The Princess and the Frog ★★★

Disney’s return to traditional animation looks magnificent, especially in the scenes when the artists get to experiment — the art deco stylings of “Almost There” and the vibrant spiritual explosions of Dr. Facilier’s scenes stand among the studio’s most inventive visual sequences. Randy Newman’s jazzy compositions also serve the movie well, although they don’t quite reach the heights of other princesses’ soundtracks. And the characters have enough charm to keep the movie afloat even in its weakest moments.

But the overall project feels too short, despite the fact that it’s longer than most of the studio’s previous animated endeavors. We don’t get a clear sense of the villain’s motivations beyond “money,” and, even more egregiously, the central couple never clicks romantically. Both Tiana and Naveen are relatively well-realized characters, but their shift from reluctant co-adventurers to soulmates feels abrupt and unearned. I think other Disney movies avoid this issue by inserting an amazing romantic song to fill in the gap — “A Whole New World” and “Once Upon a Dream” have such sweeping melodies and lovely lyrics that the compression of the romance feels much less apparent. The Princess and the Frog lacks a romantic turning point that better movies thrive upon, and also doesn’t have the characters gradually fall in love in a rom-com way, so their relationship appears a bit forced. And some of the comedy seems leftover from Home on the Range’s slapstick.

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