Five years. Five long years. That’s how long it’s been for since Disney’s lamentable decision to scrap its long-standing traditional hand-drawn animation department. After the advent and success of computer generation, it seemed like regular sketches by actual artists with pens and brushes were just a thing of the past. They were dodos. Dinosaurs. Dead technology.
For five years I’ve been pining, hoping the studio bosses would come to regret that decision and they eventually did. We now have The Princess and the Frog in theatres and it’s a true return to form for Disney, the original animated feature movie company. This return to form comes in mostly good ways, too, but there are still some little kinks that need to be worked out.
The story takes place about 100 years ago in the early heyday of New Orleans. Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a young woman who is carrying on the dream she shared with her late father. They wanted to overcome poverty and start up their own restaurant, because good food, as her dad would say, brings people together.
She works hard at two jobs, scrimping and saving, always inching closer to her goal. And that’s just when Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) comes to town, making merry distraction for all with his gallivanting and cavorting. But all that comes to an end when an “evil voodoo witch doctor” named Dr. Facilier (Keith David) puts a curse on the prince. If you haven’t guessed, he gets turned into a frog. Discovering the talking amphibian, Tiana is convinced to kiss the frog but instead of him transforming back to a man, she changes and learns that it really ain’t easy being green.
Of course, this being a Disney film, there isn’t just a bunch of talking anthropomorphized animals and insects, there’s plenty of singing and dancing to keep things lively, too. There’s an alligator that can play a mean trumpet and a Cajun firefly with a lot of personality to go with his shiny posterior. This being New Orleans, you can be certain there are a number of colourful and vivacious characters, even if they’re only two-dimensional.
Frankly I’m glad to see this one come along although it still could have used a few more screenplay drafts before setting it down on celluloid. I think they were just about to clinch the perfect tone for the piece, but they got close enough and settled on this version. It’s somewhere in the neighbourhood of Cinderella running into The Rescuers, somewhat in the vein of The Little Mermaid but not as much of a pop culture classic.
It certainly doesn’t have the high production value and Oscar bait status of Beauty and the Beast but it’s still fairly enjoyable with many hallmarks of high Disney animation. If this movie had come out in the 1970s, it would have been about perfect.
As it stands, there are some elements that seem decidedly politically incorrect, with the whole voodoo priest thing being the main perpetrator, but I digress. It was nice to see the female lead character be the strong independent heroine who tackles most of the story’s challenges. The prince may come around in the end but, for the most part, he’s just a guitar-strumming bum. If he wasn’t handsome and a prince, then no one would want this guy around.
While it remains to be seen if this will have a lasting legacy as a true Disney classic, it’s still a thrill to have traditional animators back in business somewhere. CG leaves me cold a lot of times, and 3-D technology is often forced and pretty fake. There’s something that just brings out the warm fuzzies when I watch these films and they don’t have to do much else to get my approval otherwise.
The Princess and the Frog
Directed by: Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring the vocal talents of: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael Leon Wooley, Terrence Howard, John Goodman and Oprah Winfrey
Now playing at: Grandin Theatres, North Edmonton Cineplex, and Scotiabank Theatres