It was announced by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner that Disney’s Home on the Range would be the companies last hand-drawn animated feature film due to the rise of CGI animated movies. It was inevitable the end was coming with such flops as Brother Bear and Treasure Planet and such CGI blockbusters as Disney / Pixar’s Finding Nemo and Monsters Inc. along with other hits as Dreamworks Shrek. Thankfully a very dedicated and true Disney spirit that stood for quality (John Lasseter) was promoted to chief creative officer of both Pixar and Walt Disney Animated Studios. Lasseter pushes for great stories told with heart and standards Disney has been held up to for so many years allowing for a return toward traditional 2D animation. Finally, after many revisions, Disney has gallantly restored its rightful place as a king in animation. December 11th, 2009 marks the revival of Disney animation with the opening of Walt Disney Animation Studios 46th traditional animated feature The Princess and the Frog.
I’m sure most of you don’t really care. What you probably care about is whether or not The Princess and the Frog holds up to the Disney classics everyone has grown up to love. The Princess and the Frog is held up to every standard created with past Disney classic animated features and shall hold up to the testament of time.
I was extremely cautious going into this film believing there is no chance Disney will be able to live up to such wonderful films like The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Everything about this film screams disaster with stereotypical sounding voice work and a story told differently with gimmicky twists. However, the movie is actually based off a novel called “The Princess Frog” and The Grimm brothers’ “The Frog Prince”, but the title was changed to The Princess and the Frog due to ‘The Frog Princess’ being an old racial slur. This is a story that’s a tad satirical toward past classic tales similar to the movie Enchanted yet finds it own original place that should help make it an instant classic.
From directors John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, Little Mermaid and Hercules), The Princess and the Frog tells the story of a lovely teenage girl Tiana (ANIKA NONI ROSE) living in New Orleans of the early 1920’s with a dream of someday owning her very own restaurant, Tiana’s Place. After the passing of her father, yes another Disney story with only one parent, Tiana’s dream seems unreachable without having enough money to fix up an old falling apart building. Tiana is still determined and hopes that her obnoxiously spoiled diva yet hysterically funny of a best friend Charlotte le Bouff (JENNIFER CODY) will marry Prince Naveen of Maldonia (BRUCE CAMPOS) to help pay to fix up the old hole in the wall.
The prince is however in town to strike a deal with a shady voodoo doctor, our villain of the story, voiced by KEITH DAVID. When the deal goes wrong, the prince is turned into a frog. The prince attempts to become human again by a kiss on the lips with Tiana due to some confusion with a promise to her that he will pay for her restaurant. That kiss takes an unexpected turn causing Tiana to turn into a frog herself where the insane adventures begin on their quest to become human again.
The two frog’s wild and sometimes ludicrous journey is filled with many outrageous obstacles to get where they are headed. Okay, this is something seen in countless movies time and time again, but it doesn’t matter how many movies this takes place in as long as the journey justifies the outcome and we found the characters progressing in the story. Fortunately, The Princess and the Frog manages to pull it off. Their adventure will take them through the mystical bayous of Louisiana to the banks of the Mississippi and back to the French Quarter for Mardi Gras with a little bit of ageless humor and buoyantly cheerful music. Along their journey the Prince and Tiana learn about one another as they get help by a 197-year-old priestess, a hopeless romantic Cajun firefly cleverly named Ray, and a trumpet-playing alligator to help their coming of age story teaching them what they want isn’t what they need.
This is a very charming tale with fantastic music that’s actually a nice change from the typical Disney cheesy sing-a-longs from the past. Instead, the audience is treated to high-energy original themed music very fitting to the time period and setting of the film. It’s very jazzy and upbeat with a sense of soul and gospel; never too much of one way or another allowing the music to appeal to a broader audience. There are the traditional and needed slower songs to share emotion from Tiana’s character and dark somewhat scary music, yet strangely more comically big band jazz music to accompany the villains twisted moments.
The entire film is absolutely gorgeous, just magnificent; truly whimsical when appropriate and lush and colorful at other times. The opening sequence has the great multipane camera shots allowing for multiple background layers and shots zooming in and through trees. The rays of sun sparkle to an almost gold shine lighting up the trees in each shot. Music quickly begins with a musical score by Randy Newman giving it a warm feel to the movie similar to Toy Story or Monsters Inc. which is fine except I have watched too many satires making fun of how he sings ruining it for me a little. Nonetheless, the majority of the time his music is faintly in the background and doesn’t interfere.
I was also nervous about Tiana’s and many other characters stereotypical dialect or accent. From the previews I was a little annoyed by the typical southern black person accent but luckily after a couple minutes of dialogue it begins to mesh well with setting not feeling pushed. Along with an excellent choice for Tiana and Bruce Campos for Prince Naveen, the rest of the voice cast was seemless. There was nothing remarkable, but such characters like Tiana’s friend Charlotte add a great deal to the movie with a very memorable character and several laugh-out-loud “physical” animated comedy moments.
Her rich father who owns sugar mills is voiced by the talented JOHN GOODMAN and actually applies an accent to his voice that tricked me at first into believing it may have been someone else. Goodman has a powerful voice and always brings an excellent addition to a film. All the characters seemed unique and refreshing for a Disney film. I enjoyed all of them including Ray, a redneck like firefly with two remaining teeth. He has some great lines and I hope he’s a character that doesn’t get lost in the Disney archive.
The Princess and the Frog brings a new level to an animated Disney film. It follows more along the lines of Pixar with story and heart and has the charm of the Disney films of the 50’s and early 90’s. It’s finally a film that has an organic feel to it making everything seem natural and not contemporary like most new CGI films of the 2000’s. The film still follows a classic formula set by Disney. Toward the beginning is a Shag styling scene in much remembrance of scenes like “Just Want to be King” in The Lion King or the simplistic less realistic stylized song numbers like “You Got A Friend In Me” in Aladdin or “Be Our Guest” in Beauty and the Beast. There always seem to be one or two of these abstract scenes in almost every one of Disney new animated musicals. This keeps the audience realizing you are watching a dream or an outlandish production number that wouldn’t be realistic in the setting or tone of the rest of the film.
This is a momentous occasion of Disney with the introduction of their first African-American princess that will sure to bring a great new character and role model for young African-American girls to look up to. I’m sure the merchandise will fly off the shelves!
You can argue the Americanization of Disney stories and other factors that have been argued about Disney films for the past 50 to 60 decades, but the point is that this movie has everything the classics have had that lead them to such success. It will surly bring joy to children in theaters across the nation. It’s a throwback to old fairytales the parents grew up with giving plenty enjoyment and new memories for families. I anticipate this to be highly successful not just now, but over the course of the future too. Princess Tiana is now in the Disney Princess line up and I doubt she’s going anywhere.
There really wasn’t anything that let me down with this film except for the lack of reason for the love story to really exist. I say this often, but there was no justification for our leading characters to fall in LOVE so quick. I would have liked to see more in this department as it is a vital part of the moral of the story. Then again, don’t all Disney stories have flaws in them? No excuses though. I just know that everyone in the theater really appeared to enjoy themselves and the children were laughing and paying attention. I welcome The Princess and the Frog to the Disney family.