Monday, January 04, 2010
Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog
I took my niece to see Disney's The Princess and the Frog as part of her Christmas present last week and I have finally gotten the opportunity and time to put my thoughts on the movie down as it were. The Princess and the Frog marks Disney's return to its roots in traditional 2D animation and the film really hearkens back to Disney's early 90's run of classically animated pictures. Almost to a fault to be honest.
The Princess and the Frog is a retelling of the classic fairy tale of a Prince who had been turned into a frog by an evil witch, until a kiss from a Princess can reverse the spell. In this take, the film is set in Louisiana during the 1920's and really tries to add that Creole flavor to the picture. It stars Tiana (Anika Noni Rose)as a hard working, no time for nonsense girl whose dream it is to open her own restaurant. She meets lazy Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos), a visiting noble in search of a rich bride to refill his sagging coffers as his playboy lifestyle has gotten him cut off. Naveen, mistakenly assuming Tiana is a Princess at a costume ball, convinces Tiana to kiss him to reverse the spell.
What the old fairy tale adage doesn't say is that if a Frog prince kisses someone who is not a Pricess, they become a Frog too. The duo must then journey across the Louisiana bayou to meet elderly voodoo queen Mama Odie with the help of some colorful friends, Ray a slightly crazy firefly, and Louis, a jazz loving alligator. Attempting to prevent them from reversing the spell that was worked on Naveen is Dr. Facilier, or the Shadowman, voiced wonderfully by Keith David, an evil Witch Doctor who wants his man to marry Naveen's real rich princess, Tiana's friend Charlotte, the Princess of the festival.
This is Disney's first 2D musical film since 1998's Mulan. You can really see the growth and explosiveness of traditional animation at the time, as well as the hand of new Disney CEO John Lassiter of Pixar fame, who really lets the animation team try some new techniques. The animation is of course top notch. They really experiment with color and light techniques that I have never seen before, evening changing animation styles during some of the musical set pieces. Disney does a wonderful job as well of making characters look like their race. So much is made of this being Disney's first attempt at having an African American leading character in an animated movie, and they really differentiate the characters, not letting them fall into a stereotype. The capture the beauty and exoticism of each character. the animation is really a breath of fresh air, especially considering that man y kids these days may not have even SEEN a 2D movie.
The music is by Randy Newman, a staple of Pixar's Toy Story movies, and here he really brings a variety of flavors to the song choices. From the traditional ballads you have come to expect from these types of movies, to the deep jazz influence that permeates other songs, it has a very unique vocal signature when compared to other films in Disney' past. While arguably not as catchy as some of Disney's greatest hits, the changing animation styles really help carry the songs. Randy Newman has a very particular song style, and that does not always necessarily translate when other people sing his songs. Still they are not bad songs, just not as catchy as works from The Lion King or the Little Mermaid.
Still the movie does fall victim to a few foibles of its own. The movie has a heavy social consciousness in its undertone. Pushing the wholesome themes of hard work and perseverance almost to the point of overload. Naveen sings of having dated multiple women and is almost unsympathetic in his unwillingness to avoid work. there are even times when Tiana comes across and humorless and taciturn as well. In the end it's merely a veil to help show each characters growth at the end of the film, but it comes across as a bit forced early on. There is also some quirky stereotyping in Ray, the firefly, which draws on the backwoods hillbilly idea that many people still carry about the deep south. For the most part I don't think children will pick up on these things, but as they grow older, or as you watch it, there are some undercurrents there. Once again, you could also view this as a slight maturation on Disney's part, a willingness to try to bring some edge to what is usually a very vanilla medium, though i tend to think that most of it is very unintentional.
My biggest complaint about the film is that outside of the animation, its nearly the same film that Disney has churned out before. As the poster child for the rebirth of traditional animation, it tries so hard to be the Disney films of old, that it has bypassed the things that have made so many modern animated movies do so well, appeal to children of all ages. Movies like Shrek, Madagascar, and especially the Pixar films, really try to put some things in the movies for adults to enjoy, and I felt that this was an area they did not focus on. Part of the rewatchabilty and even the box office success, is that older audiences want to see what these animated features have to offer, because they have done such a wonderful job of appealing to all ages, and not in the sense of the word being strictly kid friendly. Just because a film is rated G, doesn't mean it can't resonate with outside of that range.
The bottom line is this. If you are a fan of the Disney films of eh 90's, this is a perfect addition to the library. It does not break any new ground or change the mold of 2D movies, it does offer a nice opening entry for the resurgence of traditional animation, of which I would like to see more. The animation itself IS the highlight of the film, its beautiful and inspiring in ways that haven't been seen in years. The downside is that the script and songs are merely okay, highlighted solely by David Keith's menacing Shadowman. There have been far better animated films this year, particularly the wonderful Up and the equally stunning Coraline, but this does bode a nice start to a return to an animation style that I have sorely missed.
End of Line.