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The Princess and the Frog
  • Composed by Randy Newman
  • Walt Disney Records 50999 4 56749 2 1 / 2009 / 55:50

It’s pretty ironic that it took John Lasseter – whose Toy Story was responsible for the proliferation of computer-animated movies and ultimately the complete demise of hand-drawn ones – to get Disney to return to the style of animation that made it the success it became.  The Princess and the Frog is the company’s first hand-drawn animation in five years, since Home on the Range was announced as their last ever.  Originally Alan Menken was slated to write the songs and score (as he had for their previous one) but he left the project and Randy Newman came on board.  Newman seemed to be the perfect choice for this Louisiana-set fairy tale, given his musical roots.

The album begins rather inauspiciously (to put it mildly) with the hideous, unlistenable garbage pop song “Never Knew I Needed” sung by a gentleman or lady by the name of Ne-Yo.  It’s not written by Newman and its highlight comes at 3:38, when it ends.  Then come Randy Newman’s new songs, a glorious mix of New Orleans jazz (with Terence Blanchard on trumpet), gospel elements and of course some romance.  Dr John doesn’t just heal the sick, he also sings, and his version of “Down in New Orleans” is terrific.  “Almost There” is the romantic highlight; and “Dig a Little Deeper” (featuring a gospel choir) the real standout song, a glorious celebratory delight.

John Lasseter and Randy Newman at The Princess and the Frog's premiere

Along with the songs, there’s a surprisingly generous dash of score (just over half an hour of it, in fact).  Having scored so many Pixar animations in a reasonably similar way, Newman’s approach here comes as no surprise – it’s certainly cut from the same cloth – but given the nature of the film, this time it’s not all madcap fun and games, he actually gets the chance to slow down a little this time; and there’s some really lovely romantic music here.  There’s a strong thematic content here (much drawn from the song melodies) and a lovely, relaxed feel.

Particularly impressive is “Tiana’s Bad Dream”, featuring a heartmelting flute solo simply glowing with classic americana.  Gorgeous!  And the finale, “This is Gonna Be Good”, lives up to its name in some style – it’s a rousing way to end the album.  Really, the whole thing’s a delight – great songs, lovely score – easily the classiest and most impressive score for an animated film in quite a while.  It goes without saying that if you didn’t like Newman’s earlier scores for animations then you’d be better off staying clear but this is one of his best for the medium.  A great pre-Christmas treat!  ****

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