It seems churlish to complain that The Princess and the Frog is rather preachy, considering that its sermon is remarkably similar to one I’ve been delivering since I was about twelve years old. I agree, of course, that aspiring to be a princess, passively wishing on stars and dreaming of princes sweeping in to save the day, warps a girl’s priorities and undermines her own resourcefulness and individuality, but to hear that from Disney—well, let’s just say the messenger warps the message. The movie cuttingly parodies princess culture, lampooning a spoiled little girl who laps up fairy tales and demands countless poufy dresses like those of her bejeweled idols, but the hypocrisy is hard to take. Have the filmmakers ever visited the Disney Store? Who do they think their audience is? They’re doing more than biting the hand that feeds; they’re spitting on it, in a way that often feels hypocritical and occasionally feels cruel.
Maybe that’s not fair, but the movie makes it hard to ignore the metatextual Disney themes when it goes so far as to directly evoke and reject elements of such classics as Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty. That kind of thing creates a sense of smugness that weighs down what is otherwise a charming, if slight, bit of fairy tale rehabilitation. Set in a sweetly romanticized Jazz Age New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog is beautiful in its way, with a few genuinely lovely moments, but its baggage weighs it down. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a mediocrity—it’s better than that, and the traditional cel animation is worth celebrating—but this isn’t one for the pantheon.