The Princess & The Frog
Traditional animation within the Disney brand had gradually fallen by the wayside after a renaissance of sorts from the late 80s to the turn of the century. Perhaps most telling, the last project before the current ‘The Princess & The Frog’ (the forgettable ‘Home on the Range’) attracted Roseanne Barr and Randy Quaid in central roles (hardly a coup by industry standards), not even breaking even on its main production costs.
Thank Pixar and the gods of irony that they decided to revisit their former hunting grounds here though.
A twist on the fairytale ‘The Frog Prince’, it tells the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a waitress and budding chef who works every hour to make her father’s dream restaurant a reality. While she may have no time for fairytales, her childhood friend and débutante Lottie (Jennifer Cody) invites Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos) to her family’s Mardi Gras masquerade ball so that she may woo him. Unfortunately the Prince has been transformed by the nefarious Doctor Facilier (Keith David) into a frog. Believing the kiss of a princess will return him to his human form, he mistakes Tiana in her costume for the very same, inadvertadly transforming her along with him. Using their wits they must run from Facilier whilst searching for a cure.
There is a comfort in how familiar and yet vibrantly reinterpreted the formula here is. The story is simple, with the basic formula one would expect but the vigour the writing possesses is nothing short of refreshing. Perhaps the best example of this is the character themselves who take the best points of their predecessors and make them entirely distinct, telling us everything we need to know with little or no impact upon the pacing, which like the city they inhabit is a mixture of laid back and frenetic. Songs often tell us more than anything else, similar to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or ‘The Little Mermaid’ where they propelled the action and character development, a simplicity echoed everywhere.
The breakout star is Lottie, who manages to balance being in many ways a caricature and antithesis of Tiana with her flouncing, spoilt, saccharine demeanor by illustrating real moments of tenderness and selflessness. It’s impossible not to feel for her and get swept away by her boundless energy; if anything, her complete innocence and romanticism can be seen as making amends for closing the door on this animation in favour of 3D glasses and special effects. Second only to her is Ray, a Cajun firefly who’s in love with the evening star whom he calls Evangeline. He too embodies Disney’s back catalogue (not least because of the dubious racial undercurrent) and refuses to give into cynicism.
One fault does run throughout the piece as a whole however, the time and setting and portrayal of supposed racial integration appears to toe the line, afraid to offend or address the issues that would have been pertinent in almost any other similar production. Perhaps the writer and directors believed as this was the first African American princess it was better to not link her to segregation and racism, allowing Tiana to be just like the others within the same category by not dampening her ability to be self-sufficient, where her freedom or circumstances are entirely directed by the male lead; the irony is that such issues were dealt with to great success in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, even if many believed it unnecessarily dark.
There’s very little I can say here that’s to any real degree negative because this was truly a joy to watch. Refreshing and similarly comfortable in it’s presentation, I can only hope that there would be slightly more depth in the next outing to stop it from becoming stale or irrelevant once again.