The Princess And The Frog(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreAnimation, Musical, Romance
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
When Walt Disney Animation made Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Aladdin, did everyone know they would become instant classics?
After all, when the storied animation pioneer made Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi from the late 1930s through the early 1940s, the acclaim garnered was almost universal.
With The Princess and the Frog, Disney returns to traditional 2D animation – the last being 2004’s disappointing Home on the Range -- following three straight CGI films, and it is less apparent whether this will be a classic for the ages.
Having said that, this film has considerable heft behind it; Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard are two of the prominent vocal talents involved, and Pixar heavyweight John Lasseter (Toy Story) is an executive producer.
Co-directors and co-writers Ron Clements and John Musker previously worked on The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, so they know something about that ol’ Disney magic.
And in lead vocal star Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls), they have someone who brings much warmth, character and sassiness to the role of Tiana, a girl whose parents (Winfrey and Howard) have inculcated many positive values in her.
Through hard work, she dreams of one day starting her own restaurant in what looks like turn of the 19th century New Orleans. This is an era when jazz is emerging as an art form, riverboats regularly ply the waterways of the Deep South, and people use colourful phrases like “the bee’s knees”.
It is also a time of black magic, when a nefarious voodoo priest turns both Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), a visiting prince, and Tiana into frogs in order to swindle a sugar mill tycoon (John Goodman) of his riches.
In terms of animation style, the film generally excels and pleases. There is none of the manic restlessness that afflicts some animated films that seem preoccupied with catering to younger viewers. All the characters’ movements are smooth and lifelike, as one would come to expect from Disney.
Also expected is the way the film’s title sequence and opening song skilfully introduces all the key characters and foreshadows the plot of Dr. Facilier (Keith David) to harm the Prince.
When the bad doctor later learns that the Prince is in fact penniless, he uses a voodoo amulet to turn the Prince’s disgruntled manservant into a royal look-alike, while transforming the Prince into a frog.
The frog convinces Tiana to kiss him, in an effort to regain his original form, but the curse then afflicts them both, turning them into a pair of bickering amphibians, set adrift on the bayou. While love predictably blossoms between the two, the resolution of this story is less obvious.
A portly jazz-loving alligator and a folksy firefly -- typically ‘Disneyan’ comedy sidekicks -- come to the aid of the Prince and Tiana, guiding them towards bayou-dwelling witch who may reverse the curse.
By taking elements of the Brothers Grimm’s Frog Prince and E.D. Barker’s 2002 young-adult novel The Frog Princess, and marrying it with an exploration of Cajun culture, Disney appears to have gotten the balance right, even if the latter doesn’t particularly lend itself to an immediately wide appeal.
Perhaps one of the surprises of the film is how deep an impression the sidekicks make. In particular, the firefly (Jim Cummings), who speaks with a heavy Cajun accent that is especially effective in conveying sadness, provides a strong emotional impact late in the movie.
This film may yet prove to be a modern classic, for its story is honest, pure and full of heart, and its songs enjoyable if not quite so memorable. Only time can tell how it will alter our collective view of this film.
But one thing this reviewer knows for sure: if a movie is able to make a pair of mismatched frog lovers worth watching, and a humble firefly appear eminently sympathetic, it’s definitely a laudable effort, an above-average animated film fit for all ages.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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