Saturday, December 19, 2009

Movie with Abe: The Princess and the Frog

The Princess and the Frog
Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Released November 25, 2009

Disney’s newest film is meant to be a permanent entry in its impressive library of classic fairy tales. It’s a traditionally inspiring story of a character without riches to boast of who dreams of a better life and thinks only of enriching the lives of those around her with her caring and wonderful nature. What’s significant about this story in particular is the identity of its central character and the format in which the film was made. It’s the first of nearly fifty Disney films to feature an African-American protagonist, and all of its characters are brought to life with hand-drawn rather than computer animation.

The style of animation in “The Princess and the Frog” is reminiscent of so many of Disney’s timeless films, and returning to a world where animals talk and magic and true love rule feels familiar and fabulous. Heroine Tiana hangs on to her father’s lifelong dream of running a restaurant with a dedication that parallels that of Cinderella. The setting of the story in the early 1900s in New Orleans creates a whole new dimension, allowing cultural elements like food and music to be incorporated in a truly fun fashion. It’s a unique movie in that sense, but as soon as the people and the animals start wandering around the swamp, it could easily be “The Jungle Book” or “The Lion King,” and it feels just as accessible and endearing.

“The Princess and the Frog,” like many Disney films before it, is not just an animated adventure, but also doubles as a musical. Songs from familiar Disney composer Randy Newman help make Tiana’s journey from rags to riches a soaring, lively rush. It allows minor characters to act as an ensemble, evoking memories of “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” and “The Little Mermaid.” It aids in separating Tiana’s transformation into the person she always wanted to be into stages, with songs there to mark her progress and update the audience on her emotions.

It may feel like a familiar story, and the title brings to mind a story whose whole plot could be captured on a dozen short pages in a children’s book. Yet there is much more to discover here. Tiana whips up delicious New Orleans desserts and continually proclaims the unique greatness of her city. Prince Naveen arrives in town to find himself a wealthy heiress to marry, and his careless zeal oozes out of him uncontrollably. Once things go awry and both he and Tiana are turned into frogs, the real fun begins as they continually bicker back and forth and, surprise, surprise, come to learn that they do in fact have something in common. The token supporting animal, Louis, an alligator who aspires to play jazz with the best musicians of New Orleans, adds plenty of humor and hilarity to the dynamic of the already entertaining Naveen and the charming Tiana. The story of the princess and the frog is whimsical, enthralling, and frightening, and altogether a delight in the true Disney tradition.


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