Saturday, February 28, 2015

DISNEY'S THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

Well since my last film review was a weird, bizarre and strange take on the Frog Prince that I grew up watching as a kid, I'm now going to take a look at thee famous Frog Prince film adaptation by Disney, which is...

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Taking place in a Fairy Tale setting of New Orleans in the 1920s; a black waitress named Tiana works two jobs so she can save enough money to open up her own restaurant to fulfill her deceased Father's dream. Meanwhile, a Prince who has been cut from his riches by his parents because of his irresponsible behavior meets a Voodoo Witch Doctor, who turns him into a Frog, and can only be a human again if he's kissed by a Princess. The Prince mistakes Tiana for a Princess not knowing that Tiana is wearing a costume for a party, and after Tiana kisses him, she too becomes a Frog. Wanting to become human again, the couple go on an adventure to look for the voodoo priestess to become human again, while coming across colorful characters; fighting against the evil Witch Doctors demons; and slowly start falling in love. I must honestly say, I really love the films plot and setting (I'll talk about the New Orleans setting later); the only issue I have with the story really are the many loop holes that are thrown into the film to add more to the story than it already needs, which not only makes this simple Fairy Tale premise a bit complicated, but it actually does get kind of annoying at times and feel like these problems were thrown in at the last minute. With that said, I was still hooked to the story, as well as appreciating the out come of the things that were added in even if it felt a bit late; so I can't really fault the story too much.

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The films two romantic leads have to be one of the greatest romantic couples that Disney has ever created. Tiana (Voiced by Anika Noni Rose) has to be one of my all time favorite Disney Princesses! She's not the type of Princess who just sits there wishing, singing, and forces to work out of her own free will, she's a doer, instead of a dreamer. Now I'm not saying that we haven't had other Disney Princesses who've went after their dream before, but with Tiana, you feel every bit of emotion and hard work that she puts into building her dream, even if it means shutting herself away from social activities to get what she wants. While working really hard to achieve a dream, I do love how the story and film executes the lesson she learns about love, which is done really effectively. As for her personality, she's likable, smart, up beat, determined, and is at times really funny. After all this time of waiting for Disney to finally create a black Princess, the wait really did pay-off and you can tell that a lot of thought and time went into this character, because Disney knew if they messed up their first attempt at creating a black Princess, controversy would probably be just as high as "Song Of The South".

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Not only did Disney successfully create another great Princess character, but they surprisingly managed to create another great Prince character as well. While charming, the character's not for the majority all based on charm and looks, nor is he all that heroic either; he's actually a lazy carefree irresponsible character who wants to enjoy life and party, which sadly becomes a problem for him since he never had any responsibility in his life because of how he was raised when he was a kid. That's actually an interesting and fun concept and Disney does a great job working with that aspect to the character. As for his personality, he is in my opinion the funniest character in the movie. Every time I see him acting carefree, cocky, and use his smooth and full of himself charm to hit on the ladies (Especially, our Princess) I always find myself dyeing of laughter. As for the chemistry between our two leads, it's both very fun and engaging, especially since they're both the exact opposite of each others personality, while also living in an unfamiliar environment.


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Now we move onto the villain, and I'm going to admit, while having a fun villainous personality (Not to mention that he's voiced by Keith David); having a cool design; being very persuasive; and hell, even killing off a comical character (Which Disney usually never does); I didn't think he was that great of a villain. I say this because, when you really get down to it, he's not really the films main villain; the real villains are actually the evil demons, who he actually works for, instead of being their master with some kind of power he posses; or secretly being a demon from hell. The demons assist him in his evil plans, but only if there's something in it for them. Again, he's not a bad villain or is one of Disney's weakest villains; I just find it disappointing that he's more of a pawn for the demons, instead of being some kind of leader for them like Baron Semedi in "Live And Let Die". Aside from his "Friends on the other side", his evil minion is the Prince's servant, which the Doctor used the Prince's blood in a voodoo trinket that can make the servant look like the Prince for his evil plan. As far as comical villainous henchman go, he's sadly nothing special, but I do like the comedy for whenever he's slowly turning back into his old self, even if the loss of the Prince's blood from the trinket is an out of nowhere loop hole in the villain's plan.


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The supporting characters in this film are all a lot of fun. First you have an alligator named Louis, who wants to become a Trumpet player, which is both a funny concept and a funny character that leads to some big laughs. There's a Cajun firefly named Ray, who's another funny character as well and has a cute subplot of being in love with a star, which is executed really well, instead of being stupid and forced. There's also Tiana's rich best friend Charlotte, and going into the movie, I thought she was going to be a full of herself character who's annoyingly bratty and spoiled to the point where she's flat out unlikable; but instead, she's not only just as funny as the previous characters I've mentioned, but she's surprisingly not a spoiled brat and actually does support her friend. The voodoo priestess voiced by Jenifer Lewis, I'm going to admit, while being a lot of fun, I felt like the film didn't show too much of her side of wisdom, or heck made her subtle at all. Rafiki in "The Lion King" for example, while having dozens of over the top moments, the film still gave the character enough room for him to be subtle and wise. Sadly we don’t get that from this character. As for the other characters like Tiana's parents; Charlotte's Father; and the those three hunters that just appear for comical and entertaining filler; while they don't show up too much in the story, they're still memorable and do leave an impression on you.

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The songs in the film, are all written by Randy Newman, and while at times sounding very Randy Newmannish, and not being anything as memorable as most of the other famous Disney songs before this film, I still really enjoy them, as well as admiring at how well they fit with the films New Orleans atmosphere. The films opening song "Down In New Orleans" performed by Dr.John is one of those atmospheric songs that pulls you into the films world, which did indeed do a good job at doing so. I also really admire and thoroughly enjoy the different types of New Orleans music that this film covers. Louis's song "When We're Human" is in the style of jazz; Ray's song "Gonna Take You There" is in the style of Southern country and folk; and the Voodoo priestess' song "Dig A Little Deeper" is in the style of Gospel, and each of those three songs are so much fun to watch and to listen too, that I really found myself having a ball. There's also the villain's song "Friends On The Other Side", which is around the same field as Ursula's song "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from "The Little Mermaid", starting out smooth and creepy, to going all out insane when the song's near its end, and its definitely one of the best villain songs that I've ever heard. Tiana's "Want" song "Almost There", is another really fun and powerful song, and Anika Noni Rose does an outstanding job at singing and making you feel her determination of opening up her own restaurant. Is it as memorable as "Part Of Your World" or "Out There", no, but it's still really great. Finally there's Ray's love song "Ma Belle Evangeline", which is probably my least my favorite song in the movie, but its still a cute number, and one of the things that executes Ray's silly subplot really well.


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Finally we move onto the animation, which is hand drawn and man after looking at this animation, while I do enjoy Computer Animation, hand drawn animation like this makes me wish that film animation studios would do a hand drawn film, every once in awhile. I mean, this is some of Disney's best work. The colors and background designs, along with the music really do a perfect job at bringing a Fairy Tale look and feel to 1920's New Orleans. When I first heard about the film being set in New Orleans, I started to feel extremely iffy about the idea of having Disney's first black Princess being in a modern Jazz filled environment at a time of racial prejudices, with Voodoo as the only source of magic in the film. I really felt like this film was going to be the new "Song Of The South" for Disney. However, I was actually amazed at how well Disney pulled it off by mixing a Modern setting to a fictionalized "Once Upon A Time" Fairy Tale environment. Are the ideas and characters stereotyped, yeah, but it's not as mean or insulting as I thought it was going to be. There are people out there who complain about the change of history because of the race relations, but for me personally, it's a Fairy Tale and it's not supposed to be a realistic depiction of New Orleans in the 1920s. "Song Of The South" on the other hand, downplayed its magical Fantasy aspect, and made their happy family friendly look on the African Americans happily still serving the white people after being slaves look realistic, which both confuses kids and misleads them into thinking that the era is as "Zip-A-Dee-Do-Dah" as it sounds and looks, which I don't think was Walt's true intentions. I think he wanted to make a film based on his nostalgia since he grew up with the Uncle Remus stories and show the friendship between another race as its theme, but had to sugar coat the bad historical stuff to make it family friendly, which backfired big time. This film makes sure you're no longer in the real world, nor the fact that you are witnessing actual history. Getting back to the animation, I also admire the many creative advantages it takes. Whenever we spend time with the villain and his friends, we get so much dark and surreal animation that Disney goes all out creative with it. When we see the Fireflies fly around and light the swamp, while also looking at a beautiful night sky, you can just feel the magic in the atmosphere that the animators are creating. I also really admire the Art Deco animation for Tiana's musical dream sequence of owning a restaurant, which is fun and sketchy, while also keeping that magical dreamlike feel. As for the animation for the slapstick and comical situations that our characters go through, the animation, writing, and timing is done perfectly. I literally found myself laughing and entertained at every single comical situation that the film through at me. With that said though, I must admit the film at times does get very obnoxious. What I mean by that is; the film hardly gives us anything subtle and atmospheric without having some sort of comedy or something over the top happening. The funeral scene for when one of the characters dies for example, while a sad scene, is still pretty silly and over the top, than being flat out sad, especially when comparing it to the deaths of many other Disney characters. There are some subtle moments, but the majority of the film is over the top.

Aside from the last minute loop holes; a villain really being a glorified henchman; songs that don't hit the same memorable note as previous Disney songs; and hardly ever giving us anything subtle and atmospheric that doesn't involve over the top comedy or tense situations, I actually do think this is one of Disney's best. The Fairy tale and New Orleans environment, while might leaving audiences mixed with the idea, in my opinion, is done really well; the story despite having last minute things added to it, is still a really great story; the hand drawn animation is really some of Disney's best work; our romantic leads are great, as well as being fun and relatable; the villain despite being a henchman for the real villains, is still a really dark and fun villain; the supporting characters are tons of fun; and the music, while not as memorable as most of Disney's other works, is still really great and fun to listen too. Close to getting my highest rating, but for the things that I did fault film for that do hold the film back a bit, it's going to have settle for my second best rating. However, I still think this film is one of Disney's best and if you haven't seen it yet, be sure to give it a look.

RATING 4/5

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