The Princess and The Frog inside scoop
Disney takes on New Orleans and goes back to its old school hand-drawn animation roots with the nation's number one movie, The Princess and the Frog. Disney is also breaking new ground with their first African American princess. The cast and creative crew spoke with SheKnows and the results were animated, to say the least!
"It's a gumbo of action, music, comedy and romance," previews writer Rob Edwards, and while that's one cheesy line, SheKnows would have to agree it's accurate.
The story kicks off when a serious-minded young lady named Tiana kisses a frog and things don't go as planned: Instead of landing herself a prince, she turns herself into a frog! As Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) and the playboy frog prince, Naveen (Bruno Campos), set out to reclaim their human forms, 1920s New Orleans sets the tone for one wild adventure.
The infamous destination lends itself beautifully to magical scenery, music and characters as the story moves through the manse of a Mardi Gras princess, the shanties of the hard working African American community, the city streets and out into the Bayou.
"It does embrace a lot of styles," composer Randy Newman previews. "It's 1925 and I love the music that was happening [then] -- the Cajun stuff and the jazz of the period."
While the music kept us dancing in our seats, the delightful opposites attract story actually made us laugh and cheer, as classic Disney tales always have.
Disney's first African American princess
The Princess and the Frog, however, marks a major first for Disney in offering kids their first African American princess, not to mention an interracial love story.
"I remember wondering if there would ever be a 'Chocolate Brown,' after seeing Snow White," recalls star Anika Noni Rose. "This [movie] will mean different thing to different people, depending on what time they grew up in. For my nephew, it will be the norm. He will think nothing of it. For my mother, it has been something she's been waiting for -- and her child, no less! For my grandmother, it will be something she thought would never happen.
"Each person in that theater will have a different journey that they're bringing to the story, and it will make the story different for them," she continues. "That's something beautiful. Disney is Americana. We've simply opened a new chapter."
That said, don't expect to see a tale about the racial revolution, or even one that reflects the hateful times in which the film takes place.
There is one aside about "girls like you," but there's no explanation of what that means and no discussion of Tiana's race. What more, her best friend is a rich, white New Orleans princess and the interracial element of the love story is both never mentioned and easily missed, as Tiana and Naveen are both green for most of the movie.
There was an uproar over this before the movie was even released, but Edwards relates, "We kept saying, 'Wait till they see the movie.'
"To make this about race is to completely miss the point of making a musical fairy tale to make people happy," he continues. "We wanted to make a princess for everybody."
A tale for everyone
Raised by hardworking parents (voiced by Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard), young Tiana grows up to be an all work/no play kind of gal intent on opening her own restaurant.
Her best friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) is a very different sort. After a lifetime of getting whatever she wants from 'Big Daddy' La Bouff (John Goodman), she's just the type to dream of princes charming and count on fairy tales coming true.
After a big let down, Tiana takes a page from her best friend's book, wishing on a star and kissing a frog. Apparently, that all goes differently when you're not a princess!
As if becoming an ugly frog is not bad enough, Tiana finds herself stuck with the most infuriating of princes. Naveen, from the mythical kingdom of Maldonia, is a ladies' man with a sexy Latin accent, a banjo and no ambition.
"He gets turned into this slimy frog, but the whole movie, his entire attitude is, 'I still got it,'" Campos previews with a laugh. "It was inspired by how hilarious that was. It was so comedic. I was channeling my dad, pretty much. He's a funny, upstart guy."
Thrust into an adventure to reclaim their bodies, the pair has to count on each other and new friends, including jamming blues alligator Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and Cajun firefly Ray (Jim Cummings), who are goofy good fun, and voodoo queen Mama Odie, voiced by Jennifer Lewis.
"I have a painting in my breakfast nook of Moms Mabley, so when they said, 'Can you do an old lady?' I pulled her out," recalls Lewis, whose well known voice is unrecognizable in the movie. "My mother had all of her albums and this is what I heard as a child."
At the other end of the voodoo spectrum is the villainous Dr. Facilier, who prowls the streets of New Orleans looking for victims. The con artist who tricks Naveen out of his body and sends his spooky spirits after the prince is one scary bad guy!
"In Snow White, the evil witch sends a guy to cut the heart out of Snow White, put it in a box and bring it back," Edwards defends. "This guy just wants to get rich!"
"We wanted to have a character that was terrifying, yet modern," he continues. "If the villain isn't scary, you're not talking about whole lot. He has to be scary and the heroine has to take him out and he has to die in a most horrific way. Something about that leaves you feeling great. You applaud and feel the world is better."
If that sounds like a spoiler, we apologize -- but this is Disney! It's not like the villain was going to win. And while you now have the outline of the story, we couldn't possibly spoil the laughs, music and heartwarming fun you'll find in the theater.
The Princess and the Frog has been out in Los Angeles and New York, but premieres for wide release December 11. One word of warning, however: This movie contains graphic images of steaming pots of gumbo and fresh beignets - so don't go hungry!