I must admit that The Princess and the Frog surprised me. I am quite a Disney fan, but while this film was in theaters, I wasn’t really compelled to go and see it. “I know this fairy tale already,” I thought. “How different can the movie be?” The answer, happily, is very different, and as a wonderful extra surprise, it’s very funny, too. More after the jump:
This fairy tale is not set in Europe, as most fairy tales are, but in America. Specifically, it’s set in New Orleans and the bayou of Louisiana, which is lovingly re-imagined as they might have been during the romantic jazz age of the 1920’s. Our lovely heroine Tiana is the daughter of working-class people, but gets a taste of the high life by visiting her Mother at her job as a seamstress for a rich little blonde girl named Charlotte. Incidentally, Charlotte is so loveably awful that she steals almost every scene she appears in. Tiana is Disney’s first African-American Princess, and she is worthy of the Disney tradition. Intelligent, hard working and independent, Tiana wishes upon a star to make her dreams of owning her own restaurant come true, not just to marry a handsome Prince. For a woman of the 1920’s, Tiana is refreshingly modern-minded.
Some of the best parts of the film include the character Dr. Facilier, a voodoo shaman. Facilier is charismatic, creepy, and damned good villain! In one memorable scene, great, stylized voodoo imagery explodes onto the screen in reds and purples, bringing to mind the Night on Bald Mountain sequence from Disney’s Fantasia, created over 60 years before this film. Another fantastic character is a lightning bug named Ray, who almost steals the entire film. I defy anyone not to cry when they hear Ray sing the song “Evangeline.” He’s a phenomenal little character amongst many others in this film.
There’s a wonderful dream sequence where Tiana tells her Mother that she almost has enough money for her dream restaurant. As she cleans the dilapidated site of her future restaurant, the scene dissolves into a stylized, art deco fantasy complete with a super-cartoon-y Tiana in a white flapper dress. Though this film is a musical, which not everyone enjoys, the songs are lively and interesting, and not just segments allowing viewers to visit the bathroom.
The Princess and the Frog was created with hand-drawn animation, in the grand tradition of the very best Disney classic films. Surprisingly, executive producer John Lassiter, the Prince of Pixar and cutting-edge digital animation played a large and enthusiastic role in the creation of this hand-drawn film. Animators used live-action reference footage to help with accuracy and scale of figures, just like the live action footage used while making Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. The Blu-Ray Bonus Features show a little of this process, revealing the amazing physicality of the live-action actors working on the song “Dig A Little Deeper” and “The Proposal” scene.
Other Bonus Features include “Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess,” which illustrates the painstaking process behind the creation of an animated movie of this scale, as well as visiting the voice actors who brought these wonderful characters to life. The featurette “The Return to Hand-Drawn Animation” is a brief but interesting look at the art form that is animation, and the studio that started it all. “The Disney Legacy” discusses past Disney animators, and how they still inspire animators working on contemporary Disney animated features. “Disney’s Newest Princess” provides an overview of Tiana, the newest addition to Disney’s famous line of fairy tale Princesses. “Conjuring The Villain” is a great look at Tiana’s adversary, Dr. Facilier, voiced by the excellent actor Keith David. “A Return to The Animated Musical” looks at the process of creating and recording the film’s many great songs. Art Galleries, “The Princess Portraits Game” and a music video by Ne-Yo make these bonus features feel plentiful, and worthy of the price of this Blu-Ray disc.
For the first time in a while, the Disney animated movie The Princess and the Frog was so much fun, so funny and so innovative that it makes one look forward to the next animated feature to come. The Princess and The Frog is a great addition to the Disney legacy, and this is a very exciting time to be a Disney fan, for sure.