The Princess and the Frog reviewed

The usual blogging schedule is going to be a bit topsy-turvy this week. My weekend report-back, or, rather, the review of a Kelly Clarkson concert I attended last night (until late) will only be up in the second half of this week. Today, in its place then, is a film review I’ve been meaning to write for ages.

Traditional hand-drawn animation at the movies has, for all intents and purposes, been dead for the past 6 or so years. While CGI-animated films grew massively in popularity in the 15 years since Toy Story’s 1995 release, their old school cousins seem to fade, both in terms of critical acclaim and box office takings. The Western public turned their back on a storytelling medium that felt stale, and pretty soon the Hollywood studios with animation departments were announcing that they would only be making computer animated movies in future.


However, while every studio can make a CGI-animated film, and each has enjoyed some variable degree of success, Walt Disney remains thee name in tradition 2D animation. With the exception of Don Bluth, nobody has ever got close to challenging their supremacy with the medium. And, circa 2006, perhaps Disney realised this. They re-embraced their defining feature, and set to work on their first traditional animated film since 2004’s Home on the RangeThe Princess and the Frog.

It’s unlikely that The Princess and the Frog will herald in a new era of old style animated films. Then again, that may never have been its purpose. Rather, it looks like The Princess and the Frog is designed to show that Disney still knows how to make a bloody good animated film in the style that the company defined. The Princess and the Frog’s Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature this year was certainly not borne out of pity or nostalgia – it is very much deserved.

The Princess and the Frog is charming and buoyant. Although the film is a musical, it’s not reminiscent of a glossy, soaring Broadway musical, like Beauty and the Beast was. The Princess and the Frog is more jazzy; more down to earth, which has a lot to do with the film’s setting – New Orleans in the Roaring Twenties. A particular stand-out musical number in the movie is in fact Almost There, where the entire fantasy sequence is depicted in an Art Deco illustrative style associated with the era.


I’ll say once again that The Princess and the Frog is an excellent showcase of 2D animation’s creative potential, highlighting how the medium has evolved even if we haven’t seen that much of it on the big screen over the past decade. The world depicted – especially the Louisiana swamp scenes – is stunning at times and character facial expressions have definitely become more communicative.

Speaking of characters, don’t be mislead by all that marketing imagery of main character Tiana in a ballgown. Disney’s first ever black princess is most definitely not the pampered brat of The Frog Prince fairy tale, which is so important in The Princess and the Frog (itself very loosely based on the 2002 novel The Frog Princess). Tiana is one of the most independent heroines ever created by Disney. Refusing to lazily just wish for a change in her situation, this feisty, cheerful waitress believes only in hard work – brushing off friends and potential suitors as she works multiple jobs and double shifts, all with the goal of saving enough money to set up the restaurant she and her father always dreamed of.

With her eyes set on her dream, Tiana isn’t looking for companionship or love. However, she finds her attitude changing after she is roped into an adventure with spoiled playboy Prince Naveen, who has been turned into a frog by the villainous Dr Facilier, a slick voodoo practitioner (and Eddie Murphy look-alike) who has made a dangerous pact with dark spirits. Distancing the film further from Broadway musicals, Tiana and Naveen’s adventure is gritty, filled with peril and more tonally aligned with Disney animated classics like The Rescuers and 101 Dalmatians.


2D animated films in the past were always more concerned about storyline and emotional impact, and The Princess and the Frog is no exception. The film doesn’t have a showboating celebrity voice cast, and it is refreshingly free of the goofiness and pop culture references that are so commonplace in CGI-animated movies these days. Although the romance between Tiana and Naveen is the usual hate-turns-to-love cliché, it is actually handled with credibility and heart. And the filmmakers don’t shy away from killing characters popular with the audience, raising the film’s emotional stakes further.

The only real downside of The Princess and the Frog is that the filmmakers seem to be having too much fun introducing the audience to colourful new characters, to the point that the 90-minute film is overstuffed, and the ending feels a bit too brisk.

This said, The Princess and the Frog is a stylish treat for lovers of the old animation style. While not at the magical level of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King during the last 2D animation Renaissance, the film is still that rarest of things – a family film that offers a little something for everyone without sacrificing intelligence and artistic aspiration. The Princess and the Frog is definitely worth a watch.

Comments

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