Monday, December 14, 2009

Help Comes To Frogtown

Believe it or not, kids, there was a time when those animated films whose characters come with your Happy Meals were drawn by the real hands of real people and not by pixels put together inside some guy's Macintosh. They often contained wonderful songs sung to this day. You know them as the songs your grandparents sing that you drown out by cranking Justin Bieber on your iPod. Yes, classic films like Snow White and The Little Mermaid were actually the result of talented artists drawing thousands of pictures and not the result of a primitive CGI process. And now we have a new offering in what just a few years ago was considered a dying art form. Does The Princess and the Frog measure up to the films I mentioned? No, but it's still pretty good.

The Princess and the Frog is Disney's latest attempt to slap its name on a classic story and proceed for the rest of eternity to sue anyone who ever tries to use that same story for anything else ever again. At least this time they put an interesting twist on the whole thing by setting the story in New Orleans and having the main characters be ethnically diverse instead of the all-Mormon casts they've always used before. The story opens in a rather large mansion as two little girls, the rich, spoiled white girl Charlotte and her not-rich and sure-as-hell-not-spoiled black friend Tiana are being told the story of the Frog Prince. Tiana loudly proclaims that she would never kiss a frog thus guaranteeing that fate will play a little joke on her later in life. Tiana's mother who works as a seamstress for New Orleans' wealthy citizens. This means Tiana gets to spend her days envying people who live in lovely mansions before going home with her mother to her family's lower middle class home. She does have a loving and optimistic father who never lets go of his dream to open a high class restaurant. Unfortunately for him, this is a Disney film and they always take sadistic pleasure in brutally slaughtering parents so their kids can learn important life lessons.

Fortunately for us, we don't have to witness the father's execution as it takes place during a cutaway from Tiana's childhood to her young adult years. Tiana has made her father's dream of owning a restaurant her own and spends all her time working to make that dream a reality. Her friend Charlotte hires her to cater a party she is throwing for Prince Naveen of Maldonia, a country I assume is somewhere between Freedonia and the Grand Duchy of Fenwick. Naveen's secret purpose for visiting New Orleans is to meet and marry the wealthy Charlotte after his parents cut him off for being a lazy party boy. While touring the streets of NOLA, he encounters a witch doctor named Dr. Facilier who turns Naveen into a frog. Naveen meets Tiana and, thinking she's a princess, figures that a kiss from her will turn him human again. It turns out Tiana should have stuck by her vow to never kiss a frog since the fact that she's not actually a princess means that Naveen's kiss passed the curse onto her and she turns into a frog as well.

Time Magazine recently named The Princess and the Frog the year's #1 movie. As someone who has seen the movie and enjoyed it, my response to that is: really? It's not even the best animated movie of the year, an honor that belongs to Up (Time's #2 choice). Still, as I said, it's pretty good. I don't see any of the songs becoming standards but, all in all, it's a satisfying film. It even has some clever moments such as the way they deal with a very sad moment and the story's ultimate solution. I hope the movie's success means we'll be seeing more hand drawn films as it's still a wonderful art form and a welcome relief from the homogenized look of modern CGI animated movies.

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