BluRay/DVD Reviews

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

By • Mar 14th, 2010 •

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The second time’s the winner with this animated feature. The first time around things feel rushed, there is an excess of detail meant to overwhelm rather than serve the narrative, and the lead characters (the Girl and the Prince, and their frog incarnations) don’t quite convince in their drift into romance. On the first go-round, what does sell the film are the marvelous animation and voice talent of Keith David as Voodoo practitioner Dr. Facilier, and the magnificent New Orleans backgrounds.

On the second visitation, all the flaws are forgiven, and the film is pure fun, because it’s a huge, phantasmagoric extravaganza, ablaze with color, movement, the aura of New Orleans and its environs, and hand-drawn animation in the ‘old world’ style. And Keith David is still terrific. His first utterance is just a sound, but even that has nuance and resonance. On the commentary track the directors talk about wanting him but not knowing if he could sing. Were they kidding? Two years ago I saw him do cabaret in a one-man tribute to Nat King Cole, and his mellifluous voice and dramatic instincts couldn’t have been better.

The story is clever and path-setting in that the heroine is black. The hero may be black, too, but I couldn’t quite figure it out, and the commentary track didn’t resolve my confusion. In any case, without giving too much away, it goes in the opposite direction from the classical kiss-the-frog-and-get-a-prince direction, and most of the second and third acts derive from this plot reversal. There are subsidiary characters that interact with the protagonists along the way – a feisty, trumpet-blowing alligator, a near-toothless firefly, a boatload of doltish frog-hunting Cajuns, and an Obeah queen whose domain is the earth of the bayou. I liked all but the boatload of moronic frog-hunters.

The songs are never less than good, but a few of them are excellent – Keith David’s ‘”I’ve Got Friends on the Other Side”, and a feisty tune by Jenifer Lewis’s Mama Odie.

Once I learned from the commentary track (which is fast and informative) that Doctor John was recruited to sing the opening New Orleans song, I suddenly gained new interest in that tune, which initially struck me as just good. The amount of love and inventive attention to detail paid by the folk behind the camera really is admirable. Consider: they cast Emeril Lagasse as one of the alligators!

Much has been said about the film’s use of ‘borrowing’ from other Disney classics. Yes, it is so. The character of Lawrence, the Prince’s resentful servant, so much a hybrid of Smee (PETER PAN) and Lampwick (PINOCCHIO). The rollicking alligator recalls two characters from THE JUNGLE BOOK – Baloo the Bear and King Louie, the Orangutan. And on it goes. The directors acknowledge it in their commentary. But there’s an equal or greater amount of new ideas being poured into the mix, and it is, after all, the great Disney repository that these animators are drawing from – a millennia of revered artistry at their fingertips.

I spent four years in New Orleans back in the 60s, and have visited there on occasion since. I know the place pretty well. While the backgrounds are super clean and aesthetically more beautiful than the actual city – the black section of town, for instance, is neater in its low income feel than the real areas were even before the hurricane – they do evoke the architecture of that magical, haunted place, and it’s a delight to pass through again, courtesy of all those meticulously designed animation frames.

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