The Princess and the Frog: JAMMIN’ WITH THE BIG BOYS~

by

Let’s face it, when people think of animation, they don’t think of Akira or obscure Czech stop-motion animators or even My Neighbor Totoro. They think Disney. And with good reason! Classic Disney animated features such as Fantasia, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty are among the most technically accomplished and beloved animated movies ever made. Hell, there was even a bit of a renaissance in the late 80s and early 90s when Disney was spurting out movies like The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. (Can we include The Great Mouse Detective in that, too? {:3) But the momentum couldn’t last, as the features started to become pretentious and a drag (Pocahontas), adapted from sources that were increasingly incompatible with Disney’s values and audience (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) and eventually abandoning their musical roots (Atlantis: The Lost Empire). When the best you can come up with is Roseanne as a cow (the most modest creative leap I’ve ever seen), perhaps it is best to just tear it all down and start anew. And that’s exactly what Disney did, shutting down their fabled 2D animation studios in favor of computer-generated animation features. Unfortunately, it seems the stagnation and creative bankruptcy went deeper than just the medium of animation, because I’ve hardly heard any recommendations from people I trust for Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons or Bolt.

Thank god that Disney had partnered up with Pixar, eventually buying them up. Pixar honcho John Lasseter was wisely put in charge of Disney’s animation studio and mandated a return to the stuff that Disney was known for and actually good at. And it would star a black characterWAIT WHAT

sick how they're promoting bestiality

The Princess and the Frog distinguishes itself immediately by immersing itself in the jazzy 1920s down in New Orleans. Tiana is a serious-minded, driven young woman who works three jobs just so she can save up enough money to put a down payment on a building that she plans on turning into a restaurant in an attempt to fulfill her and her deceased father’s dream. Unfortunately, the odds seem stacked against her, considering she’s a working-class African-American in the South. She’s inexplicably good friends with a spoiled white girl, Charlotte, who admires her cooking talents and hires her to cater a costume ball where she hopes to woo a visiting prince. This gives Tiana just enough money to bid on a ratty old building, but she finds out later that day that she was immediately outbid and her dreams are shattered.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned visiting prince, Naveen of Maldonia (?), has seen better days. A carefree lothario, he’s recently been cut off by his parents for his free-wheeling partying ways and booked it to New Orleans hoping to marry a rich girl and get back into money so he can continue the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. He makes the mistake of trusting Dr. Facilier, a shady voodoo conman who transforms him into a frog and makes another one when he confuses Tiana for a princess due to her costume at the ball and gets her to kiss him, thinking it will break the spell like in the stories. Instead, it only manages to make things worse and the mismatched pair teams up with a jazz-loving gator and a lovestruck firefly in order to try to restore things to normal before Dr. Facilier steals all the souls in New Orleans or whatever.

WUT

As you can probably guess, Naveen and Tiana start out not really caring for each other. Naveen’s a preening douchebag and Tiana is, well, a totally dull stick in the mud who can take care of herself thank you very much and has no need of a lazy prince. Yet somehow (magically!), the two end up growing closer and live happily ever after. You already knew that. C’mon, this is Disney. Ariel ended up becoming human instead of turning into sea foam. Everyone generally kept their lives at the end of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They’re not going to turn The Princess and the Frog into a tragedy of Lars von Trier-proportions.

No witty caption here!

But hey, that just means that this is a totally family-friendly movie. And if you’re not a kid anymore, and can look past all the Disney trappings that are a manner of course, you’ll probably enjoy yourself! Directed by the same guys behind Aladdin, this movie is definitely in the same vein. There’s quite a bit of Aladdin in Naveen and Jasmine in Tiana. There’s less of a melodramatic angle from movies like Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King, with more of an emphasis on comedy and adventure. And the story seems to have been well-considered, too! There aren’t any frenzied, exhausting, useless action sequences, there aren’t any cringe-inducing attempts at pop culture humor that’ll be outdated by the home video release and if there were any instances of potty humor, they were so mild as to be forgotten. As a kids’ movie, it’s just about perfectly balanced (take notes, Ghibli!) and even a big kid like me had quite a bit of fun.

TOPSY, TURVY!

At least some of it had to do with the fact that the ensemble works well together. The vain, lazy Naveen is a charming jerk who in less capable hands would’ve either been a bland romantic interest or an unlikable sociopath. Louis, the bubbly jazz gator, is a gas and steals most of the scenes he gets featured in. Tiana, unfortunately, is probably the most boring member of the cast. Saddled with being the straight man to the crazy characters that surround her, it’s very easy to just get tired of her single-track mind and stubborn practicality. Yeah, the whole point is that she starts out a career-driven bore who’s confused her occupational goals for what really matters in life. And that’s an important lesson for kids to learn. But Tiana’s constantly bringing down the energy whenever the film focuses on her. Although none of the other people in The Princess and the Frog are very three-dimensional, at least they’re entertaining in some other way. Tiana may be the first black Disney Princess, but she’s stiff competition for the blandest. The other character, Ray the firefly… hoo boy. When I saw him in early teasers for the film, the smile got wiped right off my face. Ray’s a dopey-faced Cajun redneck with missing teeth and an accent so thick it’ll make you crave some gumbo. His design is appalling and his voice grating, and I was totally expecting to hate him and for him to drag the entire production down with him… but he doesn’t! They take enough care with his personality that he never veers too harshly into an ethnic stereotype and is probably the emotional heart of the film. Thank god he wasn’t another Jar Jar.

DERP

But apart from the story and characters, things still hold together very strongly. The animation is as graceful and full of character as you’d expect a Disney feature to be. Characters are expressive, move and jump around and look good doing it. Being in New Orleans, there’s a lot of great color and they obviously did a lot of pre-production to get the look of the era correct. The modern side of Disney’s animation techniques come into play mostly during Dr. Facilier’s number, which features a lot of spooky computer-enhanced effects that looked amazing. I really can’t wait for this movie to hit video so I can snag it on Blu-Ray. The whole visual presentation brings with it a seemingly renewed passion for animation, which can be evidenced in just how much love was put into every corner of the film. Hell, the entire movie even changes art styles during Tiana’s big song, where she prances around her fantasy restaurant in a sea of oranges and browns with a hip 1920s brochure style.

Caaaaaaaaaaan you feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel the loooooooove toniiiiiiiiiiight~

Music is obviously an important aspect as far as musicals go, and The Princess and the Frog generally doesn’t disappoint. While it’s not my favorite soundtrack from a Disney film, it’s full of character and Randy Newman nails the carefree, improvisational jazz sound like a pro. Unfortunately, he IS Randy Newman, so if you happen to be me and are sick and tired of his schtick from the Pixar side of things, you’re SOL. Randy Newman has a certain style to him and although there’s a strong jazz flavor, Randy Newman shines through.

Honestly, this is easily the most entertaining animated musical from Disney since Aladdin. The story’s solid, the characters are fun and it’s Disney going back to what they do best: creating light, fun 2D animated features. This has actually made me a little excited for next year’s offering, Rapunzel. I hope this is only the beginning of another Disney renaissance, the likes of which we saw 20 years ago. It actually made me depressed that kids were growing up not being familiar with Disney as a 2D studio and getting lukewarm crap like Chicken Little, Madagascar and Shrek after Shrek foisted upon them. The logo before The Princess and the Frog for Walt Disney Animation Studios actually featured a small clip of Mickey. A kid behind me asked his mom what it was, and she answered, “That’s Steamboat Willie.” It seems like the logo was designed to be a mission statement from Lasseter as to what he wants Disney’s animation to aim for: a return to what made Disney Disney. And I couldn’t be more anxious to see where else it’s going to take them. Let me know below what your favorite Disney animated flick is and when you stopped watching them religiously!

Soooooooooooomewheeeeeeeeeeere, ouuuuuuuut therrrrrrrrrrrrrre~

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6 Responses to “The Princess and the Frog: JAMMIN’ WITH THE BIG BOYS~”

  1. Rick Says:

    Aladdin was always my favorite as a child, and though I hardly ever take the opportunity to sit down and enjoy some of the classic Disney flicks these days, on account of how very awkward I feel watching a children’s musical, I do miss the carefree and wondrous nature these flicks imbued me with. It was probably at a horribly early age that I stopped watching, like nine or ten, but despite that my inner child has never waned or weakened.

    I end up watching Ghibli films to get that special warm feeling these days in animation simply because they don’t have musical numbers every five minutes.

  2. John Mora Says:

    My favorite is Aladdin, too. And I stopped watching fairly late, to my embarrassment. It was after I saw Pocahontas that I was like, “Mmmmmmmmmmmmmaybe Disney isn’t cutting the mustard anymore.”

  3. Sean/Shard Says:

    My favorite was Beauty and The Beast. I grew up in the ’80s lull and it wasn’t until I was growing out of their target audience that they started producing worthwhile stuff. By the time Lion King hit I was nearly out of high school and that was the last hurrah for me.

    My little sister (23) has been wanting to see this and now that the review’s rolled off the line relatively un-grumped, I guess I can’t put her off anymore.

  4. Terry Says:

    It’s amazing that all the side characters that I thought would get on my nerves actually ended up being my FAVORITE part of the movie. I didn’t know a whole lot going in. I didn’t know they were gonna spend most of the movie in the Bayou. But it was a welcome relief after a kinda-slow, kinda-schmaltzy opening. I was pretty surprised at how much I was laughing at all the Looney Tunes-ey gags. Maybe that’s just what I like – cartoon animals doing goofy shit. And Keith David doing the evil version of Friend Like Me.

    And I loved all the shout-outs to old Disney classics – Carpet from Aladdin hanging from a clothesline, Louis wearing that Mad Madam Mim wig. There must’ve been a bunch of other stuff I missed.

    Magus noticed that the ending was a lot like Little Mermaid: “WE GOTTA STOP THE WEDDING!” And that was around when I suddenly realized that Facilier was Rasputin from Anastasia, tempting our hero who then smashes their precious glowing trinket and finally defeats them.

    I dunno how much is gonna stick with me, but I had a lotta fun.

  5. Toy Story 3: Sobbing Man-Children « Grump Factory Says:

    […] Toy Story 3 isn’t afraid to put Woody’s devotion to the test, too. He and the rest of the toys are put in one seemingly hopeless situation after another. The scenes during Toy Story 3‘s climax are as harrowing as anything in WALL-E or Up, easily. One, in particular, is so friggin’ dark I couldn’t believe that a children’s movie was going there. If it had just faded to black and started rolling the credits, I would have wigged out. The bold decision to not back down from any situation that stays true to the message of the film sets Pixar apart from their peers, especially Disney. The closest Disney’s ever come to something that (perfectly) bleak is the death of Bambi’s mother. And that was sixty years ago. What have you done for me lately, Disney?! Don’t answer that. […]

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