The Princess and the Frog Review
I write this on an unfortunate, but perhaps a bit apropos day. Roy E. Disney, Walt’s nephew and likely the keystone to restoring Disney Animation to its former glory, twice, has passed away at the age of 79 from cancer. His diligence and passion for the company and Walt’s dream made it possible to keep Disney Pictures from being what Roy likened to a real estate company that happened to be in the movie business. Without him, The Princess and the Frog may never have been made under John Lasseter’s guiding hand.
So thank you Roy. Rest in peace. Like your uncle, your legacy won’t soon be forgotten.
All hail the return of the Disney 2D animated film! Not only has the Disney Princess tradition been rejuvenated, but the quality that Disney Animation was synonymous with is undeniably back. A rich, colorful 1920’s era New Orleans becomes the canvas for a Jazz fueled twist on the old fairy tale, The Frog Prince. Instead of a lesson in judging a book by its cover, the story takes a detour, turning the princess into a frog as well and sending both amphibians on an adventure through the swamps to break the Voodoo hex and learn to recognize what they need from life, not just what they want.
Jazz music has been pretty well represented by Disney over the years, but The Princess and the Frog has a flavor that stands out, blending just a hint of Rock & Roll with the moral-infused lyrics of a typical Disney musical that conjures memories of Aladdin or The Little Mermaid and for good reason. Ron Clements and John Musker helmed those two as well. True, Randy Newman had a hand in these new songs as well, but these catchy refrains are classic Clements/Musker riffs that may not have you starting a sing-a-along, but should get your toes tapping.
The same can be said for the visuals. Hand drawn 2 dimensions never looked this good. The opening shot of New Orleans in particular impressed me greatly. During more fanciful numbers, bright pinks, deep greens and bold purples fill the screen in keeping with Mardi Gras-like flavor. Some scenes might be a little too intense for younger kids. Two in particular, both involving Dr. Facilier the Shadow Man and his Voodoo friends on “the other side” were downright creepy (and just a little reminiscent of the elephant graveyard scene from The Lion King).
The story renders itself familiar but fresh at the same time. At no point can you really say you know what’s going to happen next since it isn’t truly the fairy tale we all grew up with. It still has your talking animals (frogs, crocs, lightning bugs), it’s got your fairy godmother (a swamp-dwelling, blind witch-doctress) and a down on their luck, but hard-working and ambitious protagonist. What I found a little disjointed was the villain. The Shadow Man seemed pretty content using Voodoo to finagle tourists out of their cash only to target this visiting Prince in order to take over the city. Sorry, but that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It has something to do with sending souls to “the other side” but his sudden motivation and grandiose plans seemed just a hint tacked on in order to propel the story faster.
There IS some controversy over the film though, which is unfortunate but doesn’t seem to be standing in the way of its success. Equal rights activists are harshing on the movie’s African American princess, a first for Disney. The attacks come because she starts out basically poor. As a child, her mother works as a seamstress for a rich (white) sugar baron. Why these activists have their panties in a bunch is beyond me. In fact, I think the filmmakers handled the issue incredibly well. At no point does race become an issue one way or another. Princess Tiana and the baron’s spoiled, but genuinely sympathetic daughter are best friends. The only iffy character with regard to stereotypes was Ray; a back-woods, toothy firefly sidekick. We’re talking about a firefly though and lines were never crossed like, let’s say, Transformers 2 did with their ghetto-bot twins.
The Princess and the Frog is an excellent rebirth to Disney’s traditional animation reputation and should be used as a benchmark going forward. Its individual characters may not hold up as strongly as a certain street-rat and its songs may not show up in karaoke bars as often as a certain finned red-head’s do, but it deserves a spot on your holiday film-going calendar this year and certainly your DVD shelf in a few months. Don’t be surprised to see a few Oscar nods come March. I’m going with Best Animated (next to Pixar’s Up) and Best Original Song (“Dig a Little Deeper” or “Never Knew I Needed”). A good laugh, a little scare, a lot of heart and a whole bunch of fun.