Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

Pucker Up!

The Princess and the Frog may have gotten off the wrong foot with certain quarters who decide to see this through a tainted, racial prism, but what this film actually did, was to reaffirm that old school animation still has its place amongst CG and 3D offerings, bolstered by an impressive storyline, which is always important if to entertain children and the kids who accompany them.

And Disney surely knows what it needed to do given its years of established experience to know what works, and what don't. Like most of its classics, it takes on a well known tell, and gives it its own Disney spin complete with a Happily Ever After. It's the same excellent spin applied on the frog prince who wants to be human again, and only so if kissed by a princess. The joke of course, is to have the princess turned into a frog, though no fault of her own because that's just what's needed to turn the classic on its head. We've had Disney-fied versions of tales from the little mermaid under the sea, to the Chinese Hua Mulan, and now, an ambitious African-American girl Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) determined to fulfill her father's dream of opening her own restaurant.

Ron Clements who came up with this version of the story, deserves that pat on the back for its really wacky humour that got put into this tale, and the design of one of the most determined heroines in Disney's fold. Set in New Orleans, the first 20 minutes set the stage with its neat introduction and the back stories of every key character all spelled out, before mixing them up altogether to present that amphibious problem to solve, no thanks to a dash of black magic by Dr Facilier (Keith David) to turn a visiting Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) into a frog, although still keeping his glib tongue intact.

And what is a Disney flick if it doesn't come with the requisite talking animals, and plenty of song and dance numbers? You'll be hard pressed not to like the firefly Ray (Jim Cummings) who pines after his Evangeline (a star by the way), or the Jazz crazy crocodile in Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), whose only dream is to play with the humans, in front of a crowd, without scaring everyone away. But the one who steals the show each time she comes on, is that dumb blonde Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), the childhood friend of Tiana who grew up with that silver spoon in her mouth, where her demands no matter how ridiculous, will always get met. You cannot help but laugh at her naivety, and I suspect she just might get her own direct-to-dvd film soon enough.

The message of the story's quite clear too, for everyone to clearly distinguish between a need and a want, which for the characters, and ourselves in real life, sometimes struggle to identify. It's feel good, although I was quite surprised with certain darker elements in the characters' battle against the chief villain, which while violence is shown off screen, the effect it has on kids still reverberate quite strongly. Then again, it wrapped itself up very neatly and clearly, one of the better animated films out there this year, standing proud that it's done in classical 2D, Disney style, through and through.

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