Drawn That Way
The Princess and the Frog
By Daniel Pellegrino
January 4, 2010
I have very fond memories of early 1990s Disney animation. I grew up on modern classics like Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and The Lion King. But around the time of Tarzan, it was clear that Disney was losing their edge. The "fairytale" genre became watered down and soon a source of parody. Lilo & Stitch provided a gorgeously water-colored alternative with Elvis music in tow, but it wasn't enough to keep Disney 2-D animation alive. This year, The Princess and the Frog looked to change all that. Disney's promotional department even led audiences to believe that this was another Disney Renaissance. I went into the film with too-high expectations and left smiling, but ready to watch my Platinum Edition copy of Beauty and the Beast. Good movie? Yes. Renaissance? No.
The plot follows Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) as she saves money to open a restaurant in honor of her late father. One evening, a frog mistakes her for a princess and through some voodoo and a kiss, she joins him as a slimy green creature. The two fall in love, befriend a couple swamp animals and try and figure out if they can both become human again and live happily ever after. Some songs about dreams and love happen, plus a shadowy villain lurks around every corner. All this under two hours in good old two-dimensional animation.
The Princess and the Frog is a classic story given the Disney treatment, including wacky animal sidekicks, lush landscapes and musical interludes. So what went wrong? To me, the film reminded me of why I liked so many of the older Disney titles. I kept comparing the old with the new, and sometimes the new doesn't stack up. For starters, the villain was a little weak. He was an extremely interesting character, but not a lead villain. Dr. Facilier was his name (something I had to look up on IMDb, which should tell you something), and even his main song made me long for Scar's "Be Prepared" number from The Lion King. He simply wasn't enough of a threat to any of the characters.
I also had a problem with some of the music. While I may have been tapping my toes at times, none of the songs were all that memorable. The New Orleans setting provided a great jazzy influence to the soundtrack, but the lyrics never get all that catchy. The end credits even have a slow pop song playing over them. In years past we would have been hearing the likes of Celine Dion, Peabo Bryson or Vanessa Williams. Here we have Ne-Yo. This seems off. Audiences want a vocalist in this slot. We are expected to hear long runs over a large orchestra. Ne-Yo just never struck me as much of a vocalist. The song is more Michael Bolton in Hercules than Elton John in The Lion King. These are just a few of the little things that will prevent The Princess and the Frog from joining the ranks of the first Disney Renaissance films and keep it alongside memorable, but lesser films like Mulan and Hercules.