The entire world has a love-hate relationship with Disney Animation. I’ll write another post on my attitudes toward their entire history and various hypocrisies they’ve committed through the years, but suffice it to say for now that this is a studio on the mend. Before Princess and the Frog, they’d entirely abandoned 2D, hand-drawn, feature animation for “new” and “hip” CGI. I’ll say this now, before I start in on my Pixar reviews: John Lasseter is the greatest thing to happen to feature animation since Walt Disney himself. The driving force behind CGI feature-length animation also became CEO of Disney Animation, and rightfully heralded the return of hand-drawn animation to the studio that made feature-length animation at all a reality. … AWESOME.
The Princess and the Frog is the latest in Disney’s grand tradition of princess features. … I’m not going to explain that. If you need an explanation of what a princess feature is, stop reading now and start watching some movies once in a while. The princess this go-round is a young girl from jazz age New Orleans named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose). From an impoverished background, she’s dreamed her entire life of owning her own restaurant. Finally, after saving up for years, she’s just about got her restaurant. However, thanks to being outbid with less than a week to match the offer, the restaurant is all but gone from her future. This is when she meets talking frog Naveen (Bruno Campos), who earlier in the day had been Prince Naveen (of Maldonia!). Knowing the old fairytale, but never quite trusting the power of wishing to achieve her dreams, she gives into frog!Naveen’s pleas to kiss her–and is promptly turned into a frog herself.
Through a series of adventures through New Orleans and the surrounding swamps, they meet up with Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), an alligator who’s always hoped to play jazz with the real people (he plays a mean trumpet, what can I say) and a hopelessly romantic firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings). On the advice of Louis and with the directions of Ray, they go to see Mama Odie, an old magic woman out in the swamp to turn themselves back into human beings.
For the first time since The Beauty and the Beast, Disney have actually focused more on the romantic aspect of the princess structure. It’s been feature after feature of men being used as a reward for good little girls. Prince Charming rides in, girl becomes a princess, happy ending. Sure, the structure of this arrangement has been toyed with before–previously in Beast, the Prince was depicted as being a person who has to change to be with the person he loved–but never before have the differences in character between the two protagonists been the driving force of their romance. Indeed, by the time they make it to Mama Odie, Naveen has already changed as a character.
Indeed, it’s the first legitimate romance in the Disney catalogue, as opposed to being tacked on as a sideventure or used as a reward for achieving your goals as a protagonist. Naveen starts the movie as a carefree heir, living solely on his parents’ wages instead of making his own living. Sure, he starts off the film a charming rogue, but he’s also something of a major nuisance. He spends his time on the adventure avoiding any real work toward getting to Mama Odie, which infuriates the hard-working Tiana. As well it should–while charming and funny, it would get on anyone that humorless’s nerves. And don’t get me wrong–Tiana’s her fair share of humorless.
It probably says something that I can’t recall a Disney princess being flawed at all. While, to my knowledge, none yet have come off as a Mary Sue, Tiana is the first princess-to-be who discovers within herself a flaw over the course of the story. By the time Naveen realizes (through Mama Odie’s song) that what he wants isn’t the effortless life of a prince, but to be Tiana’s savior–yes, even if that means working–Tiana has yet to realize the inverse lesson: that working towards your goals with no time out for love and family is just as bad as not having any.
This is the first Disney romance where both partners are dynamic characters, and I think someone should acknowledge the effort that went into not making their romance a token one. By the end of the movie, both partners are fully committed to their relationship and whatever it takes to make it work. They’ve committed to each other, no matter what the result. This is even separate from Beast, where Belle stayed the same patient, forgiving bookworm while The Beast was the one to change from a cynical, jaded misanthrope to a soft, kind man. Naveen and Tiana weren’t made for each other, but they do end up that way. (It’s a princess feature, you know the ending.)
I’d like to take some time out here, close to the end of this article, to compliment the animation of this movie. Like seriously. Oh my god. You guys, this animation. This animation you guys, oh my god. And the songs! It stands to reason that this feature is, in terms of construction, Disney’s finest feature since their renaissance from 1989 to 1999. The animation is gorgeous, the backgrounds are luscious–the hand-drawn character animation is the most character driven since ever. The characters move with a fluidity unseen in modern hand-drawn. It’s astounding. It’s psychedelic, nostalgic, soaked in New Orleans culture, hit up with a couple dashes of Tabasco and cooked until perfect.
And, on that note, I guess I should finally get around to mentioning the music. Seriously, Randy Newman did a great job on this. If there was a composer they could get who understood New Orleans music at a base level, it’s Newman. He was accused in pre-production of being hired for being the composer for Pixar, coincidentally, right as John Lasseter took over. It’s a coincidence, and a good composer for a good film.
This movie is the best princess feature I’ve seen, and could very well be the best one released by Disney yet. It’s not a necessary film to see before you die, but if you have to see one princess feature, do me a favour and make it this one. THREE AND A HALF STARS