suzannahgawks’s review published on Letterboxd:
I had not much idea what to expect watching this film, but I didn't expect such an incredible labour of love. The use of hand-drawn animation not only permits some absolutely beautiful visuals, it also seems a rather quixotic gesture that fits in well with the story's gilded 1920s setting. As for the setting, this film is a love letter to New Orleans in all sorts of ways (cuisine! architecture! music!). The result is a setting, and by extension a story, with a very unique and individual flavour to it that significantly outshines the "standard fairytale kingdom" settings of TANGLED or FROZEN (and THIS is the reason I'll always fall for a historical fantasy over a generic secondary-world fantasy, any day of the week). Tiana and Naveen are funny and appealing leads, the baddies are particularly dark and scary, and the theme - that you need to find a healthy work/life balance - may not be particularly agonising (as TANGLED's theme was) but works absolutely perfectly for the tale of a hard-working waitress with big dreams and a playboy prince who's never done a tap of work in his life.
There's also plenty of stuff that doesn't work here. The second (bayou) act is quite flaccid and the choice to have the two leads spend the majority of the movie as frogs seems a weird, unintuitive creative choice whether in terms of selling little girls on the movie, or in terms of celebrating people of colour as the protagonists. That said, while Disney doesn't try to cut too deep here, I suspect if THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG had been released ten years later it would have come staggering under the weight of a Crashingly Unsubtle Message. As is, the film as it stands simply celebrates the hard-working family values of its central Black characters and memorialises their contributions to New Orleans culture, alluding to systemic racism primarily by showing the stark class division between Tiana and Lottie. It didn't aim high here, but it worked for me - your mileage may vary.