Like most big Disney fans, I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard that Disney would once again be revisiting hand-drawn animation. This was the style of animation that made them what they are today and had an unyielding grip on our nostalgia buttons, so I would have had to be crazy not to be excited. Not only were they producing a 2D animated classic, but it would also be a musical featuring a brand new Disney princess based on a story everyone already knew. Instantly, I started thinking about the ’90s Disney movies and could not wait until we got back to what many people, including me, thought of as the pinnacle of Disney animation. And then, December 11th, 2009 came. Many Disney fans were sitting in the theatre awaiting the triumphant return of ‘real’ Disney and…..well…..
The Princess and the Frog was a hugely divisive movie in many ways. Critically, it did quite well and is currently sitting at a 84% on RottenTomatoes with many critics praising the warmth of the animation and the obvious Disney magic sprinkled throughout. Unfortunately, critical success did not equate to financial success and, while this movie did not bomb, it reached nowhere near the heights that the Disney company hoped it would.
Fan reaction was also quite divided as well, as it seemed that half of Disney fans were captured the movie and the magic that accompanied it, while the other half were bored and proclaimed, yet again, 2D animation dead at the Disney company. As years have passed, it feels like opinions of TPatF (as it shall henceforth be referred too) have simply slipped to indifference. As for me, well, TPatF is not my favourite Disney movie by any stretch of the imagination, but I firmly believe that it does not deserve a lot of the criticism and indifference it receives. There are so many good things about this movie, so let’s dive right in.
First, I have to praise the animation. It really is gorgeous. From the city views of New Orleans, to Tiana under the bright starry sky, to the insect laden yet pretty swamps, to the beautifully scary graveyard; it really is all great. It really made me happy to see all of the 2D drawings as it really does feel more like a warm embrace than the colder, computer generated look (which is completely biased and flawed feeling. CGI often looks gorgeous, but hey, this is my opinion). Even though some people have some problems with this movie, I have yet so see someone fault it because of its animation.
The music, while not as great as the animation, can still hold its own. Of course, we have the staple ‘I want’ song sung by Tiana, the Disney princess. This time, it’s called “Almost There” and is accompanied by a nice jazzy vibe and some snazzy animation. The other real standout hit is “Friends from the Other Side,” sung by the villain Doctor Facilier. It’s creepy, it’s cooky, it is basically everything you want from a villain song. The rest of the soundtrack fills the movie out nicely, with “Down in New Orleans” being the thematic rope that kind of ties the whole movie together.
Likewise, I also find the majority of the cast of characters to be quite charming. Tiana is a good example of a strong female characters, someone who has their goals and tries to reach past the limitations that society has placed around her, even if it feels like Disney is laying it on a little too thick at times. I also really like how Naveen acts like a real, sheltered prince. Sure he is handsome, but he also doesn’t know too much about the world around him and because of this he acts like a dummy from time to time. He is not a default ‘perfect prince’ like so many of the other princess love interests have been. He is a fully realized character. Rounding out the main cast, we have Doctor Facilier, who is not quite as evil as some of Disney’s best like Cruella, Ursula, and Maleficent, but he pulls his own and manages to put Tiana and crew in to some precarious situations.
The supporting characters range from meh to OH I LOVE YOU. On the meh side of things, we have our staple characters Louis, the trumpet playing alligator, and Ray, the old, hillbilly firefly. They are fine and fill their roles as needed, but I never got attached to the characters too much and, nope, sorry, I did not feel bad when Ray died. Better, but still not great, is the character of Madam Odie, who kind of plays the good witch doctor to Facilier’s bad one. She has a catchy song and makes some decent old people jokes, so I don’t mind her too much. However, I think we can all agree that the best side character, and maybe even the best character in this movie is none other than the pink wearing, beignet eating, loud squealing Charlotte La Bouff. Sure, she never really grows much and is not in a whole lot of the movie, but I just love everything about her. From her personality, to her jokes, to her attitude towards everything in general, she definitely adds a lot of points to this movie for me.
Finally, we get to the story, which is what I am most iffy about in this film. It is your run of the mill romantic buddy journey film. It seems very safe and conventional to me and, except for maybe the cute little twist at the end, it goes exactly how you would a movie like this to go, especially if you are at all familiar with Disney or the original fairy tale this is based off. I get the feeling that the story may be the reason that TPatF did not jive with as many people as Disney hoped it did – 2009 was different from the ’90s. We did not need just more of the same, we needed some invention and risk taking. So while the meh story does not sink the film (which stays afloat because of the other elements I talked about), it doesn’t really propel it any further up.
I want to quickly talk about the controversy that surrounded this movie. TPatF was the first Disney movie to star an African American character as a princess. And that’s it. I was actually very surprised that some people were getting up in arms about this, mostly because… that is what Disney does. Filmmakers look into other cultures and adapt, in their mind, what they see. They did it with Aladdin, Pocahontas, Mulan and now with TPatF. In my opinion, there is no difference.
All in all, I really do enjoy this movie and most of what it brings to the table. Sure, the story is standard and a little forgettable, but the rest of the movie is so well done that I almost don’t care (almost). The characters and their interactions are what drive me to go back to this movie and, along with the catchy music and warm, lush animation, I don’t think I would have it any other way. So for those who have yet to see TPatF or who haven’t revisited it in a while, give it a chance. Its not up there in the pantheon of ‘perfect’ Disney classics, but it worthy of being placed a little bit under them.
Edited by: Hannah Wilkes