The Princess and the Frog [Blu-Ray]
Director : s Ron Clements & John Musker
Screenplay : Ron Clements & John Musker and Rob Edwards (story by Ron Clements & John Musker and Greg Erb & Jason Oremland)
MPAA Rating : G
Year of Release : 2009
The Princess and the Frog, the first theatrically released hand-drawn animated feature from Walt Disney Studios since 2004’s Home on the Range, is a generally delightful, though not exactly glorious, return to form. The primary ingredients of its cinematic gumbo are almost a little too familiar (its basic narrative approach--the fairy tale-cum-musical--is an unapologetic throwback to Disney’s two-dimensional heyday that began with 1989’s The Little Mermaid and lasted throughout the 1990s), but it has just enough innovative spice to give a kick.
Stylistically and narratively, it looks and sounds and proceeds like any number of classic Disney features, but co-writer/directors Ron Clements and John Musker give each of the familiar elements a twist and a tweak, starting with the heroine, who is notably the first African-American protagonist in a Disney animated film. More than that, though, Clements and Musker (who wrote the screenplay along with Rob Edwards) dust the cobwebs off the princess fantasy by infusing the narrative with a more down-to-earth vibe that draws its energy from the musical and multicultural milieu of New Orleans in the 1920s, rather than another kingdom far, far away. The music and songs, all of which were penned by Randy Newman, are driven by the traditions of blues, jazz, and bluegrass, so that even though the film follows the habitual pattern of diegetic musical numbers, it feels fresh, if not always historically aware (you would think that racism didn’t exist in the segregated Jim Crow South). Similarly, all of the traditional characters are firmly in place, but are reimagined according to the setting. Thus, the film’s “king” is a boisterous, big-bellied sugar tycoon named “Big Daddy” La Bouff (John Goodman), the handsome prince is a shallow, fun-loving visitor named Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), the villain is a treacherous voodoo charlatan named Dr. Facilier (Keith David), and the fairy godmother is a cantankerous swamp-dwelling mystic named Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis).
The princess of the title is Tiana (Anika Noni Rose), who is in reality no princess at all, but rather a working-class waitress. Rather than being an orphan in the Disney tradition, she is the product of loving parents (Oprah Winfrey and Terrence Howard) who instill in their daughter a ferocious work ethic that feeds her dreams (adopted from her father) of someday owning and running her own restaurant. The story takes a turn when Tiana plants a smooch on Prince Naveen, who has been turned into a frog after an ill-advised run-in with Dr. Facilier and mistakes her ball costume for the regal duds of an actual princess. Instead of turning him back into a prince, their human-amphibian lip-lock results in Tiana becoming a frog herself. Thus stuck together in their froggy state, Tiana and Naveen much navigate the dangerous backwaters of southern Louisiana to find Mama Odie, who they hope can restore their human form. Along the way they bicker and fight and, of course, fall in love while also bringing out the better parts of each other (Tiana learns to live a little and Naveen learns that work is good for the soul). And, since this is a Disney film, there have to be some amusing anthropomorphized sidekicks, so we get Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a lumbering alligator with a jones for jazz music, and Ray (Jim Cummings), a backwoods Cajun firefly with an unrequited crush on a wishing star.
Clements and Musker, who were at the alpha and omega ends of Disney’s previous 2-D animated run, having codirected both The Little Mermaid and 2002’s dismally received Treasure Planet (as well as the 1992 smash Aladdin and 1997’s Hercules), are aware that they’re diving into tricky waters by going the ink-and-paint route, as traditional animation has been largely written off in Hollywood as a dusty thing of the past. Although it was not quite the hit they might have been hoping for, The Princess and the Frog nevertheless proves that there should be room at the multiplex for both hand-drawn and computer-animated films. Pixar has proved over the past 15 years that CG can produce films of both great entertainment and great depth, but the success of their stories and characters should not be confused with the form in which they’re presented. The expressiveness of hand-drawn animation still has a unique currency, and it is arguable that some stories and themes are better suited to that technique (one might imagine that some of the freakier scenes involving Dr. Facilier calling up his voodoo demons might have been overwhelming in CG). Just as filmmakers as varied as Jim Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, and David Lynch have recognized that black-and-white cinematography is sometimes a better choice than color despite the overwhelming dominance of the latter since the 1960s, we can only hope that filmmakers of all stripes continue to see the relevance and emotive power of traditional forms of animation.
|The Princess and the Frog Three-Disc Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Download|
|This three-disc set includes the feature film on Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital Copy. The film is also available on single-disc Blu-Ray ($39.99).|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Distributor||Walt Disney Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 16, 2010|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The Princess and the Frog looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-Ray. The 1080p high-definition image is slick and polished, with great detail, outstanding contrast, and gorgeous colors that bring the film’s Jazz Era world to life, whether it be the earthy tones of New Orleans’ streets and buildings, the fiery reds and purples of Dr. Facilier’s back-alley voodoo, or the dark greens of the bayou. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is also top-notch, with great fidelity and excellent use of the surround speakers to immerse us in Randy Newman’s boisterous songs.|
|The audio commentary by co-directors John Musker and Ron Clements and producer Peter Del Vecho is enjoyably entertaining and informative, providing plenty of background and production detail (the fact that Musker and Clements have worked together for so long ensures that their patter is natural and easygoing). There are also a number of featurettes, starting with the 22-minute “Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess,” which includes interviews with Musker and Clements, Disney Animation honcho John Lasseter, co-writer Rob Edwards, composer Randy Newman, and numerous animators who worked on the film. The rest of the featurettes, which include interviews with most of the same people and whose titles are fairly self-explanatory, are much shorter, running about two to three minutes each: “The Return to Hand Drawn Animation,” “The Disney Legacy,” “Disney’s Newest Princess,” “The Princess and the Animator,” “Conjuring the Villain,” and “A Return to the Animated Musical.” “Bringing Life to Animation” (8 min.) is an intriguing featurette in which we can watch the live action reference footage for three sequences cut together with storyboards, animatics, and final footage with commentary by Clements and Musker. The four deleted scenes were all cut prior to animation, so what we have are rough storyboards with scratch dialogue. The “Art Galleries” trace the visual development of the film’s characters and settings and are divided into “Visual Development,” “Character Design,” “Layouts & Background,” and “Storyboard Art.” Finally, the disc include Ne-Yo’s music video “Never Knew I Needed” and the interactive game “What Do You See: Princess Portraits,” in which viewers are quizzed about Disney’s princesses.|
Copyright ©2010 James Kendrick
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