Finally, the real Disney is back. Once more, we can enjoy the golden age of traditional animation thanks to “The Princess and the Frog”, Disney’s first animation project since “Home on the Range” of 2004.
In this humble reviewer’s opinion, it’s about damn time.
Disney’s flirtation with 3D animation, which produced such titles as “Meet the Robinsons” and “Chicken Little”, has proven once again that no one can do it as well as Pixar. Rising costs of producing the traditional cell animation caused Disney to pursue the 3D realm, but they sacrificed the undeniable quality their movies had from Sleeping Beauty all the way up to Brother Bear.
It is in the tradition of those greats that The Princess and the Frog follows. Headlined by the team that revolutionized the industry with The Little Mermaid, Disney creates a touching and beautiful example of cinema.
As with most all of Disney’s animation forays, the movie is based on a classic children’s tale, this one loosely based on “The Frog Princess”. The plot revolves around Tiana, a young African American woman living in post civil war New Orleans, trying her very hardest to open her own restaurant.
It seems however, that fate has a different plan in mind for our heroine. She later meets a frog that reveals itself to be a foreign prince that has fallen victim to the curse of a witch doctor. In a moment of desperation, Tiana kisses the frog, and unlike the fairy tale she was read as a child, the action instead turns her into a frog herself.
The rest of the movie, in classic Disney fashion, chronicles the lead duo and their adventures in their search for a way to turn human again. Tiana and Prince Naveen have good chemistry, being characters from opposite backgrounds with personalities that are the definition of stark contrast. The supporting characters in general are all very strong, with a few standout performances.
The villain of the movie, the cooky voodoo servant Dr. Facilier, lives up to a strong pedigree of evil Disney characters. He has a unique style and personality of his own, yet brings the uneasiness that Ursula of “The Little Mermaid” and Frollo of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” presented in their scenes. The character, who is given voice by the wonderful Keith David, is especially interesting because while the physical presence of the Doctor rarely lets on any scheming, his shadow betrays all of his evil thoughts. It’s a clever and intriguing idea by the animation department that (almost disappointingly) becomes a major plot point later on.
And yet, it is Talia’s only friend, Charlotte Lebouff, that absolutely steals the movie. Herself a self-referential parody of Cinderella (Ironic, as Tiana is the most Cinderella-like of all the characters in the movie), the character is the rare example of a spoiled brat with a good heart. Watching the character throw a temper tantrum, then immediately shift gears to a proper southern Belle is an absolute joy to watch, and her voice is delivered to perfection by the relatively unknown Jennifer Cody. With all the well known talent in the movie, including Terrance Howard and Oprah Winfrey as Tiana’s parents and John Goodman as Charlotte’s father, it’s remarkable that her performance is the best of all.
With all the talent on the acting side of things, you’d think that would be the strongest suit of the movie, but it is really only one part of this movie. The animation may be hands down the best that Disney has ever turned out, especially in regards to frame rate. Every scene is utterly gorgeous, with the witch doctor’s magic and a number featuring Tiana’s firefly friends almost breathtaking. I may rag on Disney’s 3D films, but weaving it in with their 2D art creates a jaw-dropping experience that has opened me to the benefits of blu-ray. I cannot wait to see this on a hi-def TV, and will have to go buy a player to make it happen.
If “The Princess and the Frog” does have a weak point, it must be in the sound department. The score itself is done well and is very fitting, but the musical numbers are for the most part forgetful. You won’t find any “Under the Sea”(The Little Mermaid) or “I’ll Make a Man out of You”(Mulan). They aren’t bad, just exceedingly average. It’s unfortunate, because musical numbers make up the majority of the first half of the movie, doing a little damage to the pacing of the film. The superior second half more than makes up for that fallacy, however.
In all, this movie belongs at the top with the very best Disney has ever made. They will be taking another shot at traditional animation next year with “Rapunzel”, but after that no plans have been made for more 2D movies. Whether or not they make more will largely depend on how these two ventures do. Lets hope these two make lots and lots of “green”.