"My Daddy never did get what he wanted. But he had what he needed. He had love. He never lost sight of what was really important."
Audiences wary of questionable themes of voodoo and “high life” elements can rest relatively easy. This G-rated Disney feature, set in 1920s New Orleans, provides heartfelt lessons and a colorful story with two strong leads, Tiana, voiced by Anika Noni Rose, and Prince Naveen, voiced by Bruno Campos. Both actors embody their characters well in these roles.
The hard working Tiana works two jobs to fulfill her dreams of a full-fledged restaurant while the vivacious Prince Naveen wants all the fun and no responsibility. Tiana’s family consists of mother Eudora, voiced by Oprah Winfrey, and James, voiced by Terrence Howard, who has a short, but very memorable role.
This Disney animated feature film showcases a traditional animation artwork style strengthened by a talented cast who sing all their musical sequences, which has not been done in a Disney animated film since the Academy Award-winning Beauty and the Beast in 1991. These great songs include the gospel music infused “Dig a Little Deeper,” “When We’re Human” plus the Academy Award-nominated “Almost There,” Rose’s showcase, and bookend “Down in New Orleans” featuring Dr. John.
Tiana and Prince Naveen must navigate between human and animal forms as the antagonistic Shadow Man (a.k.a. Dr. Facilier), well voiced by Keith David, forces them into an unfamiliar situation, which filmmakers use for their personal growth plus natural flowing drama and comedy in the plot. The couple also encounters a horn-playing alligator named Louis, voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley, and Jim Cummings as Ray the firefly.
David also features his considerable singing talent in “Friends on the Other Side” while Cummings gets his uniquely romantic showcase in “Ma Belle Evangeline.” Jennifer Cody voices Tiana’s childhood friend Charlotte and John Goodman voices her father, ‘Big Daddy’ La Bouff. Peter Bartlett, who I almost confused with Timothy Spall, voices Naveen’s assistant Lawrence. Chef Emeril Lagasse even makes a cameo appearance as an alligator.
Disney veteran directors Ron Clements and John Musker co-wrote the screenplay and story with several other writers and collaborators. Since the story veers from the traditional tale of the Frog Prince, audiences can enjoy some increased unpredictability here as well. The details and subtle references work well, like a dog named Stella used for a joke and to orient Tiana and Naveen to their new state where they can also communicate with all other animals.
One questionable plot element is about an anonymous buyer who potentially hurts Tiana's chances to purchase the property for her dream restaurant. This buyer presents an opportunity for more intrigue, but screenwriters never provide closure or explanation for this mysterious buyer and basically smooth over any purchase issues at the end.
This three-disc set includes the Blu-ray version with bonus features, the DVD version with bonus features, and a digital copy. The Blu-ray disc has a 5.1 Dolby sound mix with optional tracks in Spanish, French, Portuguese, and descriptive video service (DVS) for the blind and visually impaired. "A Return to the Animated Musical" features the music well, but is only around three minutes long.
The Blu-ray visual and audio components are top notch. The vivid Mardi Gras colors and swamp/street shadows mesh with the memorable music perfectly. The clear graphics really showcase the foreground animated objects and characters backed by computer-enhanced backgrounds. Clements and Musker are joined by producer Peter Del Vecho on the feature-length audio commentary, which features great comments covering the entire filmmaking process. The deleted scenes include a little over 10 minutes, shown in storyboard form, with reasonable justifications as to why they never made the movie – mainly to keep the overall running time to an all ages friendly 98 minutes.
The numerous featurettes cover several areas, most notably in the main featurette titled “Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess.” Filmmakers also highlight the traditional animation work in “The Return to Hand Drawn Animation” featurette, which is short, but effective. The character animation process included traditional styles and techniques while many of the backgrounds were computer produced or enhanced.
The eight-minute “Bringing Animation to Life” featurette gives great references to live action footage used to shape the animation. “Disney’s Newest Princess” and “The Princess and the Animator,” with veteran animator Mark Henn, features the continuing princess tradition at Disney with Tiana.
The “What Do You See?” guessing game features the good-natured Mama Odie, voiced by Jenifer Lewis. Other features include the “The Princess Portraits” game, art galleries, and a music video of “Never Knew I Needed” (originally featured in the ending credits) with a melancholy artist Ne-Yo walking through fog-covered New Orleans streets. The DVD disc contains the deleted scenes, audio commentary track, Ne-Yo music video and the Princess Portraits game.