Monday, December 14, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

Running Time: Just over and hour and a half

MPAA Rating: G

Post-Credits Scene: No

In 1989, Disney Studios saved animation as a film medium. “The Little Mermaid” ended years of sputtering ticket sales and critical flops and kicked off what would become known as the “Disney renaissance”. This ten-year era was marked by romantic stories of princes and princesses overcoming evil and often supernatural obstacles to find true love and attain their ‘happily ever after’. Now, ten years since the end of that time, Disney is once again attempting to weave a tale of love and magic based on a classic fairy tale in traditional 2D animation.

There is a significant difference between this particular princess and those that audiences have seen in past Disney films: work. Tiana is the daughter of a poor family in Jazz Era New Orleans. Her mother makes elaborate dresses for the wealthy family of Tiana’s best friend, Charlotte La Bouff, and Tiana’s father is a hard-working family man with a dream of someday opening his own restaurant. He teaches the value of hard work to Tiana, who takes both the lesson and his dream to heart. Local voodoo practitioner Dr. Facilier schemes to take advantage of a foreign prince’s visit in order to steal the La Bouff fortune, turning both the prince and Tiana into frogs so as to keep them out of his way.

The dilemmas of the film return to much safer territory than the Disney/Pixar animated movies, which have been the more popular this decade. Whereas the latter films have dealt with death, abandonment, and deadbeat parents (to name only a few), The Princess and the Frog shies away from anything that might disturb a young viewer, whether they understand what is happening or not.

Before this begins to sound like this was a bad movie, let me clarify that it wasn’t. The Princess and the Frog was sweet, Randy Newman did an excellent job scoring the film, and Charlotte La Bouff made for great satire on the typical Disney princesses. It was, however, unoriginal. The movie Enchanted already played out the jokes about the spoiled, na├»ve princesses. The plot revolving around non-humans attempting to become human again was taken by Beauty and the Beast (each film even has a practically interchangeable song on the subject).

Even with that flaw, though, the movie is very entertaining and holds up well… until the final act. Somebody must have either run out of time or become incredibly lazy, because every problem that characters have and have spent the last hour and a half trying to resolve are instantly fixed through five minutes of straight deus ex machina. Nobody really learns a lesson; they just instantly change their behavior as all of their problems are taken care of for them. It has become apparent to me that the true magic and value of Disney has moved on into the Pixar era.