Tuesday, 16 February 2010

February Toon Overload!: The Princess and the Frog

Saved the best till last! I have a lot to say on The Princess and the Frog, its quite the curious film in some respects. In making their comeback Disney seems to be heading back to the mature family classic formulas that films like Beauty and the Beast, Treasure Planet and Mulan benefited so much from.

I should maybe stress that thar be spoilers beyond this point. If you havent seen the film yet you might want to skip to the end summary

The Princess and the Frog is based on the fairytale story but with a modern New Orleans twist. Its set in New Orleans at the turn of the century and our heroine, Tiana, is in fact not a princess to start out with. However she has a dream of opening a restaurant which she works tooth and nail for. Prince Naveen on the other hand is a bachelor living the high life, but forced to consider work or marriage in order to maintain that life. The Prince runs into local voodoo man Dr Facilier and finds himself as a frog, he mistakes Tiana for a princess and kisses her, only to find the curse also affects her and the two set off to fix things while the doctor pursues Naveen.

Now one of the things that surprised me, is how this film takes the traditional Disney fairytale and plays around with it a little, kinda like Beauty and the Beast did to such good effect. Disney is best when it tries not to fall back on the same old fairytale formulas and adds its own spin to things (providing its well thought through!)

First interesting note is the film starts in the past, something that hasnt been tried since Hercules and even then it was while Herc was a baby, same goes Princess Aurora of Sleeping Beauty whom we see as a baby. This is the first time we properly see a Disney character in their childhood and its a nice way to establish the world in this movie. It seems the 1912 New Orleans in this world has no problem with racism and a class based system as poor Tiana can be friends with the rich Charolette who is horribly pampered but friendly. Its a nice way to put to rest the fears that this film would play the racism card or something similar. Tiana is just another character and thankfully despite her place in the world is treated like any other character.

The entire prologue is a nice set up and its great see a happy family at the start of a Disney film that doesn't befall some horrible tragedy. Tiana's daddy does die between then and present day but its nice to see that both parents had something to give the character, rather than just one or the other. Her father provided the dream and her mother provided the fairy tales that gave Tiana hope to fulfill that dream. In present day Tiana is working to make that dream a reality In that respect close is quite close to Belle of Beauty and the Beast, but instead of her head being in the clouds shes mucking in to make that dream happen rather than sitting around hoping. Naveen was portrayed in a lot of trailers and previews of the film in a bit of a bad light, however its really hard to hate him in the actual film. When he first shows up he's taking in the surroundings and genuinely excited about being in New Orleans. . But it comes across as being somewhat natural considering his age and the life he's lead to that point. In that sense it makes the change of heart he has later believable as he seems a rather kind character at heart.

The sidekicks Louie and Ray are great characters in their own right. Louie got some of the best gags in the film, while the tenderhearted Ray surprised me. After initial trailers for the film it seemed Ray would play the hick comedy relief, and while he is quite funny, he actually comes across as quite intelligent and sweet. The film plays with the inital expectations of the character because even Tiana and Naveen think he is a couple of screws loose when his love "Evangeline" turns out in fact to be a bright star. But its a beautiful moment in the film regardless. Disney also take the brave step of letting Ray seriously help in the final skirmish, only to be squashed under the heel of Dr. Facilier and killed. Not only that but theres no magical cure, no "oop look I'm alive after all!" or the usual get-out clause Disney characters are normally subject to. He lives long enough to see Tiana and Naveen have finally revealed their feelings and dies happy. Theres even a funeral to boot and its a rather somber feeling...until the clouds part and everyone notices a new bright star twinkling beside Evangeline. Oh its horribly sappy and sweet but it feels right rather than simply saving the character last minute just to spare a few tears that were already shed. 

Also, this film shows how to do a pointless moment right. The film has a moment where a trio of Frog Hunters attempt to capture Tiana and Naveen. They don't really have anything to do with events other than to add some extra peril but the way the frogs turn it around and use their newfound natural abilities to make the three whack each other senseless is hilarious and lightens things up. Compared to Astro Boy's attempt at this type of situation, which stopped the film in its tracks and provided little to the central plot. These characters present a reason for Naveen and Tiana to work together in something , a good laugh and a reason for the characters to appreciate their current states. 

Getting onto the actual animation and music. The animation is Disney standard stuff, the only criticism is that is that imposing an image onto moving papers and the like doesn't really work as an effect as it kind of jitters, But thats more an issue with Toon Boom rather than Disney. The music makes a welcome comeback too, the songs don't beat some of the more classic Disney films but its a very respectable attempt and the songs certainly grow on repeat listens. Dig a little Deeper and Almost There in particular are the shining rules of the musical crown here. In addition the jazzy New Orleans soundtrack fits the film perfectly.

In summary Princess and the Frog certainly is the return to form Disney fans have been waiting for, it's understandably a little rough around the edges but it does very well and even attempts to buck a few old Disney trends. If your hankering for a comeback to the 90's musical films, you'll love this. The charaterisation is good, the music is great and it feels over-all like a step in the right direction

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