A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 450 – The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog – May 24th, 2011

How had I not realized that the basis for the story of this movie was a book? A book I have on my shelves at work right now! Except not right now because one of my regular patrons has been wiping me out of all my fairytale-based children’s novels lately and I’m pretty sure she took everything by E.D. Baker today. My point being that the whole concept of adapted fairytales has been done quite a bit in children’s literature and it’s a very popular genre. So I’m wide open to turning the Frog Prince around a bit and setting it somewhere and somewhen that the original story wasn’t. I also enjoy jazz and zydeco, so going into this I was prepped to enjoy it, at least on a superficial level.

I’ve got to say, even had this movie been a complete and utter failure on every other level, I would have enjoyed it for one single reason and that would be the line “No, that is not slime! You are secreting mucus!” This is a Disney princess movie. Or rather, I should say it’s a Disney Princess movie. It was made to be marketed to little girls. It was meant to tap into that rich vein of princess mania I see on a regular basis. The sort that leads to little girls wearing their frilly princess Halloween costume dresses on a daily basis. And this movie has mucus as a key plot point. Several years back I had a fifth grade girl come up to me at work and ask for help in determining what the use of slime was. It was part of a research project that was more intended to teach kids how to do research than to actually have them learn about a useful subject from said research. But we had a great conversation about how what we normally call slime is technically mucus. And then we talked about snot and why we have it. And I showed her articles on slime eels and a video of a slime eel turning a bucket of water into a bucket of slime. And that girl? Thought that was the most awesome thing ever. So a movie for girls that talks about mucus? I am all over that.

Really, that’s kind of subversive for what many people think of as a franchise that encourages girls to be, well, traditionally girly. I mean, Mulan notwithstanding, the gender roles in Disney movies tend to be on the traditional side. But here we’ve got a movie about frogs. Our main character, Tiana, spends a huge chunk of the movie as a frog. The movie even shows that she’s totally grossed out by frogs, as girls are supposed to be. And then? Frogs galore. Well, two frogs. Two frogs, an alligator, a bug and a whole lot of swamp, to be precise. And while I quite liked Louis the alligator and Ray the lightning bug and thought that the swamp was beautifully illustrated (and this is me we’re talking about – my snake issues mean swamps are a huge no go), you can’t get away from the fact that it is a swamp.

Now, on one hand, I can see there being some objections there. After all, the lily white Cinderella gets cute furry woodland creatures and lovely birds to come help her but African American Tiana gets reptiles and bugs? But at the same time it’s a wonderfully realized world and beautiful in its own way and I quite like that New Orleans and its surroundings were used for a movie aimed at little girls. After all, why not? It’s not like there aren’t little girls growing up in New Orleans or places with similar wildlife right now. So I can run with it. I do wish it had been a little less obviously targeted at a “missing” demographic in the Disney lineup, but then too, keeping the status quo would suck too. It’s a fine line to walk, trying to work on diversifying while not pandering. I honestly can’t say if they managed one way or another, because it’s just plain not my call and I’m not about to make proclamations that aren’t mine to make. I’ll just say that I’m sure Disney made this movie very deliberately. They make everything they make with an eye towards their franchise, but this movie is deliberate in a way that many of their prior films weren’t.

All that being said, I did enjoy it. It’s a twist on the Frog Prince story, which I’m sure you know but let’s go over it just in case. Prince gets turned into a frog. Frog meets a princess who’s lost something (usually a ball) in a pond or a well or some body of water. Frog retrieves the item on the condition that the princess kisses him. Princess reneges on the promise but eventually they end up kissing and surprise surprise, he turns back into a prince and they live happily ever after. Now, I have seen this story done in a bunch of ways. I’ve seen frog princesses and frog principals. I’ve seen the story that comes after when the prince longs for the quiet of his pond and sneaks flies after dinner. What this movie does is combine a few concepts there and mix them in with far more backstory for the princess, an Important Life Lesson for both lead characters and set it all in the 1920s in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

Tiana, our not-yet-a-princess, is a waitress who’s saving up to buy an old mill and build her own restaurant to fulfill a dream her father had for himself and for her until he died. She’s well-known and well-liked. She’s great at her job. She works hard. So hard, in fact, that she never seems to have any time to herself for fun. But she’s got a dream and a goal and she’s almost reached it. On the other hand we have prince Naveen, whose family has cut him off because he’s a leech and a layabout and has no concept of what it means to have to work. He shows up in New Orleans looking for a young woman to marry. One with money, so he won’t have to resort of getting a job. And thanks to some convenient plotting with a witch doctor who wants to gain control of the city (and allow some evil spirits to claim the souls of its inhabitants) prince Naveen ends up turned into a frog. Through a misunderstanding he turns Tiana into a frog and off they go to try and undo the curse and become human again.

I think it goes without saying that along the way they both learn about themselves and about life and the world and end up enriched by the experience. This is Disney we’re talking about. Subtlety is not the strong suit in these more recent princess flicks. Tiana learns to look for love and happiness, not just success. Naveen learns the value of work and truly caring for someone else and not just their money. They make friends with some quirky talking animals, sing some songs, escape some minor threats and of course true love prevails in the end.

No, this movie is not revolutionary when it comes to the plot. But that’s okay. I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary to happen. It’s not intended to be revolutionary. It’s intended to tell a story that’s at the same time familiar to kids but also different enough to hold some new interest. It’s bulked up the characters and story and setting to give it a feature film length and I think it’s been done fairly well. I would have to say that the villain just doesn’t get enough time. Holding him up to my golden standard of Disney villainy – Ursula – he just doesn’t compare, even if he does get some good music. But the movie does its job and it does it fairly well. I enjoyed it quite a bit, to be honest. I liked Tiana and I liked the message and Naveen was eerily reminiscent of Pepe the King Prawn but I love Pepe so that’s cool. The music was well done and fun. The animation was flawless and gorgeous (and putting the animation and music together, I’d have to say my favorite scene was Mama Odie’s number in the swamp) and had some moments that put me in mind of the classic Disney movies. Will I be humming the tunes tomorrow? Probably not. Will this become a staple for us? Probably not. Am I glad we watched it and did I enjoy it? Yes on both counts. And am I glad that Disney made it and that it consistently leaves my shelves at work not two minutes after I put it back out? Hell yes. Every little girl needs to see a movie where the heroine saves the day with mucus.

May 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

May 24, 2011

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

It’s nice to see a hand-drawn Disney animated movie in the old tradition. (Well in the old tradition but with the newer digital technology available to animators today.) I bought this movie near the end of my time with Blockbuster on the theory that as an animation fan it would be a betrayal not to have it in my collection. I need to vote with my wallet as the phrase goes and show my support for hand drawn animation by spending some of my money on it.

I have to admit to being somewhat unsure of how to go about reviewing this movie. From an aesthetic standpoint it is beyond reproach. The animation is stunning and quite impressive. No character ever stays still, they’re always moving and dancing and bouncing – I spotted a very small bit of recycled animation in one of the New Orleans crowd scenes near the beginning, but for the most part this movie is absolutely packed with awesome fluid and constant animation. The movie also features a fun and catchy Randy Newman soundtrack full of songs inspired by the jazzy music of the Big Easy. I am, however, about as far from the target audience as it is possible to get.

This is a “Disney Princess” movie. This is a genre I wasn’t aware even existed until movies with the “Disney Princess” moniker started to appear on the shelves of my store. Basically Disney has taken every human female character from their movies and built a brand around them, which I suppose is the commercial thing to do. It takes a potential shortcoming of the Disney line-up (the fact that female characters are almost universally shoehorned into a demure princess mold) and makes it an asset. In some cases perhaps the “princess” part is not completely applicable (I’m fairly certain for example that I’ve seen Mulan in amongst the princess ranks for example) but it seems clear that there’s a big market for princess merchandise.

This raises my first objection to the movie. It seems so blatantly pandering and commercial. I can picture executives at Disney (and I hope that John Lasseter, the executive producer of this film was not among them) saying “We’re missing a key demographic here! We have an Indian princess and an Ameican Indian princess and a French princess and even a kind of Chinese princess but there’s no African American princess!” Much was made of the fact that this was the first Disney animated movie to have an African American lead. I appreciate the attempt to diversify the very pasty ranks of the princesses, but to me it feels too calculated and methodical a move. I speak from the perspective of one of the whitest people in white-town, but I can’t help feeling that if I were the intended target of this movie I would be vaguely insulted.

The movie also seems uncomfortably thick with stereotypes. The inbred two-fingered hunter in the bijou? The gap-toothed Cajun bumpkin firefly? The poor but happy black servant class? Again I am not a part of any of the groups being lampooned, but it makes me vaguely uncomfortable to watch parts of the movie. I find that sad, because there were parts of this movie I really enjoyed, once it got away from New Orleans and became a more standard adventure of two frogs looking for a way to escape an evil curse.

The plot of this movie is pretty simple (as with the best Disney films.) The hard working young woman Tiana has been scrimping and saving and working two jobs her entire life so she can start up her own restaurant. The lazy good for nothing visiting prince Naveen is cursed by a voodoo witch doctor who wants to supplant the prince with a pawn under his own control so he can take over New Orleans (think of him as a thin male Ursula from Little Mermaid.) Tiana kisses the frog prince but he is not restored, instead she too becomes a frog and the two of them escape into the swamps where they befriend a jazz trumpet playing gator and a hick firefly. The four of them have until midnight in the eve of mardi gras to have Tiana’s frighteningly hyper kinetic friend Charlotte, who is princess of the festival, kiss Naveen so that everybody can get their happily ever after.

There’s a strong theme that stresses the importance of hard work to achieve your dreams, which is nice to see. Tiana is a character with a goal in mind and will not allow anything to stop her from achieving it. Not the nay-sayers or her peers who want her to relax and party with them or the mean spirited bankers or even a nasty voodoo spell. It’s a little unfortunate that the movie seems to say that finding her prince charming is ultimately more important than her lifelong dream, but at least he helps her achieve it in the end, so that’s okay. Right?

The only other comment I have about the movie regards Naveen’s accent. He has a heavy Spanish accent that reminded me very much of Pepe the Prawn. (He even uses Pepe’s trademark “okay” at one point.) It made me long for a Muppet adaptation of this movie called “The Princess and the Prawn.” The precedent is there – many of Kermit’s frog companions come from an adaptation that Henson did of this same fairytale way back at the start of his career. In fact I think we have that video tape somewhere – perhaps we should add it to the project!

May 24, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment