Ron Clements & John Musker | 97 mins | Blu-ray | 1.78:1 | USA / English | U / G
With box office and critical acclaim sliding, Disney abandoned traditional 2D animation for their significant films in the early ’00s, switching to the computer-animated 3D that was doing so well for Pixar and Dreamworks. I don’t know if it helped the box office any, but it didn’t help with critics — it wasn’t the medium that was at fault, it was the storytelling. Notoriously, as soon as Pixar’s John Lasseter was put in creative control of the whole of Disney he instituted a return to 2D animation. The Princess and the Frog was the much-heralded first film after this change.
The resultant film is very enjoyable — not because it’s in 2D animation, but because it’s just good. Set in ’20s New Orleans, it retells the well-known story of a prince turned into a frog who needs a kiss to return to human form in typical Disney style: expanded, funny, contemporary, with songs. And that largely works. OK, so no individual song is exceptionally memorable, but their jazzy style suits the film down to the ground. There are no bad or dull ones (not something that can be said of even some classic Disneys, in my opinion) and all are certainly entertaining while they last. Though it’s a little brief, the villain once again gets the pick of the bunch. I’m biased that way though; others may well disagree.
It’s also a bit long. A tighter opening and, especially, journey through the bayou in the middle would’ve improved it. While I enjoyed sequences like the crocodiles, guiding fireflies or frog-hunters when considered in isolation, there are just too many stacked up back to back for my taste. The voodoo material seems like it might be a bit on the scary side for kids, though maybe that’s just because too many children’s films are sanitised these days — I agree with the regular argument that it was better when films and TV aimed at kids included a bit of a scare or sadness, rather than more modern entertainment’s attempts to keep them wrapped in cotton wool for too long. The death of a character in the climax also sits in the same vein.
One thing that can’t be faulted, however, is the animation. It’s beautifully done: backgrounds are gorgeously painted, character animation is fast and fluid. There are some stunning individual shots, like when the fireflies become involved in creating glorious lighting and patterns in the bayou, for instance. There’s a nice use of different styles when appropriate too: a blocky art deco rendering of Tiana’s dream restaurant during Almost There; a splash of something hallucinogenically psychedelic during Dr Facilier’s number.
Many other Disney films have stand-out sequences; things to latch an appreciation on to. The best often have several of these stacked up, in some cases non-stop from start to finish. The Princess and the Frog is missing anything like that (though some may grab on to Almost There or, like me, Facilier’s song), but what it has instead is a very consistent tone, where the musical numbers fit effortlessly into the flow of the story rather than stopping the film for a showpiece. This is also true of the very best entries in the canon — Beauty and the Beast, for arguably the greatest example — and while I don’t claim Princess and the Frog reaches such giddy heights, I think its consistency makes it entertaining as a whole film, rather than as an up-and-down collection of varying-quality set pieces.
Not Disney’s best film, then, but one I believe has come in for an unfair amount of flack. I really liked it.
The Princess and the Frog is on Disney Cinemagic today at 5:40pm and tomorrow at 4pm.