A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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!

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

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