Monday, March 12, 2012

After The Initial Reversal, There Is Little Original About The Princess And The Frog.

The Good: Adult tone in places, Decent animation, One or two catchy songs
The Bad: Very straightforward plot, characters and vocal performances, Erratic tone.
The Basics: The Princess And The Frog is, ultimately, very average Disney fare.

It takes a lot for me to get excited by a Disney animated movie these days, I’ll admit that. My wife is a bit of a Disney movie buff, so I’ve been watching more Disney movies in recent years than I ever thought I would. In fact, I joined the Disney Movie Club just to have a way to get her a whole bunch of movies she would want. It actually surprised me, then, that I had not yet gotten around to reviewing The Princess And The Frog, though we have watched it together several times now. While I am not wowed by The Princess And The Frog, I will say that I enjoyed it and that I actually like some of the darker, more adult, tones of the film. But that is actually part of the problem with The Princess And The Frog; it never fully commits to being an adult movie or a children’s film. The result is a movie that is more erratic than satisfying.

On one level, The Princess And The Frog seems to be a very typical Disney animated movie filled with talking, singing animals and enthusiastic music and all of the other things one usually expects from a Disney movie. But, there is also a reversal early in the movie that makes much of The Princess And The Frog instantly intriguing. Add to that, The Princess And The Frog has an intriguing set of villains and messages that certainly apply more to adults than care-free children. But for adults, The Princess And The Frog never fully lands it, returning to the typical, predictable mold of the Disney fairy tale by the film’s end.

Tiana lives in New Orleans. She grew up watching her father work long days to die before his time and before he could realize his dream of opening a restaurant. While her best friend, Charlotte, had everything handed to her from her wealthy dad, Tiana slaved away and is now a waitress saving for her restaurant. When Prince Naveen comes to visit, Tiana is given a catering job that puts her over and will allow her to purchase the restaurant of her dreams. Unfortunately for her, Prince Naveen, who is not at all wealthy, is enchanted by the villainous Dr. Facilier and turned into a frog. When Tiana tries to help the frog Naveen, she is turned into a frog as well.

Fleeing into the bayou, Tiana and Naveen meet Louis, a jazz-playing alligator and a lightning bug named Ray. Together, the quartet sets out for Mama Odie’s home to get the enchantments taken off the two transformed humans. As Facilier tries to get Naveen’s assistant – disguised as Naveen – to marry Charlotte for her father’s wealth, he uses his shadow allies to hunt the fugitive frogs. As Tiana and Naveen struggle to survive the frog hunters and shadow minions, Naveen starts to learn the value of hard work and Tiana slowly learns to relax.

The Princess And The Frog features both greater realism and a stronger sense of horror than most Disney movies. Facilier’s “friends from the other side” are nightmarish specters who are only loyal to themselves. Rendered as shadows that move fast and drag off the living, the assistants of Facilier are genuinely creepy, especially as they seem invulnerable, yet able to pull the living to their deaths. That sense of villainy is much darker than most Disney movies.

In a similar fashion, The Princess And The Frog features an on-screen casualty which lends it a more adult sense of weight. Facilier sadistically kills one of Tiana’s friends, illustrating that there are very real consequences for defying the voodoo practitioner. So, when late in the film, Facilier squares off with Tiana, there is the very real menace that her defiance might well cost her her life.

Unfortunately, those deep, adult aspects are blended in with a slapstick routine reminiscent of The Three Stooges. The secondary villains of The Princess And The Frog are a trio of hillbillies who hunt for frogs and whack each other about. When the father in the group is shot to reveal his polka-dotted (they are actually hearts in this rendition) boxer shorts, it is hard not to illicit a groan.

What, then, keeps The Princess And The Frog from receiving entirely dismal ratings? First, the animation in The Princess And The Frog is top-notch. The Princess And The Froglooks good, especially in the lighting and the stylized dream sequences shake the film up for the viewer’s eyes, making it a pleasure to watch. While Louis might be very simply rendered as a somewhat large alligator, the rest of the characters are distinctive and impressive for their appearance. Considering that the two principle protagonists are little green frogs and there was never a moment when it was unclear which one was which, the animators on The Princess And The Frog have a lot to be proud of.

As well, The Princess And The Frog has a few truly memorable songs. The jazz tunes are energetic and energizing and they breathe a life into The Princess And The Frog that some of the newer Disney animated features have not successfully done. Facilier’s “Friends On The Other Side” song keeps going through my head, so there is something to be said for just how catchy the soundtrack is.

Finally, the voice acting in The Princess And The Frog is exceptional. Keith David (Facilier), John Goodman (La Bouff, father of Charlotte), and Jim Cummings (Ray) are all emotive and expressive in their vocal performances. Bruno Campos, who plays Prince Naveen has an energetic delivery that is fun to listen to. And Anika Noni Rose is impressive as Tiana. Rose makes Tiana into a full-fledged Disney princess with willpower even as her character is a frog, by emoting extraordinarily well.

On DVD, The Princess And The Frog features animatics and other bonus features that enhance the viewing experience. The film may be, a strange mix of very typical Disney fare and attempting to appeal to adults, but it (mostly) works, making it well worth watching at the very least.

For other Disney animated films, please visit my reviews of:
Toy Story 3
A Christmas Carol
The Incredibles
Monsters, Inc.
The Lion King
The Little Mermaid
Lady And The Tramp
The Sword In The Stone
Sleeping Beauty


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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