When you think of the name Disney a million different memories are suddenly catapulted through your brain. It could be the first animated Disney movie you watched, a certain toy you couldn’t be parted with or, of course, the iconic Mickey Mouse logo, which is the universal word, in a way, for Disney.
Disney itself, however, has not been in the best of shape for animated output in recent years, with Pixar really ruling the roost when it comes to imaginative animated movies that enthrall children and entertain adults in equal measure. And while the former seemed content to push out straight-to-DVD sequels of its past successes, the latter pushed the boundries of storytelling and animation.
That was, until 2007, when Pixar finally completed a deal to merge with the House of Mouse that put John Lasseter of Pixar as Chief Creative Officer over them both.
Knowing what Disney really did best was their hand drawn animation, he went back on the studios word to only work in CGI and work began on the newest addition in the Disney catalogue The Princess And The Frog, which is about to make its big screen debut.
Set in the French Quarter of 1930s New Orleans, it tells the story of Tiana, who has been working hard her whole life to make the dream of her own restaurant come true, while her spoilt but loveable best friend Charlotte spends her days dreaming of becoming a princess like the ones in her favorite fairy tales.
When real life Prince Naveen arrives in town, he is soon tempted by the offerings of Voodoo Doctor Facilier and is turned into a frog. When Tiana kisses him to break the spell she too gets turned into a frog and the two must make a journey across the bayous of Louisiana to meet with the mystical Mama Odie, who holds the key to their transformation back to human form.
The most modern of the Disney Princess stories, TThe Princess And The Frog is a beautiful, magical and wonderful return to form for Disney Animation Studios. Taking the idea of the usual princess fairy tale and turning it slightly on its head you are presented with a strong female lead who is ready to take on the world to make her dreams come true and a not so world wise prince, who needs her help to survive.
This being Disney, of course, they are helped by a couple of animal sidekicks which take the form of Louis, a jazz obsessed gator and Cajun firefly Ray, who believes in nothing more than true love. Both bring what every great Disney sidekick needs, humor and emotion and make themselves a firm part of what is the heart of the film.
What every good Disney animated feature also requires is a scary villain and I am sure Doctor Facilier will be to the new generation of Disney viewers what Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid was to mine. Wonderfully evil – you almost expect him to break out into a ‘mwahhahaha’ and twist his moustache – he has everything you want from a Disney villain: an evil plan, horrible sidekicks and a wonderful comeuppance.
To add to the magic of the piece, the film is stuffed with great Broadway style numbers that will get your toes tapping for days after. Mixing Jazz music with more traditional musical lyrics, the film comes alive when they are sung and full credit must go to Randy Newman, who has taken on the role admirably as, although he has provided some great songs in the past for Pixar, providing the music for an entire movie is a whole new ballgame, but he does it effortlessly and the results are stunning.
Speaking of stunning, the animation itself has to be some of the best to come out of Disney since 1991’s Beauty And The Beast. The human characters are slightly more rounded and less chiseled than in previous efforts, while the animal characters are classic style – full of fun and, dare I say, cuteness.
Where the animation really hits the spot, though, is in the scenery shots where New Orleans and the bayous really come to life. There is a scene with the fireflies over the water which is truly stunning and stands testament to the talent that the studio has.
As an animation film fan, I have to say thank you to ye god’s of fate, who ensured that John Lasseter was put in charge of both Pixar and Disney, as you need somebody who has a true love of the form to know what people want to see and not some suit who just sees numbers. Without him on board I think we would have seen the final nail in the Disney coffin coming very soon otherwise.
He has also giving something to a new generation of children that most of us had growing up and that is the magic and wonderment of the hand drawn animated form. I couldn’t imagine my childhood without these big Disney films and I am just so pleased that they can be enjoyed again now.
When I was watching The Princess And The Frog, I felt like I was eight years old again and if that doesn’t sum up the magic of Disney, I don’t know what does.
I couldn’t recommend this film highly enough, so US readers make sure you catch it over the holidays, while UK readers make sure you catch it upon its release in the new year. You will not be disappointed.
Right, I’m off to wish upon a star.