence becomes the handsome prince. When Tiana tries to help the talking frog, things take a surprising turn. He encourages him to kiss her, and she does, but she ends up turning into a frog, too. They are swept away into the bayous of Louisiana where they come across bugs and alligators.
This may sound rather dire, but one of the alligators is Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) who is also pretty good at the trumpet, but he tends to scare away most of his audience. Then, there's the goofy Cajun-accented firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) who tells them about an old lady in the swamp named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) who could possibly help them.
So, like in The Wizard of Oz, the odd foursome heads to Mama Odie for help, but her powers are rather limited.
Back in town, the power of the amulet is running dry and needs an infusion of the real prince's blood, because the real Lawrence keeps popping out of the prince's handsome frame. In one of the funniest sequences, the prince gets big ears, big jowls and a big butt while wooing Tiana's friend Charlotte, and he tries to hide his impending transformation back to his squirrelly self.
The most exciting part is to watch Dr. Facilier get his come-uppance among the scary tombstones of a New Orleans graveyard. The colors pop off the screen, and the music is fast and furious along the way.
The most tender part of the movie is not between the people (or the frogs), but really with the firefly Ray. That's the heart-tug moment worthy of a few tissues.
Some venues around the country will have a special area for kids and families to visit afterward with games and photo opportunities with other Disney princesses. We got a taste of it after the movie, and of course, my nephew Donovan only wanted to go on the pretty wild obstacle course that involves a lot of jumping on lily pads and a rope swing over an alligator-filled ravine.
Although it appears to be a "girl's movie," we can vouch for it that the guys will have a good time, too.
And, the whole way through the movie, the frogs are called icky and slimy by the girls, but the frogs always retort, "It's not slime, its mucus." And yes, even Tiana, who was once reluctant to kiss a frog, and then becomes one, eventually finds herself eager to kiss another frog.
And to watch girls kiss frogs, even without going "Eww!" was worth it for us.