"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.