Fri 11 Dec 2009
Theatrical Release Date: 12/11/2009
Director: Ron Clements & John Musker
Featuring the Voices of: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jennifer Cody, Oprah Winfrey, Terrence Howard, John Goodman, Emeril Lagasse
As parents and animated film fans have noticed over the last few years, traditional 2D hand-drawn animation has been usurped by computerized 3D – so much so that many of today’s youth probably find the old style of doing things antiquated and less than exciting. Thankfully, people like John Lasseter (who helped start Pixar and is now in charge of Disney’s animation destiny) still find the style beautiful and have pushed to continue the tradition. Regrettably, that first effort is “The Princess and the Frog”.
The story is set in 1920s New Orleans, where a young African-American girl grows up poor but with the dream of one day opening up her own restaurant, using recipes taught to her by her father. The daughter of a rich white man is one of her best friends (this is explained but still unlikely) and becomes obsessed with a dashing young prince who has just come to town. A voodoo shaman (voiced nicely by Keith David) decides to use this opportunity to hatch a nefarious plan involving the transmogrification of the prince into a frog, which ends up involving our heroine (otherwise the film’s premise wouldn’t work). The rest of the story follows all the conventions one has come to expect from the genre.
The voice work is okay but mostly uninspired. David does the best job, adding a layer of depth to the villain that doesn’t seem apparent in the script. Of course, that’s the same script that does nothing to help the rest of the voice actors, who generally fail stand out from the crowd. There are moments of fun to be had but one could usually guess the next sentence because we’ve all see how these things work.
The art style is pretty mundane as well, though I won’t say anything too negative about the colors because the theater I was in needs a bulb change in the projector as everything from some attached trailers to the feature was a bit too dim. There is an attempt to be visually artistic, employing a pseudo art deco style at times, but it’s all rather bland and uninteresting.
And while I’m happy to see Disney diversify its Princess lineup, presenting its first black woman into the cultural zeitgeist for little girls, just about every culture represented in the film is a base stereotype, from African-American to White to Cajun. If you’ve got generally negative preconceptions about any of these groups, you’ll see it represented here … though with a smile on all of their faces and a song ready to burst out. (I do somewhat appreciate that Disney stopped killing mothers and this time offed the heroine’s father, but it’s still the same formula.)
The songs represent the next problem here. While I have greatly enjoyed Randy Newman’s work on previous animated fare (most notably with the first few Pixar films), the sound is so similar to other projects that it’s hard for this movie to establish its own identity. The music is so generic and uninspired that I often found my mind wandering during the songs – I don’t see anything here becoming a classic song anyone on the street will recognize five years from now, let alone five days from now.
If you’ve got kids, there’s nothing I can do for you and because there aren’t any other kid-friendly films out there, you’re probably stuck taking them to it. But if you don’t have a whining mini-you to consider, keep in mind that “The Princess and the Frog” is a 2 out of 5, not living up to the standards set by Disney fare of yesteryear or keeping up with the times to compare with the current state of animated fare – basically it’s like watching any of the direct-to-DVD sequels that have come out in the last decade. If you’ve been missing traditional 2D animation, as just about everything now is computer animated 3D, just grab something Disney made before 1995 or a Hayao Miyazaki film (whom Lasseter credits for much of his inspiration), it’ll be cheaper and you’ll end up feeling far more satisfied.