Original Release: December 11, 2009
Runtime: 97 Minutes
Directed By: Ron Clements, John Musker and Rob Edwards
Notable Actors: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Wooley, Jim Cummings, Jennifer Cody, Oprah Winfrey and John Goodman
The Princess and the Frog has gotten a bad wrap for a lot of things. From the time of starting production, everything from character names to the setting to the voices of the characters received criticism for being insensitive or even racist. We’ve watched a lot of movies in this series and many have gotten bad wraps for the same reason. I’m here to tell you that, of all of them, this is the one that I would stand up for the most. The Princess and the Frog was and is everything Disney needed at the time of its release. It marked a Neo-Renaissance and brought with it the hope that Disney was finally back on track. Furthermore, it is rich, vibrant film with tons of heart and characters which are believable, diverse and entertaining. It seems like ages since I’ve raved about a movie in this series, so let’s break that streak right now.
During the release of Home on the Range, Disney made a statement claiming that it would be their last 2D animated film. It was John Lasseter who changed this decision. In fact, he went so far as to find the 2D animators who had been laid off and re-hire them to work on the new film. Musker and Clements, who had left the company after Treasure Planet were also asked to return given their long track record with excellent films. These two were adamant that Disney had done plenty of fairy tales in Europe. It was time to do an American fairy tale. John Lasseter loved New Orleans, so Musker and Clements spent ten days there before starting on the script, noting the character of the city and the magic of it as inspiration.
Controversy hit fast and hard. Originally announced as The Frog Princess in 2006, media outlets ran away with the little information they knew. The main character, then named Maddy, was disapproved of as it was too similar to the derogatory term “Mammy.” Her career as a chambermaid was also looked upon as racist, not to mention the fact that an African-American woman would have a non-black love interest. The title, The Frog Princess, was seen as a slur on French people and finally, the setting was found in bad taste following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina which led to many black families having to leave the city. Disney took all of this to heart. The film became The Princess and the Frog. Maddy became Tiana and now worked as a waitress. Even Oprah Winfrey was brought on as a consultant, eventually voicing Tiana’s mother.
I want to say right off the bat that I feel a connection with Tiana that I don’t think I’ve ever felt with any Disney princess before. Tiana’s plight of working every moment to get to where she wants to be is something I totally understand, but much like her, I also feel the weight of always putting off enjoying life in order to complete that work. I often would rather go home and write than hang out with friends and the song “Almost There” has deep personal meaning for me. Pairing her up with Prince Naveen is perfect. He’s the opposite end of this spectrum. He is all fun and has absolutely no cares or responsibility. Throughout the film we see that life is best lived right in the middle, working hard while finding time to smile and enjoy life. It’s a lesson that is so important and one that Disney hasn’t really done before.
The characters are all wonderful and new. Louis the alligator is hilarious and his desire to be a jazz trumpet playing human is a great reason to get him involved in the craziness of these two frogs trying to get home. Ray provides a unique voice and there is something really special in his love for a star. It hearkens back to the olden days of Disney and the idea of wishing on a star or never stopping the belief in your dreams. Spoiler Alert. I appreciate that he actually dies in the end. I know that sounds a bit bleak but so many times we’ve seen a character almost die. We think they’re dead and then they come back. I like that Ray’s death was sad, but also had this amazing sense of hope. There’s the overwhelming feeling of anything is possible in this film that I haven’t seen in a Disney movie in a long time.
While Doctor Facilier is not my favorite villain ever, I will give him that he is at least unique. His use of voodoo powers provides some very cool scenery and his minions, which he also fears, are quite creepy. I like the idea of this villain that isn’t quite in control of their powers and him being dragged off by the spirits is one of the most visually stunning sequences of the film.
While we’re on that topic, this film is drop dead gorgeous. Every scene and sequence is bursting with color and life and the animation is superb. This is matched by a wonderful musical score and the songs, while not being quite up to snuff with films like The Little Mermaid or The Lion King, are still quite catchy. As I said before, I think the words to these songs are quite personal and had some great messages. Dig A Little Deeper provides this wonderful idea of searching yourself for what you really want and what is really important to you.
I’ve complained a lot about how many love interests in this series don’t really earn their love. They sort of meet and then are in love. Love at first sight is almost a given in Disney. Yet Naveen and Tiana have to work to fall in love. They get to know each other and accept each other for who they are. They make each other better and help to balance once another out. I would go so far to say that this is one of the most realistic love stories in any Disney film yet. Well, except for the whole frog thing. By the end, I wanted them to get together because I really did feel like they completed each other.
The Princess and the Frog is an excellent film. It’s easy to look at a film like this and pull it apart but at the end of the day, this film is incredibly diverse given Disney’s past and it has wonderfully complex characters, beautiful animation and music, and a story which is familiar yet original at the same time. It was easily the most engaging film in a long time and I loved Tiana so much. I especially love that in the end, she does get her restaurant, but she does it with someone who shows her how to enjoy every minute of it. You don’t have to give up on your dreams to have fun, you just have to enjoy the process of getting there. From here on out, the films are only going to get better and I cannot wait for the next one!
Next Up: Tangled
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NOTE: Obviously all the photos are courtesy of Disney Entertainment and I would never in a million years claim them as my own. That being said, all are actually taken with my phone during our viewing in order to capture the moment in a slightly different way than originally intended.
ALSO: My Fiancee has a blog too and he is talking about all the classics we are currently watching, which involves more than just Disney. Head overHERE and check it out!