Welcome to the Disney Revival Rundown! This week, we at Rotoscopers are analyzing some of the most recent Disney animated films and looking at what makes each one so great. At the end of the series we will have a fan vote to determine which film is the best of them all!
With the Disney Revival brought about by CG films Meet the Robinsons and Bolt, Disney returned to its traditional 2D animation with The Princess and the Frog in 2009. This was Disney’s first fully 2D animated film since Home on the Range (2004). This film brought to Disney the first African-American princess, who became one of the four non-Caucasian Disney princesses and the second American princess.
A contemporary retelling of “The Frog Prince”, set in 1920s New Orleans, finds the paths of hardworking waitress Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) and arrogant, carefree Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) crossed; Prince Naveen is transformed into a frog by the scheming voodoo man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David), and accidently puts Tiana into the same situation when he believes her to be a princess whose kiss will break his spell. With some help from a trumpet-playing alligator, a Cajun firefly, and an old blind lady who lives in a boat in a tree, Tiana and Naveen must race against time and shadow magic to break the spell and realize their dreams. The introduction of Tiana jumpstarted a new line of Disney princesses – followed by Tangled, Brave (Pixar, but included in Disney princess line-up), and Frozen – and returned to the notion brought on by such self-saving princesses as Pocahontas and Mulan.
In addition to bringing back to the forefront the Disney princess line after 11 years and 6 related sequels, Disney returned to the tried-and-true tradition of a theatrical musical based on a fairytale. With classic music by Randy Newman inspired by jazz, zydeco, blues, and gospel – including a princess solo, a villain solo, a group number, and a love number – the film was a clear echo of the formulaic films of the Disney Renaissance. However, the music was hardly alone in reminiscing about the good old days; the animation itself, inspired by Lady and the Tramp and Bambi, aimed for the Disney sculptural and dimensional look of the 1950s. This return to traditional animation began with a new production line of 2D animation – using Toon Boom Animation’s Toon Boom Harmony software as the main software package – to replace the outdated CAPS system of the 1980s. The financial and critical success of The Princess and the Frog even persuaded Disney to green-light at least one new hand-drawn film every two years; unfortunately, after Winnie the Pooh in 2011, Disney has yet to return to hand-drawn 2D animation in a full feature film.
Tiana carried on the concept of self-sufficient women. Building on the stories of the previous princesses, The Princess and the Frog focuses on the idea of a woman who doesn’t have to be independent yet chooses to be anyway. Tiana is in control of herself financially, holding down multiple paying jobs and being realistic when it comes to buying or owning property. This is a woman making her own choices. Tiana is affected by the story, but she moves herself. Lottie, Tiana’s wealthy best friend, is another important step forward for the depth of Disney characters. Lottie is not merely a spoiled rich girl. While she may be somewhat self-absorbed, she shows moments of kindness and thoughtfulness. Lottie displays from the start the truth that The Princess and the Frog will not be about a perfect person. Each and every character written in this film has both flaws and virtues.
By bringing the fairytale closer to the modern day, Tiana, and other characters, are instilled with more modern lives. Tiana is not isolated in a tower or castle, she is involved in and contributes to the world around her. In doing so, she finds herself so absorbed in getting what she wants that she forgets what she needs – to live, to have fun, to experience relationships – becoming a Disney princess who is hard-working but takes her work to an extreme. The film then introduces an equally extreme complement for Tiana: Prince Naveen. Although not a memorable prince, Naveen provides the opposite end of the spectrum from Tiana; he is charming, conceited, and barely motivated, but his path is incredibly similar to Tiana’s. Naveen, too, is focused on what he wants – a party life with plenty of money and women – and is oblivious to what he actually needs. By forcing each character into an external change by becoming frogs, the characters are forced through an internal change in their pursuit of a return to their normal lives.
The Princess and the Frog is, in many ways, a return to the traditional animated princess film so familiar to the Disney Renaissance period; however, this film is significantly more developed than previous princess films and paved the way for Tangled, Brave, and Frozen. In The Princess and the Frog, the internal conflicts of the characters takes precedence over the external conflicts, creating a change of perception. The main goal is not love or marriage and, despite the marriage that occurs, Tiana’s original dream is never sacrificed. Tiana and Naveen work together to build up her dream from the bottom, and she achieves her original goal: opening her restaurant.
The Princess and the Frog brought back princesses, traditional animation, and a continuing sense of female empowerment. Disney brought the audience a world closer to home, a woman with both career and love, and the idea that faith is just as important as hard work. The Princess and the Frog boasts an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, three stars out of four from the Chicago Sun-Times, and Roger Ebert wrote in admiration, “No 3-D! No glasses! No extra ticket charge! No frantic frenzies of meaningless action! And…good gravy! A story! Characters! A plot! This is what classic animation once was like!”
What do you think of The Princess and the Frog? Where would you rank it in our Disney Revival Rundown?
Other articles in the Disney Revival Rundown:
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes