After a decade of dabbling in CGI cartoons with the likes of Chicken Little, Brother Bear, Meet the Robinsons, and a slew of award-winning movies by its subsidiary Pixar, one might think that a return to traditional “cel” animation is a bit of a step in the wrong direction. But like downing a glass of ice water after a long bike ride, watching The Princess and the Frog is a refreshing throwback to the basics: good animation and a solid storyline, backed up with some fantastic foot-tapping musical numbers and a memorable supporting cast. Aside from a few questionable scenes with the film’s nemesis, Dr. Facilier (Keith David), this is an extraordinarily pleasant reminder of the kind of moviemaking that made Walt Disney a household name.
Set in the humid streets and bayous of New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog tells the long-trodden tale of a young girl who wants more out of life. The princess in question this go-round is Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young girl with a hard-working father and loving mother who dreams of opening her own restaurant with her dear old dad someday. And in the tradition of Disney movies, she wishes upon a star, desperately hoping her dream will come true. But far from the beaten path laid by the House of Mouse, Tiana does not wish for a handsome prince to sweep her off her feet. Nor is she under any illusions that a ball of gas burning billions of miles away has the power to shape her destiny. Instead, she knows that only hard work and unwavering determination can get her the restaurant she dreams of–a moral lesson reinforced by (what else?) a song. Sometimes the classic formulas are the best, eh?
And what good is a children’s movie without some weighty advice on sound financial planning? Tiana’s entrepreneurial spirit is nearly snuffed out when she is told she only has three days to make the rather sizeable down payment on the riverfront property–a payment that her dozen change jars just can’t quite accommodate. Fortunately she takes a side job making pastries for a party thrown by her spoiled rotten best friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) who wants to hit it off with the wealthy Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos). Turns out he is broke, and visits the voodoo artist Dr. Facilier and sells his soul to get some quick cash. At the party that evening one thing leads to another and Tiana and Naveen get turned into frogs and are float away to the swamp on a pack of helium balloons.
In classic Disney style we are soon introduced to a handful of oddball supporting characters, each with outlandish and highly exaggerated southern/cajun accents and mannerisms. There’s an old lightning bug named Ray and a misfit alligator named Louis, as well as Mama Odie, a mystical priestess who helps Tiana and Naveen on their quest to return to human form. Throw in a handful of aforementioned catchy tunes, and like Tiana’s gumbo, you’ve got a recipe for an animated delight. The cel animation is the icing on the cake that givies the entire production a vibrant, sprightly attitude that makes nearly all computer-rendered animation in the past decade pale in comparison.
The Princess and the Frog is many things, but while the return to traditional animation is a welcome change from much of the bland, sterile computer animated schlock coming out of Hollywood today, I was disappointed in the overall storyline. It was an enjoyable romp to be sure, but it felt like a paint-by-numbers Disney flick rather than groundbreaking or envelope-pushing like we have seen in Wall-E and Up. But if anything, it does prove that there’s still plenty of life left in the realm of old-school animation.
Last 5 posts by Simon R.
- Mission: Impossible III - November 1st, 2013
- Pacific Rim - July 19th, 2013
- House of Cards - May 9th, 2013
- Academy Awards 2013 Liveblog - February 23rd, 2013
- Why JJ Abrams Will Save Star Wars - February 19th, 2013