The Princess and the Frog ★★★★

How the hell has this not charmed the hell out of more people? Above all, The Princess and the Frog just feels fresh, as a hand-animated film in a sea of computer-animation and a fairy tale with a real world setting and (mostly) real world values standing in for generic fantasy worlds and tropes.

1. For starters, it features the most gorgeous traditional hand-drawn animation I've ever seen (thanks mostly to advances in technology since we last saw a hand-animated film with this much money put into it).

2. Even better, it offers Disney's first genuinely progressive female protagonist (not only for her skin color but also for her refreshingly blue collar values) while gently ridiculing the character that would be the protagonist if this were any other Disney film - the protagonist's obscenely rich and spoiled childhood friend intent on marrying a handsome prince.

3. Along with Tangled it's becoming clear that Disney under Lasseter now puts a premium on charismatic male love interests in their princess films, as the males in both movies basically walk away with the movie. In this case the credit goes to both the voice actor and the animator for frog Naveen, who together imbue the amphibian with seemingly endless cheer and cocky charm.

4. Casting New Orleans as the setting is a stroke of genius (and besides the hand-animation is probably the biggest difference with Tangled, where the setting is generic fairy tale land) and clearly was a decision made from love, from the music to the food to the accents to the backgrounds.

5. Finally, the whole thing is buoyed by an energetic, hummable soundtrack that never once dips into the cheese found in most Disney musicals (cheese with which the songs of Tangled were unfortunately overflowing, not to pile on a movie which was actually pretty damn entertaining)

On the negative side, the movie does embrace that oh-so-Disney uncomplicated notion of love (and marriage, ultimately) as something that occurs nearly instantaneously (which is still a far sight better than the genuinely instantaneous love at first sight nonsense that mars the directors' first film The Little Mermaid for me). Additionally, while character moments and musical sequences are top-notch, both the comedy and action fall slightly short of the high standard set by other films made under John Lasseter at Pixar and Disney - most notably, Brave and Tangled, both of which perhaps not coincidentally seemed to have fared far better at capturing an audience of both genders (it likely also doesn't hurt to not have the word "princess" in the title).

These flaws are significant (especially if you judge from The Princess and The Frog's lukewarm reception overall), but not enough to outweigh the film's surfeit of charm and fresh creative decisions. It's a pity, then, that its relative failure at the box office has essentially killed American hand-drawn animation for the time being. On the other hand, I'm just glad that the lone hand-animated Disney movie of the modern era (besides Winnie the Pooh which is a clear throwback) is as good as it is. It might not be Pixar, but we've already got plenty of Pixar classics - why not embrace something different?

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