THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG (2009)
Featuring the voices of Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis, Ritchie Montgomery, Jennifer Cody, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings, Peter Bartlett, Terrence Howard, Elizabeth M. Dampier, Breanna Brooks, Emeril Lagasse, Randy Newman and Oprah Winfrey.
Written by Ron Clements, Rob Edwards, Greg Erb, John Musker, and Jason Oremland.
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker.
Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. 97 minutes. Rated G.
As much as I respect Pixar and their on-going string of high-quality computer animated films, I’ve got to admit that I have been missing some old school paint and ink animation. Not the cheesy stuff of Saturday morning cartoons and made-for-video cheapies, I mean the real thing – classical animation of a grand scale made for the cinematic enjoyment of children of all ages.
For as much as computer animation may be more advanced, more multi-dimensional and able to create more detail, it will never, ever capture the vividness and warmth of classic drawing. Also, hand animated film makes human beings look much better – for all their quality, computer animators still haven’t mastered making people look the least bit lifelike.
Therefore, it is with open arms that the world should welcome The Princess and the Frog – the return of a classically-styled traditional Disney animation.
No, The Princess and the Frog does not quite live up to such Mouse House classics as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast, but it is still a mostly good film and an argument for the continued relevance of hand-made animation as an art form.
In order to reignite the 2-D animation, Disney brought back Ron Clements and John Musker, who had revived the studio’s stale animation arm once before with the late-80s-early 90s films The Little Mermaid and Aladdin.
However, unfortunately, Alan Menken, the songwriter for those films (and more recently another princess film – Enchanted)is not on board here and the soundtrack to The Princess and the Frog is mostly rather forgettable, lacking a single song with the immediate power of “Under the Sea,” “Part of Your World,” “A Whole New World” or “Prince Ali.”
In fact, truthfully the storyline is also a letdown compared to those classics. While The Princess and the Frog is enjoyable, it is more on the level of such middling Disney cartoons as Mulan and The Emperor’s New Groove.
Truth is the plotline is kind of a bastardization of those two films. From Mulan it has a woman forced to act as something she is not in order to make it in a man’s world. From Emperor it borrows the idea of a shallow royal who is magically transformed into an animal.
Much has been made of the fact that Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) – the princess of the title – is Disney’s first animated African American heroine. It is a nice move, and it also fits the film’s New Orleans setting well – however, it is hard to get too worked up about this advancement because the character spends probably 2/3 of the film as an amphibian. (Technically, I suppose, she is also Disney’s first animated green heroine.)
Yes, like many Disney animated fables, it is loosely based on a fairy tale, but twists the story. Here, when the princess kisses the frog, instead of him turning into a handsome prince, she is also transformed into a frog. (Apologies if that seems like a spoiler to anyone out there, however that little plot point has been prominently shown in the movie’s ads for months, so I’m assuming you all know about it by now.)
This allows the movie to bring in a whole bunch of the typical Disney animal sidekicks, including a trumpet playing crocodile and a Cajun snaggle-toothed lightning bug.
While those characters are funny and the arguing mystical frogs are amusing, the film is much more interesting in the early and late going when the main characters are actual humans in 1940s New Orleans. These early (and a few later) scenes are vibrantly colorful and have wonderful jazz-era touches in the animation which are much more intriguing than the long periods in which the main characters are lost in a swamp.
Another slight problem is that Tiana – a strong, independent young waitress who dreams of opening her own restaurant – seems like she could find a much more suitable Prince Charming than Naveen, who is lazy, shallow, and broke. A title and a love for jazz seems to be the only thing he really brings to the relationship for much of the film.
Still, even if the movie is far from perfect, I hope that The Princess and the Frog becomes a huge hit. Computer animation is wonderful and all, but there should be a place in the show business world for real animation – and hopefully this film will help to reopen that door.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 30, 2009.