So this review is a little late in coming, thanks to the fact that I saw Ink the day I posted my last review, and the sheer volume of awesome that was that movie interrupted the train of thought that was going into the review that you are reading now.
To those of you who remember my review of Sorcerer's Apprentice, you probably recall that my opinion of the Disney Overmind is not exactly what one might call "sublime". The thing that really bugs me about Disney is that they're so powerful despite the fact that they've made more bad movies than people can remember. They like to focus on their classics - but remember, for every Beauty and the Beast there's a Black Cauldron, a Brave Little Toaster, and an Oliver and Company - Movies so bad that Disney doesn't name those movies on it's list of animated features.
Things that Disney wishes it could forget.
For the last few years, Disney has been scrambling to climb on top of the recent movie fads. They've been leaping on 3D, on CGI animation, and on live-action action movies that have less and less content (not to mention quality) as time goes on. I don't know if this is because they're trying to stay modern and "edgy" with the current audience, or whether their current CEO is a kumquat, but for whatever reason it's still true.
However, last year the Disney Overmind decided that it was feeling a bit nostalgic for the old days, and ordered it's minions to create a musical animated feature using the classic style of animation.
"And then build me an army worthy of Mor- I mean, er, DISNEY!"
Fearing bloody retribution, the scurrying drones of the Overmind created something to appease their capricious master. What was created was a movie called The Princess and the Frog, a tale based on the classic fairy tale, The Frog Prince, but with a twist so that it would be approachable by a modern audience. Furthermore, in an attempt to improve Disney's image - the Overmind had been called racist for some years - they decided that the story would take place in New Orleans, and would feature a black heroine. They actually made a pretty big deal out of this. Unfortunately though, she spends most of the movie as a frog. So while this movie is reaching out to the community that agrees that it's not easy being green, the only main black character is... well, the villain.
Gentlemen, you have failed.
I missed Princess and the Frog in theaters. In fact, I have to admit that I did so deliberately. The trailers that I saw didn't impress me all that much, and I thought that romantic Disney animated musicals were a bit below my interest. However, the same fateful day that I saw Percy Jackson and the Olympians, I picked up another movie at my local Red Box - this one. I wasn't expecting all that much out of it - but I found myself very pleasantly surprised.
Princess and the Frog follows the story of Tiana, a young waitress living in New Orleans with dreams of starting her own restaurant. She has all the typical qualities of a female lead in a Disney movie - she's pretty, strong-willed, passionate, and charismatic. After her character is introduced, we meet the male lead - Prince Naveen. Naveen is a prince of an unnamed country who is visiting New Orleans for fun. In contrast to the rather typical Disney portrayal of Tiana, Naveen has all the qualities that one would not expect to find in a Disney Prince. He's handsome, yes, but also foolish, impulsive, irresponsible, and a bit of a horn dog.
He also spends most of the movie looking like this.
The plot kicks off when Naveen encounters Dr. Facilier, also known as The Shadow Man. This voodoo sorcerer con-man tricks Naveen into making a deal with the devil, which results in his fateful transformation into a frog. When he later encounters Tiana - whose dreams of owning her own restaurant have just fallen through - he convinces her to kiss him, hoping that he will be transformed back into a human. However, the plan backfires, causing Tiana to be transfrogged as well. Things then go even more awry when they get lost in the Louisiana bayou.
The rest of the movie is a fun, entertaining ride as the two of them make their way back to the city, meeting the expected cast of comedic supporting characters along the way. All the while, Facillier is working his magic to prevent them from returning - as the spell on Naveen is all part of a plan to take control of the city and harvest all of its wayward souls.
This movie is slick. It does manage to catch some of the feel of New Orleans through the music and imagery, even though the movie takes place sometime in the early 1900's. While it certainly doesn't have the same majesty that movies like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid might be able to convey, Princess and the Frog certainly manages to fend for itself in an increasingly harsh movie environment. It's decently written, the songs are fun, and the characters are pretty interesting, all in all.
A particular standout character is the villain, Dr. Facilier. A lot of Disney villains are generally uninteresting and unintimidating, but Facillier really works. He's very much the smooth operator, and you can really see this sort of person managing to convince all the people around him to do what he wants. He's also one of the very few villains (I think there's only two or three others) who actually kills a major character during the course of the film, and he does so in such a way where the character's death isn't particularly meaningful or heroic. Facilier just strikes him down out of sheer cruelty, which pumps up his rating on the scary-o-meter. Finally, he has one of the coolest villain songs in Disney musical history - right up there with Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" and Frolo's "Hellfire." Seriously, that song alone makes this movie worth checking out.
If only I had seen this movie in time, he'd be on my Top 7 Movie Villains List.
This is a really fun movie, and certainly one of the better films that the Disney Overmind has churned out lately. It's cool, relatively smart, and entertaining. It may not be an animated masterpiece, but it's certainly something that I can definitely feel comfortable suggesting to you.
Final Grade: B