Hallelujah! Disney studios are finally back to what they do best…
As I’m one of those poor suckers who paid good money to see the CGI mess that was Chicken Little and then had to sit through it too (talk about adding insult to injury!), Disney’s return to the form that made it a legend, namely drawn 2-D animation, is a major relief and I’m sure any other parents with munchkins in tow will agree with me.
And you’ll be glad to know that the animation in The Princess and the Frog is simply superb — among the very best that Disney is capable of. A feast for the eye of expressive, richly drawn characters, intricately detailed backgrounds – which draw on the elaborate and unique architectural splendor of Jazz Age New Orleans and the moody magic of the Bayou – and put together with the bold lines, vibrant colours and fluid style that Disney are famous for.
But then comes the big question. Is the film any good?
Yeah, it may look good, but Home on the Range (Disney’s last drawn animation project before some bright spark decided to ditch the medium) looked pretty good but it still sucked. Well, the auspices were good for this movie coming as it does from Ron Clements and John Musker, the directing duo behind The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, but still the question remained…
So what’s the answer? I’m delighted to say, IMHO, an unqualifed YES.
First off, the story itself, based on the classic Frog Prince fairytale, boasts some highly original twists and turns and a cast of vividly-drawn characters: A penniless foreign prince in dire need of finance to pay for his wastrel lifestyle, a waitress with a dream that doesn’t at first involve true love, a really scary voodoo villain called The Shadow Man, a hilarious frog kissing sequence that doesn’t quite turn out as planned and lots of snappy rom-com dialogue as our mismatched hero and heroine fall in love while struggling to return to human form and make their dreams come true.
Added to that are some terrific supporting characters – including a love-struck firefly and an alligator who has delusions of being a jazz musician – the fact that the story gets maximum mileage out of its exotic New Orleans setting and, to top it off, presents audiences with Disney’s first African-American heroine.
Now, Tiana being black is pretty cool, partly because it’s been such a long time coming and seems particularly prescient with Barack currently in the White House, but our heroine’s skin colour would be nothing more than a token if it weren’t for the fact that she’s such a wonderful character. Fiesty, independent, determined and surely the first Disney Princess to have a proper career goal, Tiana is a strong role model for any little girl whatever her colour. Voiced by Dreamgirl Anika Noni Rose, Tiana also has a knock-your-socks off singing voice (like any Disney Princess worth her salt), which brings us to the movie’s songs by veteran songwriter Randy Newman.
Newman, who was born in N’Awlins and provided songs for Toy Story 1 & 2 and Cars, has excelled himself here, bringing the Crescent City’s many musical influences – Jazz, Soul, Cajun, Gospel, etc – to bear on a play list that includes the heart-melting ballad Ma Belle Evangeline, the Zydeco dance romp Down in New Orleans and Tiana’s soul-stirring signature tune Almost There.
And last but not least we have the moral of our story: That you can dream big but you have to work hard to make it happen. And knowing what you want isn’t the same as knowing what you need.
Pretty darn deep, eh? For a Disney movie.
I believe this film will become a Disney Classic to rival Musker and Clements’ other triumphs…. And let’s hope that from now on long may 2-D animation thrive at The House of Mouse.
On general release from 29th January.