Posted by: Alan | February 28, 2010

Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog

Director: Ron Clements, John Musker

Writer: Ron Clements, John Musker, Rob Edwards

Starring: Anike Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Jim Cummings, John Goodman

Rating: 

I’m sure just about everyone knows the story behind this picture by now. Disney, after acquisition of Pixar, shut down their 2-D studio and focused on making 3-D movies which gave us such classics as Bolt, Meet the Robinsons, and Chicken Little. Of course, they also had Pixar there to help them make GOOD animated feature films still, so the company was doing fine for itself. Many people however, myself included, longed for the ‘golden years’ of Disney animation when we got so many wonderful films that many hold so dear to their hearts (Aladdin, Little Mermaid, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, etc). So when Disney announced that they would be making a new feature using the classic hand-drawn style of animation, it was exciting! Not only that, but they were returning to the ‘Disney fairy tale’ format and Ron Clements and John Musker (who wrote/directed Aladdin and The Little Mermaid) would return! It will no doubt be another classic right?

I admit I was a little leery coming into this film, as I was not a fan of the recent non-Pixar Disney films/franchises. I didn’t really know much about the story of the film, except for the fact that it was partially based on the The Frog Prince fairy tale and more accurately E.D. Baker’s The Frog Princess. I actually was pretty surprised when a lot of the plot elements fell into place, but that’s not to say it was incredibly original. It is a Disney film, after all, and let’s be honest: It’s pretty predictable. That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable however, and I felt that the majority of the film was actually very entertaining and completely in the spirit of the Golden Age Disney cartoons.

So here’s the plot in a nutshell: Tiana attends a ball where her childhood friend Lottie intends to find her prince. Unfortunately an evil voodoo magician named Dr. Facilier has transformed the prince into a frog and made his servant look like the prince, to get the prince’s money. Tiana finds the Frog Prince and kisses him (having read the Frog Prince story), but instead of turning him back, she turns into a frog herself! Now they have to find the good voodoo doctor Mama Odie to help them transform back and help Lottie and stop Dr. Facilier’s plan.

Overall, the movie is very entertaining and visually stunning. The classic Disney style of a ‘broadway musical’ is back, and while only a couple of the songs are really memorable (namely the Oscar nominated ‘Almost There’ and the villainous song ‘Friends on the Other Side’) it’s lovely to see them returning to this winning format. Randy Newman is the one responsible for the songs, and as he has such a distinct style of songwriting, I was surprised that only a couple of the songs really felt ‘Newman-esque.’ I don’t see any of these songs becoming as well known as, say, A Whole New World or Under the Sea, but there’s some great stuff here and a great return to form by Disney.

The characters are not too memorable, with the exception of the villainous Dr. Facilier. Disney’s been known for having some great villains and this is a great addition to that established canon. Voiced by Keith David, who you may know as The Arbiter from the Halo series, or Goliath from Disney’s own Gargoyles cartoon. He does a wonderful job with this role, and the animators have called him a ‘lovechild’ between Cruella De Ville and Captain Hook. The main characters are all pretty stock characters, while Tiana is a decent addition to the Disney Princesses, there’s nothing too amazing about her. And the prince is actually rather annoying at first. He becomes less so, but I never really bought his transformation from rich snooty prince to genuinely caring person. Then there’s the trumpet playing Louis, clearly an homage to Louis Armstrong, who I thought would be the ‘comic relief’ stock character at first. But then a second (!) character who seemed to fit that bill was introduced in the form of a cajun talking firefly. I didn’t really mind these characters per se, I felt there was more truth to their characters than most ‘comic relief’ ones, and I understand kids will love them. But they didn’t really do as much for me as I would have liked.

I have to say, that after having seen only 3-D computer animated films coming out of both Disney and Dreamworks for so long, it’s incredibly refreshing to see a 2-D hand-drawn style of animation again. And the visuals in this film are wonderful and truly a feast for the eyes. I appreciate and love all the advances they’ve made in animation but there’s something to be said about this style of animation and the history behind it. When Disney announced it’s closure of the 2-D studio it was a big disappointment for me. This film has been said as not a typical kind of film to happen, but hopefully due to its success and critical praise we’ll see more hand-drawn films released soon.

In the end, The Princess and the Frog is a fun if unmemorable effort from Disney, and the question now becomes if they can keep it up and perhaps bring in a second Golden Age. I won’t be holding my breath, but I’ll look forward to another hand-drawn film if it gets released anytime soon.

-Alan

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Responses

  1. I felt the same way going in to this film; a bit skeptical, but with a sprinkling of hope. I was worried that this “fairy tale” didn’t have enough substance to carry a feature film. I mostly enjoyed the movie, I felt it was pretty forgettable as a whole.

    I appreciated the feminist undertones, and felt Disney tried to present some strong female characters. For me the most interesting character was Charlotte, the rich best friend. She was a fantastic, larger-than life supporting character, whereas the others seemed forced. Like you could tell how hard Disney was trying to make you love them.

    It felt like Disney was trying too hard to do too many things: be diverse, and culturally sensitive, yet true to the “classic” Disney style, but socially relevant to new different generation…

    I wonder whether the decision to do this particular story came before the decision to go back to 2D animation, or after?

  2. Whoops. Next time I will edit my comments for grammar errors before posting them.

  3. I would also just like to make mention of Disney’s partnership with Studio Ghibli, Hiyao Miyazaki’s studio who, along with Pixar, are consistently making better animated films than the Disney studio has in over a decade.

    Sumptuous 2D visuals? Check out Ponyo!


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