Ranking the Disney Canon – 32: The Princess and the Frog

“You know, if you are going to let every little thing bother you, it is going to be a very long night!” – Naveen

(This quote isn’t so much a description of my thoughts on the film, but more a comment on myself as a reviewer.)

The Princess and the Frog was Disney’s triumphant return to the realm of Traditional Animation. The first major project started after the buyout of Pixar, the Princess and the Frog, helmed once again by everyone’s favorite directors, Ron and John, did all it could to recapture the magic that defined the Renaissance of the 1990s. This would be the first in a new wave of traditionally animated films by Disney, and it was announced that the goal would be to see a new traditional film every 2 years.The Princess and the Frog was released in 2009, and marked the true beginning of the next era of Disney Animation.

The Princess and the Frog takes the classic tale of the princess needing to kiss a frog and transplants it into 1920s era New Orleans. Tiana, a young independent black woman, dreams of opening a restaurant. She finally get the opportunity when her best friend, Charlotte, pays her to cater a ball her father is hosting for the arrival of Prince Naveen. Naveen, having just been disowned by his family for not working, plans to marry into a rich family in order to regain his lifestyle. His plans go array when he tricked by a voodoo witch doctor, Dr. Facilier, and is transformed into a Frog, while his butler is given Naveen’s normal appearance. At the party, Tiana is informed that she is not going to be able to obtain the building she desired for her restaurant. Dejected, she runs off by herself, and runs into Naveen. Naveen offers Tiana money if she kisses him, but the plan backfires, and Tiana is also transformed into a frog. The two end up in the Bayou, where they meet cajun firefly Ray and trumpet playing alligator Louis, who help them to meet Mama Odie, who holds the key to transforming them back. Facilier, however, knows that his plans to take over New Orleans rest in keeping Naveen a frog, and he uses his power to try to stop their journey.

STRENGTHS

This is another Disney film where much of its Strength comes from its side characters. The Bayou characters, Ray and Louis, are very energetic, memorable, and have fun interactions with the rest of the cast. Ray in particular is presented so well that his sacrifice at the end of the film actually causes a very emotional response within the audience. Jim Cummings does a wonderful voice acting job with Ray. Louis has a fun gimmick with his trumpet playing dreams, and helps to further the New Orleans feeling.

You know who really steals the show, though? Charlotte. Charlotte comes out of absolutely nowhere to steal nearly every scene she is in. My favorite part of her character is the fact that she has all the signs of that pompous, self loving diva, yet she is the absolute nicest person in the world. Jennifer Cody (who would actually go on to win an award for this role) knocks the performance out of the park in one of the absolutely best voice performances of the past 10 years. A very surprising breakout character, but I’ll take it.

The journeys of Tiana and Naveen are well-defined and make sense. I really like how the film presents both of their views on life as extremely faulted. By making Tiana and Naveen see life at the extreme opposite of the spectrum, it really allows for them to change each other and for them to grow. Naveen’s arc in particular is very good, and I certainly see how Tiana’s philosophy has a major effect on his character.

Naveen is a very likable character, only partly because he has an awesome accent. His vibrant personality is enjoyable, and he never comes off as a jerk, which is a mistake that could have easily been made. His laziness never turns into something that turns you off from him. Naveen is no doubt the stronger of the two main characters.

Finally, while I am not normally a fan of Randy Newman, I must admit that The Princess and the Frog has a pretty strong soundtrack. While “Friends on the Other Side” and “Gonna Take You There” are only strong in sections and not as a whole, “Down in New Orleans,” “When We’re Human,” and “My Belle Evangeline” use the jazz influence to the max.

WEAKNESSES

While the difference in enjoyment of characters is not as drastic as it was in The Aristocats, The Princess and the Frog does suffer from the same sort of weakness. Tiana and Naveen overall just are not the strongest of characters. They certainly improve when together on-screen, but as individuals, they tend to falter. A major reason for this is that we never really given the background on these characters, and thus we are not given much reason to care about them. I mean, when most of the exposition and background for Naveen comes from the villain during the villain’s song, there is a bit of an issue.

The Princess and the Frog does a lot of “Telling, not Showing” to build these characters, and this is especially true for Tiana. We are told she has the extreme drive to fulfill her father’s dreams, and that she feels that working hard is the only way to go, but we are never shown why she has this drive. Sure, we see her with her father in her youth, but then we are just told that her father died in service. Why did this drive her to be the person she is today, especially since her father told her never to forget about family? While “Almost There” is a catchy song, it fails to give us a true look at the character’s desires the way “Part of your World” and “Belle” do. When we are not able to understand her point of view, it becomes very hard to care for her. In fact, she almost becomes unlikable at some points because we see her being so stubborn without knowing why she is so stubborn.

Part of the issue is that the film spends way too much time following the two as frogs. Yes, I get that the film is based on the fact that they become frogs, but there is so much of it that the film being to drag in the middle. There is a ton of fluff throughout these segments that could have been cut out for some more introduction to Tiana and Naveen. The Frog Hunters sequence is a good example of this. The segment does not help build Tiana or Naveen, and it is a “Lighten the Mood” scene at a point where the mood did not need to be lightened. Almost 7 minutes this sequence takes up could have been used to show an extra scene in Tiana’s Childhood, or to give more of an introduction to Prince Naveen, while also honeslty quickening the pace of the film’s second half.

We have another weak Disney Villain with Dr. Facilier. He has all the potential of a great Disney Villain, with the cool gimmick and the fun yet evil personality. He falls, however, because his plans are way too vague. There’s maybe one sentence about how his plan will help take over New Orleans. But why is New Orleans so important to him? What is the nature of his relationship with his Friends on the Other Side? If this plan is life or death to him, why was he wasting time doing petty tricks on the street? With this character, the stakes never feel high, and it feels like they just pushed the “Take Over New Orleans” part in to try to raise them. It also doesn’t help that he has very little interaction with the protagonists, as his strongest scenes are when he is manipulating Tiana and Naveen.

I don’t mention a score unless it is very good or very bad. Well, The Princess and the Frog is a good example of why I dislike Randy Newman. The score is disconnected, unmemorable, and underplayed. The difference in quality between the songs and the score is absolutely shocking.

Finally, a nitpick. I really hate the name for this film. It makes no sense and is misleading. It really should be The Frog Prince.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

This is another film where the best moment is also a song. “My Belle Evangeline” is my favorite moment of the film. It is a memorable bonding between Naveen and Tiana, and a wonderful moment for Ray.

The best song is the film’s opening number “Down in New Orleans,” sung by music legend Dr. John. The song is just catchy, and Dr. John’s vocals add a lot to the song. It really sets the mood well for the story.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I adored The Princess and the Frog when it first released because I was extremely happy that the classic Disney animation of the past had returned. As I’ve seen the film more times, however, I certainly see more of it’s faults. The film is still extremely enjoyable with good music and memorable side characters, and the Tiana-Naveen relationships has its strengths. I just wish that a little bit more time had been given to developing these characters, and that the film would have picked up the pace in the second half. Still, Disney Animation is back in form, and I love it.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 32: The Princess and the Frog

  1. I admit that when The Princess and the Frog was first released, I was blinded with the fact that for this one moment in Disney’s history that the company was returning to the hand-drawn animated style I grew up with. Though while I admit that many character backgrounds could’ve been greatly explored, the pacing could’ve been well established, and while I understand the faults are not easy to ignore, I still find this an enjoyable movie. Because regardless of how it would eventually end up, Tiana would become a household name in the Disney family (And would even have an appearance on one of today’s Disney programs). For all that I do enjoy about this movie, most of the songs are enjoyable, the art-style is beautiful, and there are plenty of character moments that I won’t ever forget each time the film is played. And while it’s true this would be one of the few hand-drawn animated films that would come out before they stopped with their hand-drawn work all together, for what the film was worth it was still enjoyable to know that the hand-drawn style was still possible.

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