In December of 2009, the final traditionally cel-animated Disney Princess movie was released into theaters. And over the past decade, The Princess and the Frog has become a favorite among animation fans for its memorable characters, catchy songs, and gorgeously rendered New Orleans locales.
This past Thursday night at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented a 10th Anniversary celebration of The Princess and the Frog with the film’s cast and creative team as part of its Marc Davis Celebration of Animation series. The event opened with the Kenny Sara & The Sounds of New Orleans jazz band (straight from Disneyland Resort’s Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen restaurant) who performed a selections of toe-tapping numbers, closing with “Down in New Orleans” with vocals by the voice of Tiana herself, Anika Noni Rose.
— LaughingPlace.com (@laughing_place) September 6, 2019
Present for the pre-screening discussion panel were The Princess and the Frog co-director Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Moana), producer Peter Del Vecho (Frozen), writer Rob Edwards (Treasure Planet), legendary composer and songwriter Randy Newman (Toy Story), animator Bruce W. Smith (The Proud Family), visual effects artist Marlon West (Atlantis: The Lost Empire), alongside cast members Keith David (Dr. Facilier), Jenifer Lewis (Mama Odie), Michael-Leon Wooley (Louis), and of course Anika Noni Rose (Tiana).
Our moderator for the evening was actress Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild), who professed her undying love for The Princess and The Frog, recalling that she was merely six years old when the movie first hit theaters. Wallis seemed genuinely star-struck and having the opportunity to sit next to Anika Noni Rose and ask questions of the team that brought the animated world of New Orleans to life for Disney ten years ago.
The Q&A went down the line of talent as each contributor recollected how they came to be involved with The Princess and The Frog, their memories of the production process, and even their favorite spots to eat in New Orleans. Ron Clements told the audience about how Anika Noni Rose was only the second person to audition for the Tiana, but he and fellow co-director John Musker knew immediately how perfectly she would inhabit the role. “Never once did I feel I was not where I was supposed to be. Never once did I feel like this girl was not me. I felt like I knew her from the moment I read the sides,” said Rose in response.
Michael-Leon Wooley remembered how it was Randy Newman who informed him that he had been cast as Louis the alligator, while the two were working together on a demo in a New York recording studio. Newman also brought down the house with his no-holds-barred anecdotes about composing the songs for the film, lamenting with tongue in cheek that they weren’t big hits like the musical numbers from Frozen.
But the real star of the show Thursday night was the larger-than-life Jenifer Lewis, who told us how she modeled the voice of Mama Odie after African American stand-up comedian Moms Mabley. She also revealed how her first audition for The Princess and the Frog was for the part of Eudora, played in the movie by Oprah Winfrey, but she elected to go up for Mama Odie because “There’s nothing sweet about my voice!”
Disney’s The Princess and The Frog celebrates its tenth anniversary on December 11, 2019.
Mike has been fascinated by theme parks and Disney all his life. He has worked in the entertainment journalism field since 2015, after spending a decade as a film projectionist at one of Hollywood’s most prestigious movie theaters. He resides in Burbank, California with his wife and cat.