I have to say that I was really looking forward to The Princess and the Frog. However, I cannot say that I was excited for the story, characters, or music. What I was anxious to see was Disney-created, traditional hand-drawn animation on the big screen again. It has been so long since any of us have had the pleasure. I mean, this style is what helped make the Mouse House the legendary studio that it is. It was a sad day when it was announced the studio would be closing the cel animation department back in 2004. Of course, the last few offerings were less than stellar (remember Brother Bear and Home on the Range?).
I had come to take their offerings for granted, not realizing just how good they were. I believe that many people out there felt the same way. It did not help that Disney hand-animated films were in something of a decline. Despite that, there is something warm and welcoming about a Disney film that makes you smile. So, when it was announced that the cel animation department was being rebuilt following Disney's merger with Pixar, there was reason to celebrate.
The idea that Disney was returning somewhat to its roots was great news to animation fans. I have fond memories of their films. Pinocchio was the first movie my parents ever took me to as a child (yes, it was a re-release). I remember my grandmother taking me to The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. I have a special place in my heart for The Lion King — I took my sister to see it just prior to having back surgery. Countless people have happy memory landmarks based on Disney's numerous classics. Now we will hopefully get back on track with new classics to create new memories for a new generation.
I guess this all begs the question of whether or not The Princes and the Frog is any good. The answer lies somewhere in the middle. The movie is a lot of fun, has some memorable characters, some good tunes, and a nicely fluid and stylized look. However, while it brings to mind the "Disney princess" classics, it doesn't rise to level of a classic on its own merit. I guess we need to start somewhere — it's been five years since they released a movie like this, seven years since they released one I like, and 15 years since a certifiable classic was on the screen (this may be debatable).
Most of you are likely familiar with the tale of the frog prince. A handsome prince is cursed and turned into a frog and the curse can only be broken by the kiss of a princess. This story takes it out of the fairy tale realm and into the world of 1920s New Orleans and a couple of young girls who believe, to varying degrees, in fairy tales. It presents the fairy tale as such in the film, but goes on to show that it is much more than a mere story.
We are introduced to Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young girl whose family is poor but happy. She and her father (voiced by Terrence Howard) share a dream of opening a restaurant that will draw all sorts of people from all around. Tiana is also friends with Charlotte, the spoiled daughter of a rich man nicknamed Big Daddy.
Tiana's dream is not to be realized. As we jump ahead a few years, Tiana's father has passed and she is working two jobs while saving for the restaurant. We also learn that Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) is in town looking for his princess. His search does not get very far as he is intercepted by the film's villain, the voodoo witch doctor Dr. Facilier who turns our fun-loving prince into a frog.
What follows is a case of mistaken identity and the journey of a pair of human frogs through the bayou. The two are looking for a way to return to their former selves and on the way the goal takes a sidestep as both Tiana and Naveen learn about themselves and what they are really looking for.
The Princess and the Frog is a predictable story that follows the usual fairy tale conventions en route to its predictable conclusion. There are the songs, fun but not terribly memorable, comedic sidekicks, heartfelt moments, and some nice animation.
This release had the potential to be an out-and-out classic, but instead it primarily serves to conjure up memories of the past. You know, that is not necessarily a bad thing. Disney leans heavily on its past and what better way to get you back on board with traditional animation than to remind you of its past success? Fortunately, the movie is still a lot of fun.
The Princess and the Frog is a delightful film that will hold your attention all the way through. You probably won't leave humming the tunes, but you will remember what Disney has been so good at for decades. It is good to see.
Botton line. Bright colors, smooth animation, fun music, touching moments, all wrapped up under the Disney banner. I admit that I was won over by the film and while it does not stand up next to the classics, it is a movie that will make you smile and is well worth spending time with.