Monday, 9 April 2012

Film Review | The Princess And The Frog (2009)

Following 2007's Enchanted, Disney's next move in telling a "Disney Princess" story needed to be a careful one. Having lampooned their own legacy through Amy Adams' Giselle - an amalgamation of at least three classic princesses from Disney's back catalogue - how could the studio return to telling stories of lovelorn female royalty and their handsome princes without feeling antiquated and out of touch? Their first attempt, 2009's The Princess And The Frog, was a risk not only in this sense, but also in being the studio's first traditional hand drawn feature in five years.

The film tells the story of Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), a young girl living in 1920s New Orleans whose ambition is to one day fulfil the dream her and her late father shared of running their own high class restaurant. After self-important Prince Naveen of Maldonia (Bruno Campos) arrives in New Orleans and falls foul of Doctor Facilier (Keith David), a voodoo magician who transforms him into a frog, he and Tiana cross paths, drawing them both further into Facilier's spells which they must work together to break.

Stylistically, The Princess And The Frog is a comprehensive success and completely charming. The animation is top notch, with each character crafted with the same level of detail and care generally not seen since Disney's Renaissance pieces of the 1990s. Influence is drawn from a great many animated Disney classics, but at the same time the characters and settings feels fresh and original.

The music used throughout is also superb, placing the film authentically within the time period and geographical location in which it is set. The whole film feels like a love letter to the jazz, blues, big band and gospel music of the time, and at times the musical numbers feel like they're aimed more at the adults in the audience than the youngsters with their somewhat esoteric roots. Whilst there might not be any one tune that sticks in your head like an "Under The Sea" or a "Hakuna Matata", the brilliant soundtrack will lift your spirits both throughout the film and after the credits roll.

The main drawback for the film for me was the story itself. After a strong opening, the film slows down a great deal with the middle act feeling too drawn out. There are songs to keep things going, and some enjoyable characters join Tiana and Naveen on their journey, but I felt at several points that things needed to step up in terms of both pace and focus. Disappointing for a film only a few minutes over the hour-and-a-half mark, and not something Disney used to have trouble with in their 2D animation heyday.

I was also a little underwhelmed by Tiana's personal journey. I accept that as a young, black woman in early 20th Century America, to dream of owning your own restaurant would be a huge ambition, but I just couldn't get totally behind it as the driving force behind Tiana's character arc. The contrast between her "work hard" attitude and Naveen's happy-go-lucky slacker was also at times presented in too broad a fashion as the film's moral message.

Things are saved by a tense and emotional finale, however, showing that the studio haven't lost their touch with races against time and good ultimately battling against evil. As far as Disney's return to both princess stories and traditional animation are concerned, The Princess And The Frog is far more success than failure. Even though the story may not be one of the studio's very best, the drive to do something different with a tried and tested formula is highly commendable. It is the creativity and imagination on show in terms of the animation and music which makes the film something genuinely special. At the moment, Disney doesn't have any plans to release any more hand drawn features; if The Princess And The Frog ends up being the studio's swansong to its traditional format, it is going out on a pleasing high.


No comments:

Post a Comment