The film was both marketed and praised as a return to form for Walt Disney Animation Studios, with various film critics, pundits, and historians crediting The Princess and the Frog as the first film to have ignited what is widely considered to be Disney's new-age renaissance (popularly known as the "Disney Revival" era),, as well as the resurgence of critically acclaimed animated fairytales and musicals. This would be confirmed by Disney in 2017, during the eightieth anniversary event of Walt Disney Animation.
The movie opens with a bright star shining in the Louisiana sky. We hear the voice of Tiana singing, telling us that anything is possible if you wish upon the evening star. We are then taken to the very pink and frilly bedroom of young Charlotte La Bouff, who is sitting beside a young Tiana as they listen to Tiana's seamstress mother, Eudora tells the story of the Frog Prince as she puts the finishing touches on a dress for Charlotte. Charlotte is entranced by the story while Tiana is clearly disgusted and vows never to kiss a frog. Charlotte then puts a frog mask on White Kitten and starts pushing it in Tiana's face. But when Charlotte starts kissing White Kitten, it jumps up and gets stuck on the ceiling. Eudora then gets it off the ceiling and takes the mask off the horrified White Kitten. Charlotte's father, "Big Daddy" La Bouff arrives home with a new puppy for his spoiled daughter while Eudora and Tiana head home.
We quickly learn that Tiana and her friend Charlotte are definitely from two different worlds as the young girl and her mother head home to their tiny shack where Tiana's father, James, waits for them. Tiana and her father laugh together as they whip up a batch of his famous gumbo and talk about their shared dream of one day opening a restaurant. Little Tiana makes a wish on the evening star that their dream will one day come true. Tiana's father reminds her that wishing can only take you so far and you have to get the rest of the way yourself through hard work. He makes her promise that she'll never lose sight of what's really important in life.
We then flash forward several years. Tiana is now a beautiful young woman, working two waitressing jobs and saving up all her tips in a bedroom drawer, hoping to earn enough money to open the restaurant she and her father had always dreamed of. Before heading off to her second job, she plants a quick kiss on a photo of her father (it is implied that he was killed in WWI), telling him that they're "almost there".
As Tiana heads off to work, we get a quick glimpse of the hustle and bustle of New Orleans as it was in the 1920s – full of life and culture (the newspaper seen when Naveen gets off the boat says April 1926). It soon becomes apparent, however, that Tiana is much too focused on her job to really take part in any of it. She's seen turning down invitations to social events from her friends in favor of working extra shifts. It's clear that she's a determined and hard-working young woman.
While waiting tables, Charlotte arrives with exciting news – Prince Naveen from the far away country of Maldonia has arrived in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. He will be staying with the Le Bouffs, and "Big Daddy" hopes that Naveen and Charlotte will hit it off so the two can wed. Charlotte is thrilled at the thought of marrying a Prince and pays Tiana an immense quantity of money to whip up some "man-catching beignets" for the Prince's welcome party in order to impress him. After accepting the payment, Tiana finally has enough money for a down-payment on the run-down factory she plans on turning into her restaurant.
Meanwhile, Prince Naveen and his butler, Lawrence arrive in New Orleans. It's clear that Naveen is entranced by the New Orleans music and culture (…and women). He definitely lives a playboy lifestyle. We quickly learn that, though he is royalty, Naveen's parents have cut him off financially and that his only choice is to marry a rich woman or get a job. Of course, Naveen would never dream of lifting a finger himself and instead hopes to marry Charlotte and inherit some of her fortunes.
As Naveen and Lawrence wander the streets, they run into the shady Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who invites them to his voodoo shop, where they learn about his powers and his "friends on the other side". Jealous of the La Bouff fortune, Facilier takes advantage of the Prince's gullibility and Lawrence's resentment of his master to help in his plot to take over New Orleans. He turns Naveen into a frog and, using a magical talisman, turns Lawrence into an exact copy of Prince Naveen. The plan is for Lawrence (as Naveen) to marry Charlotte, get her money, and share it with Facilier (who plans on killing Charlotte's father and using his fortune to control the city).
That night, at the Masquerade party, "Naveen" arrives and immediately sweeps Charlotte off her feet. She is clearly enraptured by the idea of marrying a prince. Meanwhile, Tiana learns that someone has outbid her on the old building. If she can't get the money in three days, she'll lose any hope of achieving her and her father's dream. Feeling hopeless, Tiana goes out onto the balcony and makes another wish upon the evening star. It is here, under the stars, that she runs into a talking frog, who turns out to be the real Prince Naveen.
Naveen mistakes her for a princess (due to her masquerade costume) and tells her that, if she kisses him, he will turn back into a human give anything she wants in return. Thinking of her beloved restaurant, Tiana reluctantly kisses Naveen, only to have the spell backfire. She's become a frog herself! Furious, she and Naveen begin to argue when they fall off the balcony and down into the party. Chaos ensues as they are chased away into the Bayou by Charlotte's dog and several disgruntled party guests.
Tiana and Naveen have a rough first night as frogs, as they are nearly killed by a group of alligators and forced into hiding in an old tree trunk (arguing the entire time, of course). Her hardworking, no-nonsense personality and his lazy and carefree nature do not mesh well. The next day, Tiana builds a tiny raft, telling Naveen that they're going to go back to New Orleans, track down Dr. Facilier, and get the spell reversed.
On the way, they run into another enormous gator. At first they fear he will eat them, but soon learn that Louis is a gentle giant who loves jazz music and dreams of playing the trumpet in a jazz band, but it's never worked out for him (cue hysterical flashback of Louis jumping onto a paddle boat and joining in the band before being screamed and shot at by the terrified humans). When they explain their situation to Louis, he tells them they should go visit Mama Odie, the voodoo queen of the bayou. At first, he's reluctant to show them the way, but Naveen cleverly convinces him to come, implying that Mama Odie may be able to turn Louis human and help his dreams come true.
As they journey through the bayou, the three meet up with Ray, a Cajun firefly, who helps save Naveen and Tiana when they are captured by a group of hillbillies looking for a frog-leg dinner. As they eat some "swamp gumbo" whipped up by Tiana and celebrate their escape from the humans, Ray reveals that he is in love with a beautiful firefly named Evangeline, who shines brightly in the sky every night. The others quickly realize that Evangeline is actually not a firefly at all, but is really the "evening star" that shines in the sky. None of them have the heart to tell Ray the truth as he sings a beautiful love song for his Evangeline. As Ray serenades the star, Naveen asks Tiana to dance and it quickly becomes clear that the two are falling for one another.
Back in New Orleans, the imposter Naveen (Lawrence) has finally proposed to Charlotte, who is positively delighted. She proclaims that the two will be married that night at the big Mardi Gras parade and runs off to make wedding plans. While she is gone, the spell that makes Lawrence look like Naveen begins to wear off. Facilier explains that the magic talisman is out of Naveen's blood. They need to bring him back and get more of his blood for the spell to keep working. Facilier has no choice but to call on his "friends on the other side" (who, it turns out, are shadow demons). He sends them out into the bayou to find Naveen and bring him back alive.
Early that morning, back in the bayou, Naveen, Tiana, Ray, and Louis finally find the very old and very blind Mama Odie. Though she seems to be somewhat senile at first, she gives them all good advice – they must "dig a little deeper" to find out what's really important. They explain that they want to be human again, but she insists that it's not what they want, it's what they need that matters. Naveen sees that what he needs is to be with Tiana. Tiana, on the other hand, is too blinded by her desire to live out her dream to see that there is something more important right in front of her.
Mama Odie explains that the only way for the two of them to become human again is for Naveen to kiss a princess. They quickly realize that this means Charlotte (whose father had been crowned as King of Mardi Gras, making her the "princess"). The plan is for Naveen to kiss Charlotte before midnight (when she is no longer a princess), marry her, and buy Tiana her restaurant, just as he promised her when she first gave him a kiss.
Thanking Mama Odie profusely, the four friends head out to the river to find their way back to New Orleans. They hitch a ride aboard a paddle boat (everyone thinks Louis is wearing a very realistic alligator costume for Mardi Gras and invite him to join the band) and Naveen quickly confides in Ray his plan to propose to Tiana that very night, before the Mardi Gras parade. He proudly proclaims that he'll give up his lazy lifestyle and get "two jobs, maybe three" to help keep his promise to Tiana and get her restaurant.
He sets up a beautiful candle-lit dinner (one really big candle, since they're still frog-sized) and makes several feeble attempts to express his feelings for her, but is clearly nervous and flustered. Before he can get the words out, the boat passes the old factory Tiana plans to turn into her restaurant, distracting her. She starts talking once again about her dream, and Naveen feels that she really cares more about her restaurant than about him. He knows that he will never be able to give her the money for her restaurant unless he marries Charlotte, so he gives up his plan to propose and instead sets his mind on getting back to Charlotte so he can help make Tiana's dream come true.
Before they arrive in New Orleans, Naveen is captured by Facilier's voodoo "friends", unbeknownst to his companions. After he is gone, when they finally arrive at Mardi Gras, Ray reveals to Tiana that Naveen truly loves her and was planning on proposing. Tiana realizes that this is what she truly wants as well and rushes off into the crowd to find him. When she reaches the parade, however, she sees Charlotte standing beside the fake Naveen (wearing the newly-replenished talisman), preparing to marry him. Tiana misunderstands, thinking he has already kissed her and become human, and runs off to the graveyard, alone.
Ray follows her and tries to console her, but Tiana angrily replies by telling Ray that Evangeline is just a star, millions of miles away from him and that he needs to open his eyes to the truth before he gets hurt like she did. Still not convinced, Ray rushes back to the parade and frees frog-Naveen, who stops the wedding by jumping onto the imposter and knocking him off the float. Lawrence loses the talisman and is returned to his true form. Now that he has been revealed as a fraud, the bumbling Lawrence is quickly carted away by the police. Realizing its significance, Ray steals the voodoo talisman and flies away with it. Furious, Facilier chases Ray all the way to the graveyard.
Ray finally meets up with Tiana and gives her the talisman, making her promise to keep it out of Facilier's possession. She hops away with it, while Ray stays behind to destroy as many shadows as possible. With his light, he kills a few of them. Facilier knocks Ray to the ground and coldly crushes him without a second thought before wearing a disgusted expression and causally walks off. A few seconds later, Louis comes running, calling for Ray, but finds the firefly lying on the ground and makes off for Tiana.
The shadows and Facilier continue chasing Tiana before finally cornering her, but when she threatens to break the talisman into a million pieces, the Shadow Man casts an enchantment on her, causing her to look human again, and changes the setting, to her dream restaurant with Facilier offering to make her a deal. She thinks she sees Naveen playing the ukulele in the corner of the room, but when the man turns around, she sees it isn't and is disappointed. Facilier meanwhile, tries to convince Tiana to hand over the talisman, promising the restaurant and becoming a human again. When she refuses to, he brings up memories of her sacrifices and people doubting her abilities, and finally her father working hard but failing to get enough money for a restaurant. He tells her that if she gives him the talisman, he'll turn her back into a human and he'll give her everything she's ever dreamed of — everything she and her father always wanted. Tiana hesitates a moment, but her eyes light up in realization and she explains that while it's true her father never got what he wanted, he had what he needed; he had love, and he never lost sight of what was really important, and that's what she needs too. Tiana throws the talisman to the ground, but it's snatched up by Facilier's shadow and the illusion immediately disappears.
Facilier cackles and tells her that she should have taken his deal, but using her tongue, Tia takes the talisman back and shattering it into pieces. This greatly angers the voodoo spirits, who come out of the talisman. The Shadow Man is horrified, and frets how he won't be able to pay back his debt. Totem heads come out of the stone heads, asking if he's ready, which he replies that he isn't. Voodoo dolls climb out of the ground, and in terror, he says that he has lots more plans, revealing that he has the prince locked away, to Tiana's surprise. An enormous totem head drags in Facilier's shadow which in turn brings along the hysterical witch doctor himself, into the underworld to sacrifice his soul as punishment for his unpaid debts.
Tiana rushes back to the parade, where she sees Naveen talking to Charlotte, while Lawrence was arrested and sent to prison. He explains to Charlotte what has happened and that, if she kisses him by midnight (which is mere minutes away), he will become human again and he will marry her. Naveen's only condition is that Charlotte promises to give Tiana the money she needs for her restaurant. "She is my Evangeline," he explains. Deeply touched, Tiana hops out of the shadows and confesses her love for Naveen, telling him she'd rather be a frog forever and stay with him than have her restaurant without him. Naveen confesses that he loves her too and the two embrace. Charlotte is moved to tears that her friend is finally living out the fairy tale she herself has always dreamed of, and agrees to kiss Naveen for Tiana, so they can both be human again and marry each other.
She holds Naveen in her hand and leans in for the kiss — but it’s too late. Midnight has come and, though she kisses him again and again, nothing happens. Charlotte is no longer a princess. Before anything else can be said, Louis rushes in, holding a dying Ray in his hand. They lay Ray on the ground, and Naveen and Tiana tearfully tell him that everything is alright and the two of them will be together — thanks, in part, to him. Ray gives a weak smile, saying that makes him happy, and it makes Evangeline happy too. His eyes close, his light flickers out, and he's gone.
His three friends tearfully bring him back to the bayou for a funeral with the rest of his firefly family. As they place his tiny body in a leaf and push it out across the water, everyone starts to gasp and look up at the sky as a bright, white light shines down from above. Another star has appeared beside Evangeline, shining just as brightly. Everyone starts to cheer because they can see that Ray finally got his wish to be with Evangeline at last.
The funeral then fades away to a celebration as the entire bayou gather together to see Mama Odie perform Naveen and Tiana's wedding ceremony. As she pronounces them "frog and wife", they share a kiss and they are turned back into humans. Mama Odie laughs as the two figure out that, in becoming Naveen's wife, Tiana became a princess. By kissing her, Naveen broke the spell.
The two are back in New Orleans where they buy the old building back from the Real Estate agents with some help from Louis and work together, fixing it up and eventually turning it into "Tiana's Palace", a very successful, up-scale restaurant. We see Tiana and Naveen happily serving tables, as Louis the gator entertains the guests onstage with his trumpet. Tiana and Naveen go up to the roof where they dance together and share a kiss beneath the stars. Tiana sings "dreams do come true in New Orleans!" while Ray and Evangeline continue to shine brightly together in the night sky as the movie ends.
- Anika Noni Rose as Tiana
- Elizabeth Dampier voices Tiana as a child.
- Bruno Campos as Prince Naveen
- Jennifer Cody as Charlotte La Bouff
- Breanna Brooks voices Charlotte as a child.
- Keith David as Dr. Facilier
- Jenifer Lewis as Mama Odie
- Jim Cummings as Ray
- Michael-Leon Wooley as Louis
- Louis' trumpeting was done by Terence Blanchard
- Emeril Lagasse as Marlon
- Kevin Michael Richardson as Ian
- Peter Bartlett as Lawrence
- John Goodman as Eli "Big Daddy" La Bouff
- Oprah Winfrey as Eudora
- Terrence Howard as James
- Ritchie Montgomery as Reggie
- Don Hall as Darnell
- Paul Briggs as Two Fingers
- Jerry Kernion as Mr. Henry Fenner
- Corey Burton as Mr. Harvey Fenner
- Randy Newman (who also composed the songs and score) as Cousin Randy
- Michael Colyar as Buford
- Danielle Moné Truitt as Georgia
Disney had once announced that Home on the Range would be the studio's last 2D animated film entry to their animated features canon, but after the company's acquisition of Pixar in early 2006, it was reported that Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, new leaders of the animation department, had decided to re-open the door to Disney's tradition of hand drawn animation. Many animators who had either been fired or had left the studio after the 2004 closure were located and re-hired for the project.
The Princess and the Frog was written and directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, whose earlier works included The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Hercules. The story for the film was developed by merging two other projects in development at the time. One of the projects was based on E. D. Baker's The Frog Princess, in which the story's heroine kisses a frog in hopes of becoming a princess, only to become a frog herself.
The film returns to the Broadway-style musical in the style of the successful Disney films like Walt's classics and the Disney Renaissance of the late-1980s and all of the 1990s. Rhett Wickham also reported that John Lasseter had personally asked Ron Clements and John Musker to direct and write the film, and had let them choose in what form (either traditional animation or CGI) they wanted the film to be made. Toon Boom Animation's Toon Boom Harmony software was used in the digital processing of the film, as the old CAPS system Disney developed with Pixar in the 1980s is now outdated.
While the Goofy short How to Hook Up Your Home Theater experimented with paperless animation, the artists on The Princess and the Frog used traditional pencil and paper that is scanned into the computers. Although a new pipeline for hand-drawn animation using Toon Boom Harmony has been developed at the studio, the actual animation process remains the same. The visual effects, as well as many of the backgrounds, were created digitally using tools such as Wacom Cintiq tablet displays. Marlon West, one of Disney's veteran animation visual effects supervisors, says about the production; "Those guys had this bright idea to bring back hand-drawn animation, but everything had to be started again from the ground up. One of the first things we did was focus on producing shorts, to help us re-introduce the 2D pipeline. I worked as VFX supervisor on the Goofy short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater. It was a real plus for the effects department, so we went paperless for The Princess and the Frog."
The former trend in Disney's hand-drawn features where the characters were influenced by a CGI-look has been abandoned. Andreas Deja, a veteran Disney animator who supervised the character of Mama Odie in Princess and the Frog, says "I always thought that maybe we should distinguish ourselves to go back to what 2D is good at, which is focusing on what the line can do rather than volume, which is a CG kind of thing. So we are doing less extravagant Treasure Planet kind of treatments. You have to create a world but [we're doing it more simply]. What we're trying to do with Princess and the Frog is hook up with things that the old guys did earlier. It's not going to be graphic...". He also mentions that Lasseter is aiming for the Disney sculptural and dimensional look of the 1950s. He quoted "all those things that were nongraphic, which means go easy on the straight lines and have one volume flow into the other -- an organic feel to the drawing."
Clements and Musker had agreed from very early on that the style they were aiming for was primarily that of Lady and the Tramp, a film which they and John Lasseter feel represents the "peak of a certain kind of animation of the classic Disney animation style". That said film also heavily informed the style of the New Orleans scenes, whilst Bambi, The Rescuers, and The Fox and the Hound served as the template for the bayou scenes.
On November 15, 2006, it was revealed that Randy Newman, who is responsible for the music of five Pixar films, would be in charge of the music in the film instead of Alan Menken and his new lyricist Glenn Slater, making it the first Walt Disney Animation Studios film to be composed by a Pixar composer. This change was due to John Lasseter not wanting the public to feel Disney being repetitive, as Menken was also working on another Disney fairy tale film, Enchanted.
During the Walt Disney Company's annual shareholder meeting in March 2007, Randy Newman and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band performed a song from the film called "Down in New Orleans", while slides of pre-production art from the film played on a screen.
The film's soundtrack album, The Princess and the Frog: Original Songs and Score, contains ten original songs and seven instrumental pieces. The music, a mixture of jazz, zydeco, blues and gospel sounds, was composed, conducted and arranged by Pixar composer Randy Newman. R&B recording artist and producer Ne-Yo made a song exclusively for the film called "Never Knew I Needed", an R&B love song referring to the romance between the film's two main characters (Tiana and Naveen). The soundtrack was released on November 23, 2009, the day before the limited release of the film in New York and Los Angeles. The songs are performed by various artists, most of whom lend their voices to the characters in the movie.
The film premiered in theaters with a limited run in New York and Los Angeles beginning on November 25, 2009, followed by wide release on December 11, 2009. The film was originally set for release on Christmas Day 2009, but its release date was changed due to the competitive nature of the family film, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, scheduled for release the same day.
- Main article: The Princess and the Frog (video)
The Princess and the Frog was released in North America on DVD and Blu-ray Disc on March 16, 2010. The film is available in DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray combo-pack editions; the combo pack includes DVD and digital copies of the film, along with the Blu-ray Disc version. The film is was released on DVD and Blu-ray in Australia on 16 June 2010.
The film has received largely positive reviews by critics and viewers alike. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 85% of 184 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 7.3 out of 10. Among Rotten Tomatoes' "Top Critics", which consists of popular and notable critics from the top newspapers, websites, television and radio programs, the film holds an overall approval rating of 78%, based on a sample of 32 reviews and amongst the Rotten Tomatoes' community, the film holds an overall approval rating of 74%, based on a sample of 259,503 reviews.
- On April 20, 2007, E! reported that the title of the film could possibly be changed from The Frog Princess to The Princess and the Frog, and that the lead character Maddy may be getting a name change as well. On May 4, 2007, USA Today published an article that referred to the film as The Princess and the Frog, and to the lead character as "Tiana" rather than Maddy, supporting the earlier reported name-change possibilities. Four days later, BET and other online sites reported that Disney spokeswoman Heidi Trotta stated that some of the original release information was incorrect, and confirmed the USA Today names "Princess Tiana" and The Princess and the Frog to be correct. Trotta stated "Princess Tiana will be a heroine in the great tradition of Disney's rich animated fairy tale legacy, and all other characters and aspects of the story will be treated with the greatest respect and sensitivity."
- This the first traditionally-animated film to involve John Lasseter since The Brave Little Toaster.
- Facilier's lead animator, Bruce W. Smith, was inspired by Captain Hook from Peter Pan and Cruella De Vil from One Hundred and One Dalmatians when designing his character.
- The Princess and the Frog is the first animated feature in the Disney Revival, just like The Little Mermaid was the first animated feature in the Disney Renaissance, back in 1989, which both films are directed by John Musker and Ron Clements.
- This was the last Walt Disney Animation Studios film to be scored by a non-recurring composer and the first to be scored by a recurring Pixar composer (Randy Newman) until 2016's Zootopia, which was scored by another recurring Pixar composer Michael Giacchino, as film composer Henry Jackman became a recurring composer of films from that studio (after Frank Churchill, Leigh Harline, Paul J. Smith, Oliver Wallace, George Bruns, Alan Menken, Mark Mancina, John Debney, and James Newton Howard and before Christophe Beck) starting with 2011's Winnie the Pooh.
- During the song "Dig a Little Deeper", Mama Odie throws a bunch of magic objects including Genie's Lamp.
- Magic Carpet makes a cameo as an actual rug at the beginning of the film.
- King Triton appears as a parade float during the Mardi Gras Parade.
- As Tiana is seen in Charlotte's room, a prince doll that resembles Prince Charming wearing his outfit from Cinderella II: Dreams Come True is seen on the toy shelf.
- Several dolls on Charlotte's shelf look like the Disney Princesses before Tiana.
- During the credits, the riverside shack from the Disneyland version of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride appears.