I haven’t seen The Princess and the Frog yet, but I’m on the lookout for opinions from thoughtful critics. Check back, for I’ll post them as I find them.
The Princess and the Frog is the first real classic Disney of the 21st century.
None of the studio’s cartoons of the last 15 years or so has had both feet firmly in the tradition represented by golden-age masterpieces like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White as well as “silver age” classics like Beauty and the Beast. The Princess and the Frog may not be in the same league as those gems, but it’s the first Disney film since The Lion King that feels like a real heir to this tradition.
At the same time, The Princess and the Frog isn’t just a throwback to the Disney renaissance. This is Disney for a new generation.
There’s a villain with magical powers — but instead of Disneyfied magic, like Aladdin’s friendly genie, the film’s New Orleans voodoo is an occult world of terrifying powers and principalities in which the villain himself is at much at risk as anyone. It’s almost Disney’s most overtly Christian depiction of magic and evil since Sleeping Beauty — though the waters are muddied by a benevolent, swamp-dwelling hoodoo mama in a sort of fairy-godmother role.
… a word that I’d use to describe most of the major creative choices made on the film: nuance. The classic Disney archetypes are represented in the supporting cast, but given new and subtle spins, and none moreso than the Princess itself. Tiana, as voiced by Anika Noni Rose, is one of the most appealing role models of any Disney Princess, and Prince Naveen, voiced by Bruno Campos, has way more to do than most of the traditional Princes in Disney’s past.
It’s only fair if I’m going to talk about my problems with the way Bella Swan is written in the “Twilight” films, and specifically my concerns about her as a role model, that I also look at how I think this film approaches its responsibility to the younger viewers who are going to see it. The reason it’s more important to do this with girl-themed films is precisely because of the way the media talks to girls overall. The media sends very different gender messages, and little boys are serviced in totally different ways than little girls. I am troubled by the way little boys are fed messages about violence and its consequences just as much as I’m troubled by the way little girls are indoctrinated to their roles as secondary people, defined entirely by their men. And when you add the potential complication of dealing with race in a more direct way than Disney’s used to… well, you see what I mean about pressure.
“The Princess and The Frog” pretty much nails it in terms of both gender politics and race, and it does it casually, without making any of it central to what you’re watching.
The narrative behind “The Princess and the Frog” is that Walt Disney Animation has rediscovered its traditional hand-drawn animation, which has been supplanted by computer-generated cartoons. But this misses the point about what allowed Pixar — which Disney now owns — DreamWorks and other CG-animation companies to upstage the one-time king of the animation world. It’s a thing called story.
So “Princess and the Frog” really marks Disney’s rediscovery of a strong narrative loaded with vibrant characters and mind-bending, hilarious situations. Under the direction of veterans Ron Clements and John Musker (the team behind “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin”) and the watchful eye of Pixar guru John Lasseter, now chief creative officer of Disney Animation, “Princess and the Frog” celebrates old and new: It’s a musical fairy tale that dates back to the days when Walt Disney was a person, not a brand. Yet it deftly mingles with the new sensibilities in animation where fairy tales must get fractured, settings must be fresh and humor pitched to many age levels.
Check, check and double check.
This is the best Disney animated film in years. Audiences — who don’t care whether it’s cel animation, CGI, stop motion, claymation or motion capture as long as it’s a good story — will respond in large numbers. A joyous holiday season is about to begin for Disney. . . .