Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Princess and The Frog


Try and remember the last great Disney animated film that didn’t begin with that jumping Pixar lamp. This will probably vary depending on your tastes. For me, it was Lilo and Stitch, although I would consider Hercules, Mulan and Tarzan acceptable answers as well. This is not to say there’s anything technically or story-deficient in anything post, say, 2000 in non-Pixar Disney animated films. They just seem to be going through the motions, perhaps hitting a few clever notes but not getting into really solid territory.

The Princess and the Frog is probably not the greatest Disney film ever. But it’s good, exceeding expectations and harkening back to the better days of the Disney Renaissance (having the directors of The Little Mermaid doesn’t hurt that fact.)

There’re a lot of headier issues we could delve into here about representations of race and class in the context of 1920’s New Orleans (and what racism is acknowledged and how much is not.) Especially in terms of swarthy Lothario Prince Naveen’s fictional nation with European trappings yet just brown-enough skin to keep any Middle-American concern for interracial relationships somewhat at ease. But I haven’t invested the level of engagement to get to that point with the text yet, and we can definitely discuss this over in the comments.

That being said, I think, overall, there’s a good balance between trying to represent the particularities of New Orleans culture and the 1920s without going too deeply into stereotype or heavily covering up the issues of the time.

The story is, for delving into the rather limited Frog Princess story, rather deep, and there’s a lot of good characterization and flow. The overall messages of the movie, about self-determination and hard work, are definitely a step above waiting for an arriving prince, or even the non-descript “wanting more” of the Disney Renaissance princesses. The music also is probably the strongest since Beauty and the Beast and ties in very well with enforcing the messages of the movie while being good songs in their own right.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Disney villains. As appropriate to melodrama, the richest and most nuanced characters are at times the more villainous ones. So, while at times a bit creepy, and overly theatrical, Disney villains get a chance to be the decadent and dark id to the Disney superego. And Doctor Facilier, the voodoo houngan who curses Naveen and desires a social status denied to him due to his heritage, could easily make #10 of my personal top Disney villains list. Being voiced by the rumbly baritone Keith David (perhaps best known as Goliath on Gargoyles, or for his part in They Live,) definitely helps.

The Princess and the Frog is, in my opinion, definitely the best animated non-Pixar Disney movies of the past decade (unless you include Enchanted, at which point it’s a strong #2,) and possibly the best since The Lion King. It’s a pretty strong movie with a great narrative thread. You shouldn’t be troubled taking your kids to the movie, and it has a strong appeal for all ages.