Championing The Princess And The Frog as Disney’s 49th animated classic, as the packaging for the Blu-ray release does, is spinning things perhaps a little far. For two reasons: firstly, this count of 49 includes the likes of Bolt and Chicken Little, a pair of recent films that don’t seem to sit easily with the hand-drawn classics we tend to associate Disney with (I’d rather they included Duck Tales than Chicken Little to be honest). And also, try as it might, The Princess And The Frog isn’t quite the equal of some of the terrific Disney animated movies of the last twenty years.
But heck, it gives it a really good go. And what’s more, there are moments here that simply wouldn’t work anywhere near as well in CG animation. Take the sinister moments when the villain of the piece, Facilier, is really hitting top form. It’s staggeringly well realised, and reminds you that, try as it might, until Toy Story 3 came along, CG simply hadn’t generated a character of real menace.
Then there’s the jaw dropping fireflies sequence, leading up to a tremendous moment near the very end of the film that I’ve no urge to spoil here. It’s quite brilliant, and one of the highlights of a very good film.
And that’s just what The Princess And The Frog is. Even when you dig past the goodwill and the novelty factor of Disney rediscovering hand-drawn animation for the first time in half a decade (and how it allowed itself to get that far is still a matter of puzzlement), there’s still a really enjoyable family movie to be found. What’s more, it sees Disney not only tackling another classic fairytale, but also putting a good spin on it.
It stages The Princess And The Frog in New Orleans, brings in a princess who isn’t a grinning white girl, and keeps the sky-high production values of Disney at its best. Plus, guided by the experienced hands of John Musker and Ron Clements (the directing team behind The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and more), there’s a real feel of a labour of love here that’s hard to resist.
The only downside? That’d be Randy Newman’s songs, which are a long way short of Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman’s work in the late 80s and early 90s. They’re not terrible, but in a film where so many people are delivering quite terrific work, they don’t knit together or stick in the mind particularly, and in some cases just hold the film back.
Still, The Princess And The Frog is a joyful movie, and one that’s very deserving of a rewatch.
Next up for Disney hand-drawn animation? That’d be Winnie The Pooh. And on the evidence here, that’s something worth looking forward to already…
There’s no point beating about the bush here: the picture quality of The Princess And The Frog is absolutely exemplary. It’s an outstanding transfer, and a rich and vibrant movie. The audio too is quite brilliant, and as a home cinema workout, The Princess And The Frog is tremendous.
It’s not shy on extra features, either. The Return to Hand Drawn Animation is a celebratory and brief featurette, but a welcome one, as the likes of John Lasseter, John Musker and Ron Clements all talk about doing a hand-drawn movie again. There’s no depth, but lots of happiness.
If you’re looking for depth, then it’s the outstanding commentary track you need to seek out. Here, directors John Musker and Ron Clements, and producer Peter Del Vecho talk with real passion about the project, about bringing hand-drawn animation back to the studio, the likes of their homage to Miyazaki, and a whole lot more. It’s a glorious listen, from people who really know and love their onions.
There’s also a collection of deleted scenes to explore, a music video, an interactive game, and a collection of diverting further featurettes.
However, what isn’t included – at least we couldn’t find it – was the work-in-progress version of the film that was included in the American Blu-ray release (which may be on the more expensive triple-play disc release). That’s a pity – as someone who still has the work-in-progress copy of Beauty And The Beast that Disney released on video back in the early 90s, I’d love to see the earlier cut of The Princess And The Frog, and its omission here is a pity.
Still, this is a lovely film, with the extra features package worth it alone for the terrific commentary track. Here’s hoping that now that Disney has brought hand-drawn back to its studio, it commits to it fully in the years ahead.
The Film:The Disc:
The Princess And The Frog is out now on Blu-ray and available from the Den Of Geek Store.