The Princess and the Frog (Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, G)

flm_princess_sm.jpgThe film is at its best when the characters are human.

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A lot of the landscape of the next few years of animation is riding on how well the new Disney animated feature, The Princess and the Frog, does; The P & F is Disney’s first hand-drawn animated film in five years, and among all of the successes found by Pixar and even sometimes DreamWorks in computer animation in the past decade and a half, and the failures of traditional animation in the same time, it seems that audiences just aren’t interested in the classical style of animation anymore. Of course, the real distinction is probably that Pixar produces reliably excellent films, while the hand-drawn Disney films of the late ’90s and early ’00s were lacking (the most recent was 2004’s Home on the Range; do you even remember that one?), but regardless, if The Princess and the Frog does poorly in the box office, it will likely be the last we see of hand-drawn animation (from Disney’s studios, at least) for quite some time. So, hopefully the film’s good, right?

I am happy to report that the film is indeed good. Maybe not great, but good enough that it seems it should make a pretty reasonable amount of money, keeping our nation’s all-time favorite animation studio cranking out the type of film on which it made its name for many more years to come. If you haven’t already guessed by the title, The Princess and the Frog is an updated version of the classic Grimm fairy tale The Frog Prince; this time around, we’re set in modern-day New Orleans, our heroine is a hardworking girl named Tiana (voiced by The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency‘s Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of opening her own restaurant, and our prince is a Jay Chandrasekhar-looking fellow named Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a womanizer left with no money when his rich parents cut him off. Some voodoo magic (no, seriously) enacted by one Dr. Facilier (Keith David, a beloved character actor who has a voice to rival James Earl Jones’ and who turns up in practically everything, though no one ever seems to remember him) turns Prince Naveen into a frog, and Tiana, knowing the Frog Prince myth, kisses him to return him to his princely state. Sadly, this misstep only leads her to turn into a frog, too, and together they wander through the bayou trying to find Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), who can purportedly lift the curse.

Strangely, the film is at its best when the characters are human, and gets boring when they turn into frogs and go on an adventure. Granted, this is from a (relatively) adult point of view, but still, one would think that the part of the movie with the, you know, action would be the most interesting part. This is perhaps because of some interesting anomalies contained in the human segments. One I was particularly partial to was the film’s (early) big reveal of Tiana dressed as a princess: She looks unhappy, and it’s a depressing moment. Tiana wants to be a restaurateur, not a princess; she looks much more comfortable in an apron in other parts of the film than all dolled up for a costume party dance.

And of course, the animation is great, and feels like home. Don’t go in thinking it’s going to be all hand-drawn, though; computers aid some backgrounds and things from time to time (notably the opening shot, which will surely be disappointing for militant 2-D animation aficionados), but that’s a practice that’s been used since 1992’s Aladdin, and it is used to good effect here. What would be really ironic is if The Princess and the Frog kick-starts a 2-D takeover, with computer animation going by the wayside for a while. Thankfully for those who like both traditional and computer animation, The Princess is good enough to reinvigorate one without taking the wind out of the other. | Pete Timmermann

 

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