Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Princess and the Frog 2009

Note: there’s a big gap between Treasure Planet and The Princess and the Frog (7 years to be exact). It’s not that Disney, or one of their ever growing list of subsidiaries, didn’t put out animated films during that period, it’s just that for the purposes of what I’m doing here I didn’t really regard them as traditional Disney animated features.

Personal Overview: I’d always thought that The Princess and the Frog was an inversion of the fairytale The Frog Prince by the Brothers Grimm, it kind of is and it’s kind of not. It’s actually based on a novel The Frog Princess by E.D Baker, which was based on the fairytale. It is a fairly loose adaptation of the novel as well.

To a certain extent the attraction for this film for me was that it was old style animation, but with a new story and character development.

A lot of that was, in my opinion, due to John Lasseter. He started at Disney and then went to Pixar. Disney acquired Pixar in 2006 and Lasseter became the head of animation at Disney. It was his idea to bring in Ron Clements and John Musker. Two of the people behind the Renaissance. Lasseter also allowed the two to animate The Princess and the Frog using traditional animation rather than CGI.

The setting was different, too. 1920’s New Orleans and it featured as ‘the Princess’ of the title: Tiana, a hard working New Orleans girl.

At the heart of it The Princess and the Frog is a love story, and it has magic in that both major characters; Tiana and the irresponsible Prince Naveen, spend most of the film as frogs under a voodoo spell.

There’s a lot of fun in that swamp as Tiana and Naveen team up with a trumpet blowing alligator (there’s a heavy emphasis on jazz music again, someone at Disney adores the music), and a Cajun firefly to find a voodoo queen and be turned back into humans.

It’s very old school, but has more character development, especially for Tiana, than was often the case. Lots of toe tapping numbers and more than a few laughs as well as a happy every after ending. It was a feel good film and it hit the spot the night I saw it, although that may have been because it was a really hot day and the cinema was air conditioned.

Hero/es: as I see it there are three. Tiana of course, and she’s far less passive than most Disney Princesses, actively taking the lead and pulling Naveen out of the fire on more than one occasion. Naveen as he transforms from a frog physically and from an irresponsible, wastrel into someone who actually gives a damn about more than having a good time. I’d rate Raymond the Cajun firefly as a hero, too. He doesn’t have to help Tiana and Naveen, but he does and he puts himself on the line for them.

Villain/s: the real villain of the piece is Doctor Facilier, a top hat wearing voodoo magician, who put me in mind of the voodoo Loa Baron Samedi and he was pretty clearly based on the legend. The other villain is more minor and Facilier really uses him as a pawn. That’s Naveen’s pompous and much put upon valet Lawrence who accepted Facilier’s help to fool everyone into believing he was Naveen, while the prince was hopping about in a swamp trying to get changed back. There’s definitely shades of Edgar from The Aristocats about Lawrence. Disgruntled servants do seem to feature heavily as minor villains in the films.

Cuteness Factor: both Naveen and Tiana make pretty fetching frogs, but I think that’s got to do with Disney’s ability to draw animals and insects with more appeal than they ever have people. Although he’s not the prettiest of creatures the Cuteness Factor is Ray. He’s funny and helpful, and his love of the star Evangeline, which he sees as some sort of firefly goddess, is touching. His zydeco turn Gonna Take You There is highly infectious.

Animation: it’s bright when it needs to be and dark when it should be. There’s a lightness over the whole thing, though and it really does come alive. Again the scenes with animals and insects shine more than the ones feature people do. There was a sequence during Tiana’s song: Almost There, that is done in a 1920’s art deco kind of theme and it works beautifully.

Final Words: it was fun and a return to what drove the Renaissance, it marked a return to old fashioned stories and style for Disney and gave hope that there would be regular product after the financial disaster of Treasure Planet. The financial and critical success of The Princess and the Frog greenlit at least one traditional animated feature every two years for a while to come. It didn’t hurt that they were able to add an African American Princess to the Pantheon either. One point of interest to me was that people could understand Naveen and Tiana when they were in frog form, but other animals weren’t understandable to them or anyone else unless they were in frog form.

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