This past Sunday I went with my wife Cheryl to go see Disney‘s new animated feature The Princess and the Frog. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. While I had seen the trailers for the movie, I really tried to stay mostly spoiler free. After all, this was a big event for Disney as it marks a return to traditional 2D animation after a 5 year hiatus from it in favor of a more modern computer animated approach. Personally I’m not one who’s particularly for one style of animation over the other, as I feel they both have a place in this world. I’m also far more story oriented anyway.
For the most part I’ll try to keep this review spoiler free as I realize that with the holidays and the recent “Snurricane of ’09” that many might not have seen it yet. For me, if it hadn’t have been for the WDW Today Podcast ’09 Reunion on the movie’s opening weekend, I probably would have seen it a week earlier than I did.
The movie is set in the early pre-Depression era 20th century, and begins right around the time when Woodrow Wilson first became President of the United States. There is one shot to establish this time period early on in the movie as we see a headline declaring that Wilson was elected President. And from that moment I was immediately hooked. From the previews I had just naturally assumed it was going to be set in modern times, and was happy to find it was not. I don’t think the story would have otherwise worked.
Cinematically there were some very clever things done with the animation, and, to me, two of them stood out. The first was the consideration made by the artists in providing a sort of depth of field focus to the frames as they were presented to us. The characters and elements that were the focus of the “shot” were always in focus, and those things around, in front, and behind it were not. It lent an air of almost realism to the movie. This is in stark contrast to the crisp, clean large scale computer animated scenes mixed in with the traditional animation of Beauty and the Beast.
The second was the use of a second style of animation that we saw during Tiana’s “Almost There” number. Granted this has been done in a number of other Disney films, including Hercules (one of my favorites). But this time there is a moment toward the end of the movie where they bring the style back, but only partially as it is mixed with the animation style of the rest of the movie. It is a clever play, and it works well to cement that moment.
This takes me to want to discuss one more aspect of the movie that won me over: the music. When Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a singing and Jazz playing alligator who reminds one of his namesake Louis Armstrong, starts belting ot the song “When We’re Human” I was immediately flooded with the sorts of warm and happy feelings I get from my all time favorite Disney animated movie song “I Wan’na Be Like You” from The Jungle Book.
Now with that said, not all things with this film are perfect to me. For example, I feel that much of the story lacks the impact that so many of the great Disney animated features have. The story is highly telegraphed throughout, and it has no great surprises, save one which would be a spoiler to speak specifically about. You could tell that Disney was playing it safe.
But this story redeems all that with one simple number, “Dig a Little Deeper” sung by Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). This moment in the film isn’t just one of the most visually stunning and fun moments. It’s also the entire message of the movie summed up in one great song, and that message is this:
Life isn’t about what you want, it’s about what you need and appreciating what you have.
And if every kid who sees this movie walked away with that message they and the world would be better for it.
So many are likely wondering then if this movie is kid friendly, and I’ll say this. It does have what could be construed as scary moments and some very poignant ones also. But they are things that are no more scary than Hercules battling a Hydra, Ursula, or Jafar turning into a giant snake. And they are no more poignant than what happens to Bambi’s mother, or Simba’s father. So if you think your kids can grok though those things, then they can absolutely handle everything Doctor Facilier (a.k.a. “The Shadow Man“) can throw at them.
One last thing is this, before I saw this movie I never would have thought that the most touching, and heartstrings pulling moments of any movie would involve a lovesick Cajun firefly named Ray. Thank you Jim Cummings for that.