I didn’t really know much about this film before seeing it, but a brief skirt around the Internets reveals an awful lot of hype surrounding the facts that it was the first 2D Disney for over a decade, and is concurrently the first to feature a black heroine. Although said heroine spends most of the film as a frog. While I have no specific affection for “classic Disney” films like Snow White and Pinocchio (never having seen them), I had a very strong feeling that I was finally being afforded a chance to watch such a classic on the big screen. It’s got ageing animators hunched over desks in 1940s Disney sweatshops written all over it.
The plot, very briefly: a girl wants to open a restaurant. Other girl wants to marry a prince. A visiting prince is turned into a frog. First girl kisses said frog and is turned into a frog as well. Both frogs have to travel somewhere to get turned back into humans before second girl can marry the prince’s PA (who is now masquerading as the prince).I think that’s about right. There’s also a woman who lives in a tree, a sort of Deliverance-style firefly, and a trio of The Three Stooges-style hunters who are, inexplicably, hunting for frogs.
Unquestionably, The Princess and the Frog is beautiful to look at. The artistry on show far outshines that of Toy Story and its ilk. Frankly, I don’t care how much effort goes into the more modern 3D cartoons, you’ll never, ever convince me that the requisite skills are even in the same league as those employed in the hand-drawn stuff. It’s like comparing A Nightmare on Elm Street and one of the Saw sequels. They’re just worlds apart. However, I developed some expectations for the ending which weren’t borne out – and so I was left feeling a bit cheated. If you’ve not seen it yet, I suggest you skip what I’m about to say. Basically, I wanted the princess to remain as a frog. The fact that she turned back into human form disappointed me quite a bit. At the very least, if only one of them had turned back, there would have been some interesting issues raised around inter-species relationships.
Aside from not getting the ending I wanted, there were some other issues that irked me along the way. By and large, I hated every single one of the songs. I don’t know where Alan Menken was during the production of this film, but his absence from the soundtrack was a huge mistake. The villain, Doctor Facilier, was interesting enough, but was underused (and, like everyone else, had a terrible signature song) and was bested far too easily at the end. But the story is good, the pacing is good, and it really is lovely to look at. It just didn’t touch my heart in the way Disney films are meant to.
I’m not going to award a star rating because I’m really not qualified to rank a Disney film when I’ve seen so few. And Disney films are very personal, aren’t they? Everyone has a favourite. The Lion King is mine, and aside from being staunchly biased about it, I’m also unfairly judging The Princess and the Frog against it (just as I judge all animated films against it).
So, all that I’ll say in conclusion is that The Princess and the Frog is very enjoyable. I couldn’t hand on heart tell you it’s Disney’s finest hour, but it’s more finely crafted than Ratatouille or any of its coevals. And I’m not just saying that because Ratatouille was absolutely horrendous. The Princess and the Frog is great, but it will never achieve the greatness of the real Disney classics that it emulates.