The Princess and the Frog
Those of you Faithful Readers who have been following the saga of our Saturday night journey through the Walt Disney animated features all the way from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs right through … well, this one, will wonder why this one is being reviewed out of order. The simple answer is that I just bought the DVD and wasn’t willing to wait until some months down the line to see it. Tomorrow we will resume our odyssey with Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
I am happy to report that just about everything about this movie is cause for rejoicing. It is a return to the best, without abandoning the truly wonderful things that can be done with the new technologies. It is the first hand-drawn feature since Home on the Range; that is, the characters are hand-animated, though the backgrounds and special visual effects were done with CGI. And that’s good. The New Orleans backgrounds really come alive. I was constantly recognizing places I’d been, from Jackson Square to the Garden District. And the magical voodoo effects and big production numbers totally dazzle. All this while retaining the special flavor of the old-timey 2D characters that will take you back to The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and Pinocchio. Disney’s previous three movies, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt, were all 3D CGI, and had more of a flavor of Pixar / Dreamworks than Disney. That is certainly not at all a bad thing—I’m on record as worshipping at the Pixar altar—but it’s a whole different style. And I’m delighted to hear that Disney has committed to doing a hand-drawn feature every two years or so. One hopes they can retain the hyperactive CGI audience while still serving the more story-oriented and even, shall we say, sentimental, 2D audience. Which is me.
But best of all, this is a strong return to the Broadway-type musical format that worked so well in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and others that finally took Disney animation from its moribund 1980s state right up to a first-ever Best Picture nomination. There has always been music in Disney features— and others were nothing but music: Fantasia, Fantasia 2000, Melody Time—but it was Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who introduced the Broadway sensibility, and they did it so well that several of those movies were retrofitted into actual Broadway shows, most notably The Lion King.
In a Broadway show, story is much more important than some people realize, and this one has a strong story. It’s something that Pixar has understood from the beginning: if you ain’t got story, all you’ve got is a lot of bright, kinetic energy. People will go see it—so long as it has 3D on the cover—but it won’t last. The Princess and the Frog didn’t do as well as some had hoped (a return of $270M on a $100M investment is seen as “disappointing” these days, and go figure that one out), but my feeling is that it will last a lot longer than, say, Kung Fu Panda or Over the Hedge. It’s anybody’s guess if Disney will be able to re-release it theatrically in 10 years, as they have traditionally done and thus made big money, eventually, even with their flops. Everything is in such a state of flux with 3D getting gigantic, and the new business of downloading, not to mention piracy. DVDs still seem so wonderfully new to me, but people are abandoning the format like a sinking ship. But whatever happens, I hope there is still a market for movies like this.