The Princess and the Frog (2009)

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It feels like it’s been so long since I’ve watched a decent Disney film that The Princess and the Frog was a breath of fresh air.  After the less-than-stellar previous films the studio released, they seemed to want to return to their roots, building a huge promotional campaign around the fact that this would be a hand-drawn animated picture. Of course, that’s partially true. There are still computer generated graphics and backgrounds in the film, but the characters themselves are hand-drawn, lending a sense of classicism that has been missing from recent films.

The Princess and the Frog is loosely (very loosely) based on “The Frog Prince”. We all know the story: princess kisses frog, frog turns into handsome prince, they live happily ever after. Obviously, this would have been a pretty short movie if they stuck to the original tale, so Disney altered it quite a bit (after all, that’s sort of Disney’s M.O.).  In their version we meet Tiana, a strong-willed, driven young woman with dreams of one day opening her own restaurant. Enter Naveen, a spoiled and penniless prince who gets wrapped up with a magician who turns him into a frog.  Naveen seeks out a princess to turn him back into a prince, but instead finds Tiana. Mistaking her for a princess, they kiss, but Tiana is turned into a frog herself, leading the two to journey across Louisiana’s bayous in search of a way for them both to change back.

The premise alone is cute, but then most Disney films sound cute in theory.  What’s nice is that this one actually follows through on that cuteness, providing a fun and magically animated escape for viewers.  The animation, especially in the bayou scenes, is great, with fireflies flitting across the water and just enough magic sprinkled throughout to remind us that this is Disney.

What stood out to me most about this film was that Tiana is not a princess; she’s just a hard-working girl with a dream.  She’s not looking to get married or have someone take care of her.  Instead, she works two jobs to save up every penny she needs to make her dreams a reality.  It’s admirable, and a far better role-model for young girls than some of the earlier Disney princesses (looking at you, Aurora).

That being said,  both Mistah J and I admitted that we preferred the scenes that bookended the film; that is, the scenes where Tiana is human.  The frog portion is fun, but her human story is so much more compelling, and more about her.  As a frog she finds love and realizes there’s more to life than success, which is all well and good, but her drive towards her goal is what really gives the film heart. Not only is it a great story, but it’s so progressive by Disney standards that it can’t help but stand out.  I honestly would have preferred to watch an entire movie about Tiana working towards her restaurant opening, without any love interest being included (sorry Naveen).

All things considered, I really enjoyed this film. It’s not perfect, of course: the bad guy isn’t really fleshed out enough to feel like a real threat, and seems to just exist in the background so that the film has an antagonist.  Frankly, Naveen’s selfishness could have filled this role just as well, but I suppose we needed some explanation as to why people are turning into frogs… The Princess and the Frog is certainly a big step in the right direction for Disney’s animation.  By simply stepping back and reassessing what made them so popular in past decades, they were able to craft a film that has the perfect blend of magic and realism, hearkening back to the height of their film-making.  It’s a wonderful feeling, as though the company is returning to the classic storytelling methods of my childhood, making me excited to work my way through their newest films.

-Jess

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