I wasn't planning on rushing out to see this, but after all the "best animated film in years" reviews, I knew I had to check it out, if just for my "Top 10 Animated Films of the 2000s" post. So I went out tonight on a whim and checked it out. And I have to say... I was pleasantly surprised. It takes place in Jazz Age New Orleans. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) comes from a poor family, but it was her father's dream to open up a popular restaurant and run it with her. But her father dies before making it come true. Tiana continues to grow, trying to make this dream become a reality. But she's an ultimate realist who thinks you have to purely work hard to get what you want, as just wishing upon a star will get you nowhere. That is, until carefree Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes into town with his British man-servant, Lawrence (Peter Bartlett). They stumble across Dr. Facilier AKA The Shadow Man (Keith David), a VooDoo witch doctor with a devilish plan up his sleeves. He turns Naveen into a frog and gives Lawrence the ability to look like Naveen, so that when the right time comes, Facilier can use him to take over the town and fulfill a deadly deal he had made to those "on the other side." Long story short (too late), Naveen escapes and comes across Tiana, thinks she's a princess, and talks her into kissing him. But because she isn't a princess, she turns into a frog herself. They end up on a crazy journey to try and get themselves back to normal, and they come across a couple of new friends, including a jazz-loving alligator, Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), and a Cajun lightning bug in love with a star, Ray (Jim Cummings). The movie also shares the vocal talents of John Goodman, Terrance Howard, and Oprah.

I know, that's a lot of plot... but it's really not all that complicated. But if I were to complain about anything with this movie, it would deal with plot-related things. For instance, there's either too much story going on or not enough. The beginning moves way too slowly for my liking. It was right before the first song when I started thinking "OK, is this movie gonna, you know, start yet?" It feels like it takes about 30 minutes (and it probably does... I didn't look at my watch) before we even get to the frog stuff. But then the singing starts, and I start to feel better (I'll get into the singing momentarily). Though it really isn't until the frog stuff comes in that I felt the movie really started. But then there's the other side of the spectrum. What kind of debt did the Shadow Man owe? How did some of these characters figure out specific information that hadn't been shared yet? Who the heck said anything about having to be kissed before "midnight" so that the curse could be broken? Naveen didn't even know the kissing thing would work until he saw the fairy tale book and got the idea. And I know "before midnight" isn't in that story, because I researched different fairy tales for a book. And, (SPOILERISH), didn't Naveen explain to Tiana that there was a Human-Naveen impersonator... and if so, why did she react the way she did near the end? (END SPOILERISH).

The only other real issue I had was that I didn't quite buy into the quickness of the falling-in-love of the two central characters. In past Disney films, there's always a passing of time or a musical montage. Sure, there's one in this movie, but there's a difference. I think the difference is that in previous films, the characters have actually liked each other for a bit before the montage so that the "falling in love" sequence works. Here, it feels as if Tiana goes from being highly annoyed by Naveen to being all Ga-Ga over him and falling for his Love Game while Just Dance-ing (sorry, I really couldn't help it). And the musical montage isn't even that long... nor is it much of a montage. It's just the two of them dancing for a brief song. I want another "Kiss the Girl" or "Whole New World" or "Can You Feel The Love Tonight" or "Beauty and the Beast (main theme)." But maybe it's just me.

But speaking of the music, it really was wonderful. Sure, it takes a while for the singing to start in the movie, but once it does, it doesn't let up. I already love the music of New Orleans and the whole Jazz Age thing, so that was actually one of my only initial draws to the film (for instance, one of my favorite things about True Blood is the fact it's based in deep south Louisiana. I'm just fascinated by the culture). I'm not sure there was a song I didn't like.

The characters were good, too. The Shadow Man is a great villain... and actually pretty creepy. I honestly think he might be a little too scary for some small children. But his whole voodoo thing, as well as how they portrayed him and his "shadow" were great. Louis and Ray are good side characters, as well. I particularly loved Ray's neverending love for Evangeline... it was such a sweet aspect of the film, and it really added a whole other layer. It's just upsetting that it had to start so late in the film (I'd say about halfway). Of course, we have Naveen and Tiana, as well. Naveen is the spoiled prince who has never worked in his life, and Tiana is the workaholic waitress who knows nothing but work. So of course their personalities are going to clash. I particularly liked Naveen. He had some pretty funny lines.

And I haven't even talked about the animation yet. As you probably know, this is the first hand-drawn Disney film in 5 years (since Home on the Range)... but it harkens back to the good 'ol films, the myth-and-musical films of Disney, the last of which was arguably Mulan over a decade ago. I would argue that this film, especially the best parts of this film, ranks up there with those late 80s/early 90s films of Disney (Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, etc.).

The animation is gorgeous. The characters are fun. The story is good. The music is great. It has a few issues here and there, but don't most films? I went in not knowing what to expect fully, and I came out really enjoying it. It could have started faster, and it seems they cut out a couple things that maybe they need to put back in. But for the most part, it was a really good movie.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

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