Saturday, 13 February 2010

FILM REVIEW: The Princess and the Frog

I must say it's so good to have Disney back again! Proper, good Disney - not any of this Brother Bear rubbish. Disney going back to the roots of what it's supposed to be - gorgeously drawn fairytales, with warm and funny characters, showstopping tunes and sprinkles of magic woven into every frame. That is pure Disney. And even though they've had to bring in one of the big chiefs from Pixar to get their mojo back again, it's all been worth it on the basis of The Princess and the Frog.

John Lasseter has done a very good thing in re-hiring John Musker and Ray Clements - The Little Mermaid and Aladdin may be a good ten, twelve years ago now but they still know how to write a classic story. The Frog Prince isn't one of my favourite fairytales, but then this film is really only just based on the fairytale, with the creators coming up with a cheeky twist to add more oomph to the story, and then throwing in themes of black magic and voodoo, the power of money, the classic "what you want isn't really what you need" sentiment that Disney loves, and also the very unusual and modern setting of 1920's New Orleans where the influence and might of jazz music is big, big news.

We have our first black 'princess' in Tiana, who is a working class girl with non-magical business dreams, she works two jobs and doesn't think ever about love - only in making her father proud (perhaps closest to Belle from Beauty and the Beast then). The prince - Naveen - for once is a bit of jackass, leeching money off his King and Queen parents and partying solid until they kick him out of the palace and tell him to go get married. Certainly not your average Prince Charming or 'diamond in the rough' - yet, in all honesty, he was my favourite character out of the lot of them! I found him so funny ("that's below the frog belt!") and his reckless and cocky behaviour made him eminently likeable. Of course he had absolutely no concept of responsibility, but Tiana has, and this was a nice role reversal of lovers for once - with Tiana having to learn to kick back a little and have some fun, and Naveen needing to realise that he needs to slow down and become a little more mature.

Whilst Tiana is busy working away saving up for her dream restaurant, Prince Naveen comes into town looking for a good time. Unfortunately his momentum is stopped when he comes into contact with the Shadowman/Dr Facilier, who turns him into a frog, and his counsel into him. This was the only major gripe I had with the film - it's not really made clear why the Shadowman does this. He doesn't seem to have any real motive or anything to gain from making the switch - he doesn't harbour any long-standing hatred towards Prince Naveen and his family, he doesn't want to be a Prince himself, he doesn't want Tiana - it's a bit muddled really, and it makes his character less defined. Sure he's as creepy as Disney can make him (probably a bit too much for the very young), but he seems detatched from the action, and he's not complex enough to be a truly malicious villain. He's probably closest to Ursula from The Little Mermaid, but at least she had more charisma and presence. The Prince's counsel Lawrence is a bit rubbish as well!

The twist that is incorporated by the film's makers is that instead of the Frog Prince being kissed and becoming human again to marry his princess, he mistakes Tiana's ball gown for royalty and once she kisses him she is reduced to a slimy (ahem, mucus-y) small green thing as well. The two of them have to set off into the swamplands to try and find the kinder equivalent to the Shadowman, Mama Odie, who can make them human again...cue animal friends time! Louis the trumpet playing alligator brought a few laughs (typically the large character is also the most cowardly), but it was Ray, the wise old besotted firefly that really stands out. His love for Evangeline - the evening star he mistakes as a shy firefly - is beautiful, and the other characters don't have the heart to tell him the truth. When he dies later on - trodden on by the Shadowman -  and his friends cry their goodbyes, they look into the sky at Evangeline and there next to her, forms another star - their points touching as if they are holding hands. Obviously at this point I was an absolute state, because it is so unlikely Disney to have a good character die and then actually stay dead, but then just like Disney to go and do something sentimental and as gushy as make him into a star. The little girl in front of me in the cinema found the whole experience traumatic though, and started bawling and crying out that she wanted to go home! Her parents tried to show her that he was now a star and finally with Evangeline and everything was alright, but she clearly didn't understand - as far as she was concerned Ray was squashed to pieces and was never coming back. Poor love! Hopefully she'll re-watch this again in about ten years time and realise the beauty of it.

A special mention of Tiana's best friend Charlotte, who was a wonderful character! So gurgly and excitable, she's chatter chatter chatter and I thought she was just terrific, very funny and overly dramatic in her desperation to become a princess. The ending where she dances with Prince Naveen's seven year old brother is also very cute!

I liked that this was a different style of Disney. It's very evident that there's been a gap between this one and the last good film they produced (IMO Pocahontas), because it does feel different to any other Disney film that's been made. The jazzy soundtrack was a lot of fun, but there wasn't really one big sing-along-song that stood out to make the film soar - no Colours of the Wind, or a Whole New World to enchant. And there was a more down to earth feel about it as well - Tiana and Naveen don't get married and go off to live in a big castle - she opens her restaurant, and he gets to dance and make music in the house band. It was good different!

I'm never going to get too old for Disney, and I think it's lovely that a whole generation of young people who never got to experience the likes of Aladdin on the big screen will finally get to see a piece of film like this. The Princess and the Frog is just the beginning, with Rapunzel, The Snow Queen and King of the Elves all being announced, the 2D Disney comeback is well and truly here - AND I LOVE IT!




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