Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

(For the radio version, please click here).

Much has been made, and rightly so, of the fact The Princess and the Frog is the first Disney animated film to feature an African American princess. And I join the rest of the country in saying, “It’s about time.” Yet, my four year old daughter, sitting in my lap, was totally engrossed. She giggled at the Cajun firefly; she guffawed at the horn blowing gator; and she buried her face into my chest when shadowy demons were released into the bayou. My little one was unaware of anything different, or groundbreaking, or political about this film. She just loved it. That too, I think, predicts well for our future.

Beyond the leap forward for society, I have to ask if the movie is any good? Of course it is. It’s a great film. The Princess and the Frog takes place in a specific time and place, New Orleans and Bayou in the 1920s. The film’s heroine, Tiana, dreams to start a fine restaurant and her father’s strong wise words provides her a path to do so. The rest of the film is the journey to discover her and her father’s dream. The fact an amphibious Prince of indeterminate southern European country shows up as a love interest really is beside the point. And I like that.

Of course the movie glosses over the reality of 1920’s Louisiana. We believe an African American woman could really start a fine dining establishment. Disney has Disneyfied reality since Dumbo. It is a fantasy, so there’s nothing here to disappoint.

The film showcases a collection of New Orleans jazz and down and dirty bayou blues played as fuzzy facsimiles. That would be my one criticism I suppose. This movie could be a chance to introduce children to some of the best roots music this country has to offer. Instead we get a phoned in soundtrack from the master of bland, Randy Newman. He’s talented, but his zydeco is a little like Pat Boone playing Metallica.

I know, I know, it’s a kid’s movie. And it truly is a kid’s movie. There is some nuance and unexpected poignancy that will keep adults engaged. But really, it’s about the kids. Even if the music is mediocre, there is plenty of it, and there is enough slapstick and outrageousness to keep the kids hooting. Unlike the Pixar films, like Wall-E or Finding Nemo, the film is animated with traditional hand drawings. This so-called two-dimensional animation is beautiful, harkening back to the Disney films of your youth.

I don’t know if The Princess and the Frog is a two-dimensional classic like the Lion King or the Little Mermaid. It more reminded me of the pleasant experience of watching The Aristocats or 101 Dalmations. Nothing amazing, but very fun, very watch-able, and very worth your money. And as with any Disney animated film, this movie is best appreciated on the big screen with a bunch of little kids giggling and screaming in unison.

The Princess and the Frog plays this weekend at the Gross Alaska Glacier Cinemas. This is Clint Farr, not so alone with my four year old, at the movies.

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