You might be surprised to find a review of the latest Disney animation here on the LondonJazz blog, but this movie features a jazz-inspired soundtrack written and conducted by Randy Newman. He has written seven original songs, all infused with a New Orleans vibe in a range of styles including traditional jazz, gospel, and Cajun zydeco. Singer/pianist Dr John sings on “Down in New Orleans”, and trumpeter Terence Blanchard solos on behalf of his horn-blowing animated alter ego Louis the Alligator on “When We’re Human” and “Ma Belle Evangeline”. Cajun accordionist Terrance Simien can be found on “Gonna Take You There”.
While the soundtrack CD is an enjoyable listen, the songs work even better in the context of the film, bouncing out of the speakers with shuffling rhythms, punchy brass and rolling piano. Randy Newman is well known for his hit “Short People”, but he also wrote “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” for Toy Story and won an Oscar for Monsters Inc. He has written many film scores and has a long songwriting career going back to the 1960s. He is known for his pithy, ironic lyrics and often acute political observation. He also has a long association with Louisiana, living there or spending summers there as a boy – check out “Kingfish” and “Louisiana 1927” on Spotify or Youtube if you have a chance. It’s hard to imagine a songwriter better equipped to mix New Orleans ambience with Disney humour and story telling.
This film marks a return to the hand-drawn animated musicals that are the backbone of the Disney back catalogue, being directed by Ron Clements and John Musker, who were responsible for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. They’ve managed to give the movie a classic look – something of a homage to the architecture of New Orleans and the mysterious scenery of the bayous – and it is certainly visually beautiful. The original Brothers Grimm’s “The Frog Prince” is removed to the 1920s, with a few unexpected twists and turns in the story, not least because our heroine is not a princess but a waitress who dreams of owning her own restaurant. It is fast paced, humourous and fun, and a little dark and scary in some places – small children may well be upset by the evil Doctor Facilier.
I took my two ultra-cool daughters with me, expecting them to declare it too childish or boring, but my 13-year old enjoyed it and my eleven year old thought it was brilliant. It’s an old-style family movie with a catchy soundtrack you’ll be singing all the way home.
In cinemas nationwide from February 5th