This pleasing fairy tale focuses on a young girl named Tiana who lives in the New Orleans French Quarter during the Jazz Age.
The Princess and the Frog has a little of that Disney magic (traditional 2D animation with a little digital persuasion) back on its side with its first African-American princess after Pochantas, Mulan, and Ariel to name three, anyway.
The first of its kind since the mostly mediocre Home on the Range is a Cajun-flavored retrofitting of the musical romantic adventure boasting an artful, lively production, a pleasant interpretation of the Grimms' "The Frog Prince".
An orphaned Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose of Dreamgirls and a native of Bloomfield, Connecticut) toils as a waitress but aspires to have her own restaurant some day. Flashbacks show the influence on her by her parents (Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard).
Her blond friend society debutante Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), daughter of Mardi Gras king Big Daddy (John Goodman) is set on the heir, Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), to his mythic country's seat of power.
The racial diversity doesn't really stick out as the hard-working, goal-oriented Tiana isn't as into the mixed Naveen as the Lothario is in her as evidenced at a costume ball.
But, they are brought together by the wicked wiles of one Dr. Facilier (Keith David), out to round up all the souls of the Big Easy. In his machinations with a talisman and as the "Shadow Man" transforms Naveen into a frog. Then, an unwilling Tiana gives in to help Naveen's situation by smooching him which makes her a lily pad dweller like him.
From the directing team of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Ron Clements and John Musker, and with producing help from Pixar's John Lasseter, there are some colorful diversions where the slapstick, characters, and songs outweigh the plotting and brewing of the main romance.
Michael Leon-Wooley and Jim Cummings offer funny, colorful inflections to their jazz-loving alligator, Louis, and forlorn, goofy firefly, Ray, respectively. And, Jenifer Lewis manages a tantalizing tartness to Mama Odie, 107-year-old voodoo queen, as an important Oz-like mediator for the less bickering Tiana and Naveen.
A very well rendered Crescent City turns out to be the right kind of terra firm indicating the wonderful world of the House that Mouse Built that's kind of been adrift for some time as represented by those like Treasure Planet.
Rising actress Rose showcases her Broadway vocal talent background well in Randy Newman's flavorful blend of blues, Dixieland, gospel, jazz and zydeco with the most tuneful being Mama Odie's "Dig a Little Deeper" and Dr. Facilier's sonorous and spooky "Friends on the Other Side" ("Are You Ready?")
Led by a feisty Tiana with her anthem "Almost There" and nods to the likes of Lady and the Tramp, The Princess and the Frog isn't trying to be a Beauty and the Beast (a far cry for some indeed). Yet, it is the kind of swamp gumbo that easily enchant family audiences who, like Ray, can look up to their own Evangeline.