Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” (2009) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia.org

The Kiss of Life for Walt Disney Studios…

PLOT – 

The plot of this film returns to its classic roots, yet this is still another journey movie, getting from Point A to Point B. However, the character beats are more compelling than the previous offering (Bolt), having more characters spread throughout the story.

Tiana and Naveen aren’t the only ones on the journey. They interact with a host of flavorful characters along the way, each new character a step closer to becoming human again. These other characters are given ample screentime, however, some drag a bit around the middle.

This film seems to do the ‘journey’ formula justice, spreading the plot evenly between side and main characters. In a unique twist on the Disney formula, the villain’s defeat does not solve the conflict.

My PLOT RATING is 8 / 10.

CHARACTERS – 

Tiana is an interesting princess in the canon. She doesn’t start the film as a princess, instead later gaining the title. The film’s message is refreshing: Wishing on a star isn’t the only thing to work on. She exemplifies that message as a go-getter, always moving forward in life. Contrary to other Disney Princesses, Tiana’s business and work is her goal. While she often lets her passion consume her, it does not get in the way of having a close-knit circle of friends.

Naveen is a nice contrast to Tiana. He is content with his life feels no need to move forward, living it up while he can. He has great people skills, with a fun sense of charm and charisma. His love for Tiana, however, seems to come out of nowhere suddenly. Their chemistry could have been built up more, they seemed to not have much in common initially.

Facilier is a great send-off to the classic Disney Villain. Hes design evokes Disney Villains of the past: red, black, and purple with a lean physique and a skull motif. It’s clear from first sight: This is the bad guy. He is notable for not having supernatural power of his own, borrowing power from demons instead. Keith David does a great job at voicing him: suave, manipulative, and sophisticated with a faux regal air, both in anger and calm.

Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) is a riot. He’s big crocodile who just wants to play the trumpet, and that’s it. He has a lot of funny moments and a good arc, but not that much more to him. He somehow crosses the line between human and animal at points, especially during a costume party scene. It’s weird but fun.

Ray (Jim Cummings) is a ‘southern hick’ stereotype. Initially, I disliked his character, but he grew on me. The stereotype he uses is outdated and lazy, but then his backstory comes into play and all is forgiven. He’s a naive and sweet romantic underneath that brash bluster. It’s endearing.

Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis) is also another great character. Disney needs more wiser-than-you-know elderly characters, and she doesn’t disappoint. Her blindness doesn’t slow her down one bit, and the jarring weirdness of her character is funny. She is the fun, bright side of voodoo that Facilier isn’t (It’s a shame they never meet).

Charlotte La Bouff (Jennifer Cody), Tiana’s best friend, is another fun character. Bubbly, excitable, and a great contrast to Tiana, she gets carried away with her lavish life. She doesn’t see Tiana’s race, instead she’s glad Tiana doesn’t see her for her money! It’s great to see friends go out of the way for each other, and these two are no exception.

Side and minor characters include:

Big Daddy La Bouff (John Goodman) – He has an affinity for beignets and acts as the straight man to his daughter.

A pack of alligators (Kevin Michael Richardson and others) – They’re the first major threat of the bayou (with slick vocal chops).

Lawrence (Peter Bartlett) –  Prince Naveen’s put-upon manservant with dreams of grandeur, and the most Disney-looking character in the film.

Three frog hunters (Ritchie Montgomery – Reggie, Don Hall – Darnell, Paul Briggs – Two Fingers) – They take up way too much screen time and seem like a comedic holdover from Song of the South.

My CHARACTERS RATING is 8 / 10.

DIALOGUE – 

The dialogue here is clever and self-aware of the fairy tale it plays homage to. There’s also some clever flashback jokes and visuals. The film has a snappier modern script that wouldn’t be found in Walt’s time. The voice acting here is also very well done, and the song transitions are pretty much seamless.

My DIALOGUE RATING is 9 / 10.

EFFECTS – 

Fittingly, light is used well, illuminating the characters and environments. Facilier’s living shadow has some fun background moments, keeping with him or playing off his actions. The environments are also beautiful and cohesive. They use a fewer variety colors per background and are better as result. The palettes use a lot of greens, blues, and earthy colors, but also wilder colors like pinks, yellows, and greens depending on the scene. The art direction during songs is inspired, at points using the Art Deco style of the early 1900s.

My EFFECTS RATING is 10 / 10.

MUSIC – 

Randy Newman’s scores are often ‘safe’ and have a homely quality. This one is no exception. There’s a lot of violin, with dashes of horns and percussion, reflecting the setting well. The music blends well with the animation and complements the action, but it isn’t that memorable outside of the film. Newman’s strength, however, is the pieces of lyrical music:

“Never Knew I Needed” (Ne-Yo, Noora Noor) – A good song in the style of Neo Soul, but has since become eclipsed by similar songs. For me, it blends into the rest, but it’s a nice listen.

“Down in New Orleans” (Anika Noni Rose (Prologue), Jose María Guzmán) – A beautiful song leading into a jazzy introduction to the city of New Orleans. Very well done. The reprise at the end is also a nice hybrid of the two and good in it’s own right.

“Almost There” (Anika Noni Rose) – A light, bouncy jazz tune that doesn’t really hit the highs or speed it should, but works for what it is. Visually, the accompanying art deco style is also a great plus.

“Friends on the Other Side” (Keith David) – Starts off slow and sultry, drawing you in, then progressively gets weirder and faster. Seriously, it truly gets insane, especially at the end of the film’s reprise.

“When We’re Human” (Michael-Leon Wooley, Bruno Campos, Anika Noni Rose, Terence Blanchard) – A neat jazzy tune with some really good singing, and it’s an earworm too!

“Gonna Take You There” (Jim Cummings, (Terrence Simien (accordion))) – A short, sweet, very cajun, catchy song with a fantastic accordion. Also a nice showcase of lighting effects.

“Ma Belle Evangeline” (Jim Cummings) – A cute love ballad that makes sense in context, and shows off Cummings’ vocal range and singing talent. Also has a great musical intermission.

“Dig A Little Deeper” (Jenifer Lewis, the Pinnacle Gospel Choir, Anika Noni Rose) – A great gospel number about looking beyond the physical to find love. Really fun and funny as well, and catchy to boot!

My MUSIC RATING is 8 / 10.

OVERALL – 

The Princess and the Frog possibly is more relevant now than ever. I didn’t really want to touch on the racial aspects (I personally judge by ‘the inside’). This film breaks new ground by having black protagonists, antagonists, and side characters at center stage. I applaud the film greatly for taking those steps to foster more equality in animated films. I acknowledge the few historical inaccuracies and the rarity of Tiana and Charlotte’s friendship, but it gives kids a positive message so I’ll let it slide.

Regarding the plot, the ‘journey’ idea is overdone as of late. I understand the story need to make the characters frogs, and I appreciate the ‘both are frogs’ twist, but it’s previously tread ground. Maybe Tiana could get her restaurant but meet the Frog Prince (or I’m just wishing for another Ratatouille) but I digress. My only real plot issue is the frog hunters who don’t really bring anything new and serve as some slapstick to extend the film.

The characters and dialogue are really good. The script is very modern and snappy, with a nods towards classic Disney. Everyone has a big dream or drive and it all works out in the end. The amount of characters could be shaven just a hair, but as a whole they work.

The lighting effects are very nice here, and blocked color palette backgrounds evoke both mood and setting. The instrumental music edges towards Cajun at times, but focuses on the orchestral with smatterings of jazz. The lyrical songs are top notch, and work well within and without the film, boasting wonderful voice and music talent.

So, personally? I don’t absolutely love The Princess and the Frog, but it’s really nice. It is great for the ever-shifting racial and political climate, and will be a benchmark for films to come (Soul comes to mind). This new variety can focus on all races, colors, and species, becoming more than just a journey. So long as Disney has great plots, characters, music, and awesome dialogue with excellent effects …

I’ll be sticking around like a fly on a frog’s tongue.

Image: Disney, Twitter.com

My OVERALL RATING for Disney’s The Princess and the Frog is 86%.

Next time…

HOW much hair!?

Stay tuned…

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