The Night Out: The Princess And The Frog (2009), or Louisiana Is The Weirdest State

11 12 2009

I have never lived in Louisiana, but, as a lifelong neighbor, I see my fair share of Cajun zaniness occur. The people of Louisiana, especially New Orleans, emit a special aura, a social behavior that is completely unique to them. And it’s not in the way that Idahoans are unique, or the way that Virginians are unique; people from Louisiana, if they’re not well adjusted, then it’s like they’re from another world. They’re supremely loud, they often need a translator, and, depending if they lived near New Orleans or not, will go on until you cannot take it any more how cool New Orleans is. It’s always a hoot when you get one of THOSE people in a party, becuase, if you had never seen NOLA you would probably imagine it was made of candy and floats on a cloud of French perfume high above the earth. The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first hand-drawn animated film since the mightily mediocre Home on the Range, is a return to form for the animation studio that forgot how to animate, and it takes place exclusively in the hyper-romanticized hyperbole of New Orleans that exists in the minds of writers and NOLA fetishists. It marks a new shift in priorites for the company by going back to basics, and while nothing in this painstakingly exquisite animation is basic, it is a graceful step in the right direction that I enjoyed more than I thought I would or could.

It all takes place in the shining city of NEW ORLEANS, where ponies fly on butterscotch wings, smiles are as plentiful as Homies figurines in the late 90s, and segregation is only alluded to in passing. Tiana has always had a dream of opening up her own restaurant. It has always been instilled in her byher hard-working parents that to get what you want in life, you have to work hard and try your best to get it, and that is exactly what she’s done. She works two jobs and saves up every single penny in the hopes of opening up that restaurant, and after getting an advance to make some legendary beignets for a friend’s party, she earns enough to buy the space she’s been saving up for. The party is for the arrival of a suitable princely bachelor from the Caribbean named Naveen, who is looking for a suitable Sugar Mama in the States. He finds one in Tiana’s rich friend Charlotte, but before he arrives, he is bamboozled by a Cajun voodoo man named Doctor Facilier, who tricks him into some voodoo magic that places Naveen and his aggravated British servant in his clutches. He transforms the butler and makes him look like the Prince, and he transforms the Prince into a talking frog (!) with voodoo, and seeks to use the greedy Brit as a way to get at Charlotte’s money. They keep Naveen in a jar to do more voodoo stuff on him later, but he escapes, and runs into Tiana at the party, who happens to be dressed like a princess. He frightens her, what with him being a talking frog, but he strikes a deal with her to kiss him, because, as legend has it, if you kiss a frog, he can turn into a prince. Well, she kisses him, all right, but the voodoo gets all complicated because she’s not a real princess, and she turns into a frog too!!! She is mortified, and they must flee the party in green slimy shame and disgust with each other. Together, despite their enmity towards each other, they must find a way to reverse the magic and become human again with the power of a mysterious voodoo woman named Mama Odie, who lives in the deepest part of the Bayou. They’ll find all sorts of creatures to help them upon their way, as all animals can talk to each other (duh!), but they must be wary of the voodoo man’s shadowy influence, because he will stop at nothing to retrieve the Prince for his own devices. Can Tiana and the Prince learn to like each other on this harrowing journey? Can the two become human before it’s too late? Or will they be swallowed up by the evil Bayou magic of Docter Facilier?

Whew! This is Disney the way it used to be; wholesome, pleasant, and enjoyable in healthy doses. The Princess and the Frog is not so much a return to grandeur for the studio (though it DID cost over $100 million to make!), but rather a reprisal of their recent history. The story is essentially the same as all the other Disney stories to come out of the past 30 years.Talking animals, spooky curses, and unexpected friendships are all par for the course, but it’s told in that old familiar way that Disney has apprently plum forgotten how to tell. Hand-drawn animation is special because it is something that cannot be duplicated. Computers are trying to create real life, or something very close; Disney animation is not looking for reality, but that candy-coated childlike world of imagination that just doesn’t jive well with the real world. The Princess and the Frog‘s animation isn’t realistic, but it is well-done for Disney standards, it is colorful, and it immerses us into the brilliant world of bright, jazzy NOLA.

The cast is amazing. The first Disney picture to be centered around African American characters (and one Caribbean guy) is acted with voices that really sell the wondrous story. Anika Noni Rose puts a little Southern sass into her role as Tiana, the hard working girl/frog who is thrust into adventure. Her character is pretty straight-laced, nothing too complicated, but her enthusiasm and her beautiful singing voice won me over. Bruno Campos is the Caribbean prince Naveen, and while NOT African American or Caribbean, I still liked the flair he added in his voice. I especially like that he DID a voice, and not just his speaking tone. And Keith David is fucking amazing as Doctor Facilier, or, as the characters call him, the Shadow Man. His voice, with a touch of Cajun flair, is perfect for the part. David’s voice in general is just phenomenal, and any time he lends his exceptionally deep and robust voice to anything, it is a joy to experience.

It’s not all great. The standard musical numbers, written by Disney pack-mule Randy Newman, are a little weak and forgettable. And some of the humor falls a little flat, to the point where even the kids in the theater did not laugh. But, for the most part, it’s solid. It’s a good start to what will hopefully be a trend toward more hand-drawn projects in the future. The voice acting is strong, with helpful additions from voice-acting veterans Jim Cummings and John Goodman, the animation is excellent, and the characters are interesting for a change. I enjoyed The Princess and the Frog, and if this is what the future of Disney is, I have a lot more hope than I did after I saw Cars. I give it 8 1/2 Homies figurines out of 10!

Tomorrow I watch Blood Diamond! Until then!!!