"The Princess and the Frog": The Beignets and the Bogged-Down
Everyone knows the story of the frog prince. A prince was turned into a frog, and it took a kiss by a princess to turn him back to human. Disney has turned the classic fairy tale on its tail (as well as moved it to New Orleans) by having the kiss turn the princess into a frog herself. The two unlikely companions must then make their way to Mardi Gras with the help of some cajun comrades, so they can turn back human before the evil voodoo doctor can sell the souls of New Orleans to his dark benefactors.
There’s no doubt that Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation is flat-out beautiful, with some of the best animation this side of Miyazaki’s recent works. Everything is fluid and realistic (except when it fits the story to be rubber-band stylized) when it comes to the humans, and anything animalistic gets the rights to be anthropomorphized fun. Stylistically, Dr. Facilier, the villainous voodoo practitioner, steals the show with his designs, while Tiana and the rest of the crew appropriately embody 1920’s New Orleans. One of the musical segments mimics the art style of the great art deco posters and flyers of the past.
The story is pretty standard fare; it won’t be remembered like The Lion King, nor will it inspire as many sequels as Aladdin. The fact that the movie is clearly dated as 1920’s New Orleans both helps and hurts. While the cuisine will make you hungry for beignets, po’boys, etouffee, and the like, its realistic setting prevents it from getting too fanciful. Outside of a few scenes of magic and the talking animals (which basically boils down to the general trope of “All animals can talk to each other”), the story stays within the realm of the believable. Still, the evil Dr. Facilier quickly rises through the ranks of Disney villains with both his style and his power.
None of the songs are too memorable; but then, this reviewer doesn’t care for Disney musicals. Still, they’re performed admirably, with the actual voice actors taking part in the songs. Only a few of the cast members can be identified by their voices, including Oprah Winfrey and John Goodman. The rest of the cast consists of either voice actor alumni or standard celebrity actors stepping in for a role.
Don’t let the fact that the recent home video release comes on three discs fool you into thinking it is overloaded with extras. Two of the three discs are just alternate media: a digital copy for your computer, and a DVD with many of the same special features as the BluRay. The most lengthy of the extras are the audio commentary by the directors and crew, and the work print version of the movie viewable side-by-side with the actual movie. After that, there are a host of small featurettes about the return to hand-drawn animation, the creation of a new Disney Princess, the filmed visual reference for the animators, the audio design, and even a few minutes of deleted scenes, alongside a 20+ minute general featurette for the whole film. While nothing here is groundbreaking, it’s all worth a watch and easily pads out the disc.
If you saw the movie in theaters and you liked it, this is a great release for the title. If you missed it, the movie is still worth checking out if only for Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation. But with only the location and the villain being standouts, it easily falls by the wayside of other Disney legends.