Thursday, 28 January 2010

The Princess and the Frog - Review

Oh Walt Disney, how I have missed you. For the people who know me, you probably know how this review is going to play out, for those who don't I just want to say that very few types of films in the world give me as much honest, heartfelt enjoyment as an animated movie from Walt Disney Pictures. My childhood was frankly spoilt with classics such as Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, The Lion King and Hercules - to name a few - being released in the cinema for the first time.

Then through perhaps a mixture of the CG revolution from Pixar, Dreamworks and the like as well as a lack of passion from the strayed board of directors running the company, Disney lost their magic, their heart, their soul. After releasing pieces of bland and uninspiring features like Dinosaur, Home on the Range, Meet the Robinsons, Chicken Little etc, the company looked dead and buried, until Pixar head honcho John Lasseter returned as the company's creative director and gave the Mouse his heart back.

The Princess and the Frog is a much more significant movie than simply being the first with a black princess, it marks the return of Disney doing what they are frankly, head and shoulders better than everyone else at, 2D hand drawn, fairy tales. Obviously taking loose cues from the classic Grimm fairy tale, the Frog Prince, this fresh adaptation is set in early 20th century New Orleans about a struggling waitress Tiana encountering the suave and charismatic Prince Naveen albeit in frog form which sets the two of them off on a magical journey through the colourful eclectic environments of that part of America, meeting some genuinely amazing characters along the way.

Firstly I won't lie, the story is your typical text book Disney, anyone over the age of 12 is going to guess the ending and how it's mainly going to play out within the first 10 minutes. But does that make it any less enjoyable? Certainly not. From the moment the film begins, you can feel this is something truly special, and after being bombarded with a mountain of computer animated features in recent years, genuinely refreshing. The opening, with references to 'wishing upon a star' will clearly evoke memories of Pinocchio, while the feel of the movie will clearly place it next to some of the company's best from the 90s.

The characters themselves were delightful, Tiana was the typical Disney heroine archetype, headstrong, holding on to a dream, hoping for more than what she already has, never looking for love initially as well as having a cracking singing voice. While Prince Naveen was perhaps a more surprising package, I can't really recall a Disney prince as instantly likable nor with as much personality, providing some genuinely funny one liners as him. The support characters equally just as captivating, the standouts being Louis, the jazz playing alligator who reminded me slightly of Baloo from The Jungle Book and Ray the Cajun firefly who could have easily been irritating turned out to have the biggest heart of all the support characters.

It is always hard to find a brilliant villain in a modern Disney film, someone on par with the likes of the Queen from Snow White, Cruella DeVille from 101 Dalmatians, Malificent from Sleeping Beauty etc, and though The Shadow Man was, in my opinion, not the most memorable villain I will ever encounter he still provided some pretty unsettling imagery, delving into darkness you wouldn't often see in a Disney film of this nature.

As much as I love The Princess and the Frog, it would be silly for me to compare it to the Disney films I grew up with. If I'm being honest this isn't as good as Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King or Aladdin. That cruel assessment doesn't change the fact that I believe it still wouldn't be out of place next to them however. The animation is genuinely beautiful in places, almost magical.

What the Princess and the Frog was maybe lacking was scope, it never dared to be epic, you never quite got that moment that will define it next to its peers. You know what I'm talking about right? That opening sequence of The Lion King, that ballroom dance in Beauty and the Beast, that Whole New World in Aladdin. If anything The Princess and the Frog, despite the ethnicity of its princess - which is a far bigger issue than it ever needed to be - biggest problem was that it played it too safe.

Final Thoughts
After years of wandering the wilderness, Disney finally bring the world the magical, heartfelt beauty of 2D animation at its very best. The Princess and the Frog is a lovable fairy tale with colourful captivating characters, and some darker moments that the young kids might feel slightly unsettled by. I'm personally surprised I enjoyed it so much, since I'm still hanging on to those childhood classics of mine. Hopefully this will mark the beginning of a beautiful new era for 2D animation bringing Walt Disney Classics to a whole new generation. Just shows all those nights wishing upon a star may finally be starting to pay off...


See this if you like...
Suppose it would be quicker to say Disney films, than attempt to list them all like my first draft of this review...

The Princess and the Frog is in cinemas everywhere from 29th January 2009.

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