The nice folks at Disney Records were kind enough to send me an advance copy of the soundtrack albumto their new animated feature, The Princess and the Frog. I had tried to see the movie in advance, hoping to post a review by opening day, but the naughty PR people at Walt Disney Studios failed to reply to my repeated entreaties, so we'll have to settle with the CD for now.
It kicks off with a very contemporary R & B song, "Never Knew I Needed," performed by Ne-Yo. I presume it plays over the film's end credits, as it doesn't fit in stylistically with the remainder of the songs and score composed by Oscar-winner and Disney-Pixar fave Randy Newman. Still, it's a pleasant song with a catchy hook and may prove to be a pop hit.
Within the first few notes of the score proper, anyone familiar with Newman's previous songs will be able to tell it's his work even if they don't know in advance that Newman wrote it. "Down in New Orleans" has a classic Newman beat and vocal quality to it, even though it is performed by Dr. John. The score on the whole is influenced by traditional ragtime, gospel and Creole music appropriate to the film's 1920's, New Orleans setting.
Anika Noni Rose, best known as one of the Dreamgirls in the 2006 movie, provides great vocals on her character's solo "Almost There" and other songs. Probably the biggest "name" actor contributing to The Princess and the Frog is Keith David (John Carpenter's The Thing), who voices the villainous Dr. Facilier. His song, "Friends on the Other Side," is a funny-spooky explanation of Facilier's magical abilities, supported by a great chorus of male, chiefly bass voices.
"When We're Human" is the movie's show stopping centerpiece, apparently performed by a number of former people who have been transformed into swampland critters through Facilier's incantations. But the score's best number, and a likely Academy Award nominee, is the jaunty "Dig a Little Deeper." Sung by Jenifer Lewis (as benevolent voodoo queen Mama Odie) and the Pinnacle Gospel Choir, it conveys an inspiring message of finding what's truly important in oneself via a joyfully up-tempo melody.
I'm not exactly sure how all of the songs figure into the film's storyline. For that, we'll all have to see the movie, which is getting rave reviews and was just named the year's best film by Time magazine's Richard Corliss. Frankly, I'm glad Disney has returned to the 2-D, hand-drawn animation style. It's gotten to the point where I can't distinguish most of the computer-animated features from one another. See you at the theater!
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.