Friday, January 1, 2010

Analysis: "The Princess and the Frog"

Welcome to 2010, everyone! Hello, new and exciting clean slates! So long, trashy "aughts" sunglasses!

Whatever shall we do without them?

So, I promised a review of "A Christmas Carol" a few weeks back, and didn't come through with it, mainly because I didn't have much to say about it other than what'd already been said. I personally didn't like any aspect of it, most especially the motion-capture that makes the film look like a PS3 game.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the fact that I really don't have much to say when it comes to writing critiques like these, because I find that 90 percent of the time what I have to say has been said a million times over. However, "The Princess and the Frog" is a very special film - finally, a break from CGI and 3D! - so I'll try my best to be as original as possible in this piece. Also, I'm going to be speaking under the assumption that all reading have seen the film, so...


So let me just say this - I truly loved it. It's one of the better animated films Disney's released in the past decade (that's right, "Treasure Planet"), and I'm glad it's had the success it's had so far. Also, praise to Jennifer Cody ("Lottie"), who pretty much knocked it out of the park. It's also rare that you have a character like that and NOT have her be a bitch. Just sayin'. Also, I loved the animation. It was absolutely beautiful, especially the "Almost There" sequence. Now that that's out of the way...

1) The film didn't necessarily have any strong emotional ties for me. I didn't really care all too much about any of the characters or their motives. At least in the films of the "Disney Renaissance", I cared about the outcome. Here, I wasn't necessarily aware of the risks. Granted, the characters were likable, but I wasn't too interested in the character arc of Ray the Firefly. I felt no major emotional investment.

2) The film follows too closely to the aforementioned predecessors. There's the recurring theme of the child trying to live up to the expectations of the parent (Ariel and Triton, Belle and Maurice, Simba and Mufasa, Pocahontas Powhatan, Mulan and Fa Zhou, etc.). There's the outspoken young woman who doesn't know the true meaning of ____ until ____. It's all predictable to a degree - which isn't so bad - but despite the mimicking of those great 90's films, it doesn't bring anything new to the table.

3) The side characters were, while funny, almost pointless. Louis the alligator feels too tacked-on, and doesn't really progress the story. At least Ray got them to Mama Odie; Ray couldn't even do that. If the character didn't exist, the film would only have lost some comical moments. Nothing else. Also, I can't see either of those characters being too popular for years to come. This isn't necessarily that important to the overall enjoyment of the film, but it seems like the folks behind it intentionally added characters just for this purpose.

4) The villain was too unoriginal for my tastes. While Keith David did a fantastic job voicing him - and sounded like he had a lot of fun doing it - the character seemed to me to be too much of an amalgamation of other Disney villains. If Jafar and Hades had a black child, this would be the outcome. Even his demise was too similar to that of the "Hercules" heavy. I feel like his motivations were too one-dimensional and lacked complexity.

5) There were only 1 or 2 musical numbers that I had stuck in my head after watching. The film's songs seem to never reach their full potential, almost as if they're stopped short before a big climax. While well-written, there are no show-stopping, "Hakuna Matata"-esque numbers here.

6) Finally, I couldn't really tell what the moral of the story was. Was it "Be yourself"? "See others for who they are"? Or was it "Hard work equals great reward"? There seemed to be so many here that the number of messages numbed me to their importance.

I was honestly expecting this movie to be a minor footnote in the annals of Disney animation, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that this film is a genuinely sweet, heartwarming, and funny ( I don't laugh that often in the theatre, but this film had me once or twice) film that fortunately wasn't bogged down in the negative attention or the shadows of it's bigger siblings. It's not perfect, but it's definitely a step in the right direction.

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