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.

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May 24, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , ,

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