“If you do your best each and every day/Good things are sure to come your way!” warbles the heroine of Disney’s latest – a hard-working, independent young waitress determined to realise her dream of opening a restaurant.
Much has been written about the fact that Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is an African-American, a notable first for the House of Mouse. What has been less well publicised is that she’s also a sanctimonious, prissy buzzkill that you can’t wait to see brought down a peg – if only to stop her wittering about all the great gumbo she’ll be serving up in her swanky eaterie in New Orlean’s French Quarter.
Marking a belated return to the hand-drawn ’toonery that used to be Disney’s forte before Toy Story alerted them to the power of the pixel, The Princess And The Frog uses the Big Easy of the ’20s and its surrounding bayous as an atmospheric, colourful backdrop.
The foreground doesn’t hold quite the same charm though – directors John Musker and Ron Clements only partially recapturing the fairytale magic of their earlier Little Mermaid.
The film takes an age to set up its simple premise – kissing a frog prince turns Tiana into a frog herself – and another to push it towards a happily-ever-after finale.
Whether human or amphibian, neither Tiana nor her feckless beau Naveen (Bruno Campos) steal the heart, the former proving as hectoring and judgemental when stuck on a lily pad as she was when waiting tables.
It’s left to voodoo villain Doctor Facilier (Keith David, terrific) to steal the show and horn-blowing alligator Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley, hilarious) to bring the funny in a film that for all its artistic craft, often feels stymied – not just by the lack of great tunes but also by the ghosts of triumphs past.
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Disney’s attempt at an instant animated classic will impress the kids, but leave older Mouseketeers wistful for former glories.