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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Disneyear: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

For a while, the Disney 2D animation studio had been shut down because many of their movies released in the 2000's weren't exactly box-office successes. Half of them weren't even critical successes! So in 2004, Disney executives permanently shut down the 2D studio. Almost. After Eisner stepped down from office, John Lassenter of Pixar was hailed as the newest executive producer of the animation department and one of his first decisions was to reopen the 2D studio again, rehire all of the artists, and try again with traditional animation. Not only that, but Lassenter wanted to go back to Disney's roots: with fairy tales, musicals, magic, and stunning visuals. This is where The Princess and the Frog comes in. Let me say that when I heard news that Disney was going to bring back traditional animation, I was excited! I was hyped to finally see another 2D animated film on the big screen after so long! And I don't mean a satire of one, I mean a real one! So when me and some of my friends went to go see it, it didn't disappoint! It still holds a spot in my personal top 10 because this is the modern Disney fairy tale done perfectly. Well, almost. Let's hop over to see if this is as good as the classics in The Princess and the Frog.

The story concerns a young African-American woman living in 1920's New Orleans named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of running her own restaurant by saving money from the two jobs she's working. Meanwhile, a fun-loving, laid back, but narcissistic prince named Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and to meet the richest woman in N.O.: Tiana's best friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) One problem: his parents cut him off, so he has no money. He meets a voodoo magician, Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who claims he can fix Naveen's money problems. But he tricks him by turning him into a frog. He meets Tiana at a costume party as a frog and asks him to break the curse by kissing him. Very, and I mean very, reluctant, Tiana agrees but gets turned into a frog herself. So the two now have to put differences aside to break the curse and make their dreams come true with the help of an alligator named Louis, (Michael-Leon Wooley) a Cajun firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings), and a witch doctress named Mama Odie. (Jennifer Lewis)


Let's look at our characters first. Tiana is the best female lead since Belle. She's a fast thinker, positive, and a workaholic. (Never thought you'd see that in a Disney princess, would ya?) Prince Naveen is also a lot of fun. Easily the best Disney prince out there. He's full of himself, but there's also an innocence to him. The villain is the best one in years! He reminds me a little of Ursula, claiming he's helping people with his voodoo magic but wants to control the city of New Orleans. But he's also very eccentric, charismatic, and the fact that he practices voodoo leads to a lot of creative possibilities and the film takes advantage of them all!


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The rest of the side characters are also fun and memorable. We have a trumpet playing alligator who dreams of playing jazz with the best of them, a romantic Cajun firefly who believes he's in love with a star, and an eccentric witch doctress who always has the answer to everything. Oh, and there's Charlotte, Tiana's best friend. She is hilarious! She just makes me laugh and makes me laugh hard every time she's on screen. I haven't seen a Disney character this funny in a long, long time!


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The songs are also very nice. Two especially are very memorable: Almost There has a nice beat to it and Friends on the Other Side is awesome! I like the rest of them, but they're honestly nothing that memorable. There's no Be Our Guest in here. But at least the film sticks with it's musical style all the way through. It's music you're likely to hear in New Orleans: jazz, gospel, a little traditional Cajun, it's a nice attention to detail. And they all fit to the context of the setting and story, so I'll give Randy Newman credit for that. 



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And speaking of New Orleans, they got the look of the city down to a tee. I've been there before since both my parents are from Louisiana, so I can clarify that they got the look and tone of the city perfectly. It's American, but has it's own identity to it. So yeah, it looks amazing!



Sounds like it's shaping to be like one of the classic Disney films right? Well, there's only one problem with it: the story. Not that it's bad, its just... a little complicated. I covered the basics, but there's more. What I didn't cover was that Dr. Facillier made a deal with the underworld so that he can rule all of New Orleans. But to do that, he needs to have someone else disguise himself to marry Charlotte because the Shadowman can't use magic for himself. But in order to do that, they constantly need the blood of Naveen as a frog to give to said guy or else the disguise fades. But there's also a glitch in the spell: to break it, Naveen needs to kiss a princess by midnight on a certain day or else he and Tiana stay as frogs forever! But it'll work on Charlotte because her father appoints himself as King of Mardi Gras, so technically that counts! On top of that, we have the main characters falling in love as well as fixing each others faults and their own! Let's also add an unnecessary death, my God... it's just too much! Is that a bad thing? I guess not, since you're always guessing what's going to happen. But the charm of movies like Beauty and the Beast and so forth is that the stories were always flowing. They knew how much detail to give to the story and characters. There's way too many details here. Again, it's not terrible or bad, it's just not as good as some of the others. 


Before I wrap up, I suppose I should mention mention some of the controversies that surrounded this film. Tiana is the first black princess and there's still talk that she was originally going to be a chambermaid. They later changed her to a waitress, but that caused uproar too. I heard comments like "It's changing history! It's changing the way things were back then!" Well, you know what? There's a talking frog in this movie! I think we'll be okay! On top of that, we're always going to have reminders of how things were back then. And it's a fairy tale. Let the kids have their fairy tale!



There's also the controversy of why the film didn't do as well as Disney was hoping for. Let me clarify: it didn't bomb, but it wasn't the success that Disney was hoping for. Is it racism? Maybe, but I have my own theory: it's not a prejudice on race, but a prejudice on 2D animation. It's been a long, long time since one has been marketed to both kids and adults and this is still a family film. Most family films coming out are either live-action or animated in 3D. To be honest, I still think a lot of adults see 2D animation as "kid stuff". It did update the fairy tale aspect very nicely and cleverly, but the problems with the story kind of hold it back. But hey, it still made money! I'd be more concerned if nobody saw it! But people did see it! Was it a lot of people? No, but a lot of people didn't see most of the other 2D films of this decade and no one made a big deal out of those. But again, it's just a theory.


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I still believe there's a place and audience for traditional animation! 

But problems and controversies aside, I really love The Princess and the Frog. It captures everything that made the classic 2D films great. Maybe if the story was simpler, maybe that would make it an instant classic. But as is, it's still one of my personal favorites. It felt like I was watching Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast again! I know I'm not done watching it! Chances are if I ever want to watch a Disney film again, I'll more than likely turn to this one.


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