I thought the film had some good ideas, but it was a structural mess. I was bored to tears for the first two thirds of the film.
It was a huge mistake to hold off on development of key characters until later in the film. Our villain, for two thirds of the film, is nothing but a hollow obstacle. We don't know his motives, his story, or his character, just that he looks pretty mean. Once we find out he has a debt to pay, he becomes really interesting, and a great counter to our hero. He's the embodiment of taking the easy road, where as Tiana is the embodiment of hard work. Even the fact that his main conflict is debt is perfectly aligned with Tiana. The problem is that two minutes after he becomes a compelling character, POOF, he's gone, and we're left to wonder why they didn't tell us sooner so we could like him for the whole film.
Prince Naveens introduction comes in the middle of a song, so we don't find out who he is or where he's from, just that he likes playing his mandolin and dancing around a lot. And when he ends up getting suckered into becoming a frog (by a character whose only defining trait is that he LOOKS EVIL) it makes him look like an even bigger idiot. This is who our heroine is supposed to fall in love with? How can it be a believable romance if you don't let the audience fall in love with him first? And did he really need to be a prince from some random far-off country that we never see? I feel like if he had been just another guy off the street it would have been far more compelling, or at least more believable. Our character doesn't need to become a 'real' princess for it to be a princess film, and for most girls princes are just the men they fall in love with, not sons of royalty.
My other huge problem is that most of the plot and character development is delivered through telling and not showing, which likely makes the film very confusing for young viewers. We don't see the death of the father, which should be a huge turning point for Tiana as a character. Instead we're just told about it in casual conversation. We don't see where Naveen comes from, or his royal family. We're just told that he's a prince, that he's from some foreign land, and that he's visiting New Orleans for some reason.
One of the main conflicts for Tiana is losing the property for her restaurant because she might not be able to pay the mortgage, and we're told this at a costume party by two bankers who are dressed in a horse costume. This is an extremely complicated idea demonstrated in a way that gives us no visual cues. We may as well be reading the script. I mean, come on, they're at a COSTUME PARTY. You could have them dressed as ANYTHING that may give us a clue as to the conflict! It's scenes like this that tell me there is a definite focus on the craft and not the story. They're more concerned with creating a 2D film than a great cinematic experience.
I mean really, when it comes down to it, even the environments were boring. The swamp was plain and drab, especially compared to something like The Rescuers. New Orleans felt lifeless and unfocused. They even had a chance to really let the setting sing in the Mardi Gras scene, but instead we get three quick shots of the parade and then we're forced into a back alley. Not even a wide shot of the spectacle!
So because we're stuck with characters we know nothing about, in an environment that feels lifeless and hollow, with a conflict that's confusing and not clearly (or visually) defined, most of the movie ends up being a bore. Honestly, the most interesting character is Ray, because he's clearly defined from the very beginning, and his wants are not only simple, but expressed visually. In fact, his wants are ONLY expressed visually, and they're still far more clear than the other characters. And the strongest scene of the film is the one where Facilier shows Tiana her restaurant, because it's told with the visuals first and the dialogue second.
Once the last third of the film kicks into gear, especially the confrontation between Tiana and Facilier, I feel like it finds its legs. But really, it's too little too late.
Needless to say I was pretty disappointed, especially after Bolt, which was totally fantastic, despite its weak concept.