Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Disney 2D Animation. When I was 10 I saw The Lion King and that was when I knew for sure I wanted to do animation. For the few minutes the drawings played alive on the screen I was captivated, completely enthralled in their world. I laughed, I cried, and I came out wanting more.
At the ripe age of 26, and after a year's worth of learning the secrets behind the magic, I didn't think I could feel that way ever again. I'm pleased to say I was very wrong.
The Princess and the Frog had a very high standard to hit. Ever since Home on the Range literally tipped over like a cow in theatres I think everyone thought the doors would close forever to the studio that reinvented 2D animation and brought heart to the genre. Imagine everyone's surprise when we heard not only were they opening again, but that there would be the studios first African-American Princess and it would be set in New Orleans at Mardi Gras. At the time with Hurricane Katrina's wrath we were all a little worried toes might get stepped on. But I feel they did the people and the place justice in the same way that Lilo & Stitch respected and highlighted the Hawaiian culture and also the surfing culture (a paper I wrote back in school, believe that if you will).
First off I was very lucky to see this film with a mixed audience. There were little kids and adults alike. Everyone always reacts differently so it's a treat to be able to steal a few looks left and right and down to see what they like and don't like. I was even surprised there were a few jokes just for us animation enthusiasts, including (correct me if I'm wrong) the Mesker, Clements and a third Disney "cast member" (maybe Ashman??) at the Mardi Gras parade - definitely caricatures if nothing else. Probably we'll find out for sure in the DVD. There were tons of omages, as usual and I enjoyed finding those like a little kid on a scavenger hunt. Probably too many hours spent playing hidden object games at work, though!
Not to say I didn't have crits, everyone does, but first of all I want to list the things I absolutely adored just to get them out of the way.
Characters first, as my professor Charles would say and this movie was full of unique and memorable characters. First up was a huge surprise from the supporting cast, Charlotte! (Or Lottie for short) Holy cow, this is a first for Disney, a supporting "rich girl" female lead who isn't a complete snotty jerk. She reminds me a bit of the new Anastasia from the sequel and threequel of Cinderella (which is actually pretty decent if you're watching just for her and you should by the way if you haven't to throw out another tangent). I've never seen a fangirl character down so flawlessly. She's just so likeable and her design is as appealing (and resembling!) of a little porcelain doll. Her character really shines near the climax of the film when she sacrfices her dream for her friend's happiness. The only thing I probably didn't like about her was the end with Naveen's little brother, I hope she was joking about the "I can wait!" line, that was a tad creepy if you ask me. Reminded me a bit of someone I shouldn't mention.
Speaking of unnamed things I like the theme here of "sometimes what you really want isn't what you really need" - and this has been true for me personally. I also like the sub-themes of beliving in something because it's worth believing even if everyone thinks you're crazy and that hard work is part of making your dreams come true.
On a personal note, Tiana, the lead female, reminds me a lot of myself. She's the perfectionist, A-type who sacrifices fun to follow her dreams and works her ass off to do so. This movie spoke to me in that way. It was a message I needed to hear right now. Remember to take time to enjoy the things that you do have and the people that you love.
And next up, Raymond (or just Ray) the firefly. Honestly I was extremely terrified he was going to be a really badly protrayed stereotype, but HOLY COW did he ever steal the show, almost as much as Lottie!! He's in love with a star that he thinks is a firefly which he calls Evangeline. This is probably one of the best subplots I've seen and it really touched me. What a well-rounded, lovable, appealing character. He personality-wise reminds me a bit of Pepe the King Prawn (only not full of innuendoes, if you know what I mean)! He was probably my second favorite next to Lottie.
As far as the 2D itself goes, whoa, there was a lot and I mean a lot of stylization going on here, including the old splash of style for the song (a la I Just Can't Wait to Be King) only with omg, the most beautiful flat colored profile animation ever. It reminded me of the 1920s art. So gorgeous! I swear my mind was drooling over every frame and I wanted to put each one on my wall, just beautiful. I would expect no less, but that sequence blew me away.
The music's a little bit of the same old tunes (nothing really new), but man oh man, does the 2D team know how to plan out a musical number, everything from the posing to the movement, the lyrics and the beat. I wanted to dance to each one. I have a feeling a lot of these will be stuck in our heads for some time. It's a musical, so there you go! My favorite probably has to be either the love song for Evangeline or the Sometime Soon(?) when Tiana and her mother are in the empty restaurant.
Also the Villain, Shadow Man, excellent job here! I absolutely adored him. Not my favorite, but definitely a good one for the books. He was extremely well-animated (love his shadow!!) and his character was well-rounded for a villain. You sort of felt sorry for the guy in some ways. Just everything about his shop in general was a visual feast, including his tarot cards and his song. I love the bit of him at the climax with Tiana too where she makes the decision. Extremely well done.
The only thing I didn't get with Shadow Man was why he HATED Lottie's daddy so much. Did he do something to him? I wish we could have seen that, and I'm certain it was put on the cutting room floor for a reason. But I would have liked that and they certainly HEAVILY hinted he had done something to him. I mean geez, crime of passion anyone? Stabby-stab with the voodoo needle.
Louis the Gator, really, really great. He reminds me a bit of Rex from Toy Story only with a heavy dose of literally Louis Armstrong pumped into him and maybe a touch of Baloo, if that makes any sense at all, ha! Extremely likable.
Naveen, our leading man. I was sort of 50/50 on him. You know who he reminded me a bit of (and the plot in general)? Coming to America with Eddie Murphy, especially when he was going on about how he didn't know how to do anything himself (remember the opening to that movie? lol). I hate to say it but I didn't 100% buy that he falls in love with Tiana. There's the 1% that was like "well maybe?" I think they needed a bit more screentime for that. It felt a little rushed near the end (hopping into marriage a little quick wasn't he? - pun intended!). Even so, they're chemistry was well played and they made a good couple I thought. I suppose if I want to get super-critical it had to be a lot more believable than Ariel and Eric, for instance! (But that was when I was 7 so I didn't nitpick like that way back when, hahaha!) I do have to say some of the best character animation was on Frog Naveen. His eyes especially, well-played emotionally. You could just see what he was thinking. Excellent. Whoever was lead on there absolutely had to have either been under Glen Keane or close to him. Or maybe him? LOL. I didn't know if he's busy with Rapunzel (coming 2010!) at the moment. I unfortunately didn't get to stay through the credits, so I didn't get to see who the leads were. (Let me know if you know!)
I noticed a lot of well-blended 3D in here and I have to say I loved it. I was entranced by the firefly grouping and I remember vividly this one close up of some Dandelions (that one's for you Sheila!) that were just amazingly well-rendered in detail.
Mama Odi - awesome. I really like her. Reminds me of Truffles from Chowder + Rafiki?? That's a weird combo, but it works pretty well. Her message was a good one and I liked her snake and her general demeanor, lots of fun.
Here's some plot nit-picky things that made me a little disappointed. The three bayou hunters - pretty funny but they felt a little flat and then sort of fell off the map. It felt like another part to something and I was hoping they would show up again. I think things might have made a little more sense if they were in league with the Shadow Man somehow? Might be personal preference though. "Two fingers" - I wasn't sure what to make of him, half-disturbing, half-this guy is kind of cool in a creepy way, lol! And then your George and Lenny characters (that formula never fails, I swear to you) -- although this one was unhurt by violence and I liked that --- proving Disney can do funny. It was actually like a bit of Warner Brothers there for one scene, extremely well-timed and funny. I think the main thing was we already had the crocs and the evil shadows too. I would have liked to see them pick one of the three or perhaps three, one of each and expand more deeply on them. Then you end up with villain supporting leads like "Sir Hiss" And "Iago" who are just as good if not better than their villain counterparts. Let's see some more of that Disney, start being a little more picky. You keep cramming in too many characters and don't give them room to shine.
Travis -- A minor, minor character that I thought really needed some focus so far as Lottie was concerned. This suffers from the same problem that Cinderella 2 and 3 suffered from which is, unless you're the lead female you don't get a happy ending. I really really don't like that idea especially when they're promoting dreams. It sends a negative message to the girls who might not have the cute looks Tiana had. For once Disney, I'd like to see a plain girl lead. They nearly had it with Anastasia and her Baker beau! (Finally a guy who's not muscle bound and "perfect" looking - they probably are my favorite Disney pair.) Disney, you would blow me away if you could pull that off. Anyways, all that to say Travis was clearly possibly a beau for Lottie, and she was blowing him off for the prince - that could have made a nice subplot by itself, with him proving he could be just as good as any silly prince. I would have liked to see her put aside dancing with the little Prince to cut a rug with Travis instead - it could have been another great development for her as a character --- to show that she knows that's not what she "needs" but "wants" - more themeage! But at any rate, it's not Lottie's story, so I can see why anything that might have been there got cut off. C'est la vie!
If they do a sequel - and I feel they're bound to at this point -- are you listening Disney? Let's give Lottie some screentime and let her story shine a bit. You would do the fans a favor as I bet she will have some when this movie is out and about. You do that and I might consider going back to LA! HA! I totally said it.
I can't think/remember anything else at the moment, so I think I'll wrap this up! Overall, I adored this movie. I give it 4 out of 5 rings in a nutshell. If you haven't seen it, please see it and if you have see it, do someone a favor and drag them to see it again with you.
I can't stress hard enough that we should all be supporting this movie as fans of 2D Animation! Let's break the box office and show them we still love the artform that's been such a part of our hearts and our dreams.
In conclusion, in Disney's history they've always gone back to a Princess picture when things are looking rather bleak and sad, and it's always given it a fresh jolt (just look what Little Mermaid did for the studio!). This is exactly what they needed and what we needed as well. A little reminder of why they do what they do.
Here's looking forward to King of the Elves in 2012!! I'll see you there.
- Joanie /^>