SHORT TAKE: “The Princess and the Frog” (***)

Posted by · 4:58 pm · November 6th, 2009

The Princess and the FrogIt’s a little difficult to argue with the nostalgia that Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” conjures.  As effective as Pixar has been for over a decade and as exciting as the computer-generated leaps have been in animation, there is something to be said about a well-crafted, traditional piece of animated feature filmmaking.

Filmmakers Ron Clements and Jon Musker stretch back to the “Black Cauldron” days of the studio after all, and they were largely responsible for two of the biggest Disney animated hits of the pre-Pixar era, “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” “The Princess and the Frog” isn’t in that league, however.  It’s an effective story and a clever twist on a classic tale, a twist that works quite well, in fact.

That having been said, the vibrant animation and striking color palette the film’s animators are working with make “The Princess and the Frog” a truly beautiful fixture in this year’s healthy slate of animated feature films.  Working with the bayou particulars of New Orleans goes a long way toward servicing those visuals, of course, but the sheer energy of the piece, an organic extension of those particulars, is what makes it feel so comfortably familiar.

I would say there are a few story concerns.  Dr. Facilier, for instance (devilishly voiced by the great Keith David), isn’t properly capitalized upon as the instantly classic villain he could have been.  There is a thinness to his motivation that makes his influence on the film seem entirely arbitrary at times.  The same could be said for his fellow on-screen antagonist (who’s name escapes me).  The chemistry there seemed a pale imitation of the delicious sparring we’ve received from Jafar and Iago, Scar and the hyena pack, etc.

But the film is a real treat otherwise.  Anika Noni Rose and especially Bruce Campos add a lot of flavor with their vocal depictions of Princess Tiana and Prince Naveeen, respectively.  Michael-Leon Wooley, as a swamp gator in love with music, and Jim Cummings, as a creole fire fly with plenty of spunk, help to fill out a nicely modest ensemble.  And one can’t mistake John Goodman’s thunderous incantations as the father of a spoiled, silver spoon friend of Tiana’s with a heart of gold.

One final note, concerning Randy Newman’s contributions to the film’s soundtrack.  They are considerable, and a great joy (even if I feel like every Disney animated musical could use at least one-less number breaking up the narrative flow).  But it is somewhat concerning that the studio has its biggest awards plans in store for Ne-Yo’s closing credits track “I Never Knew I Needed,” rather than any number of the more substantial tunes scattered throughout the film.

In particular, the opening and closing sequence track, “Down in New Orleans” (performed by the great Dr. John) stands out as flavorful and more meaningful, lyrically speaking, than some of the other songs.  “Almost There,” performed by Anika Noni Rose, is also a formidable track that plays perfectly within the context of the film.  Ne_yo’s song is tossed arbitrarily over the credits and, as a result, isn’t likely to be nominated, so I think Disney would be wise to concentrate efforts on those other two Newman tracks.

And really, who doesn’t want to see Dr. John performing at the Oscars?




→ 16 Comments Tags: , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

16 responses so far

  • 1 11-06-2009 at 5:10 pm

    Mr. F said...

    Glad to hear it is good. I’m still very excited about it and will see it on opening weekend

  • 2 11-06-2009 at 5:17 pm

    EHH said...

    HOW DID YOU GET TO SEE IT?

  • 3 11-06-2009 at 5:17 pm

    Chris138 said...

    Can’t wait to see this.

  • 4 11-06-2009 at 5:25 pm

    Loyal said...

    I guess it makes commercial sense for Disney to push Ne-Yo but I’ve been predicting Down in New Orleans and Dr John since the beginning. I hope my gut pays off.

    Glad you enjoyed the film Kristopher. I understand the plan is to release a traditional 2D musical every 2 years or so.

  • 5 11-06-2009 at 5:38 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    EHH: The same way I get to see everything else?

  • 6 11-06-2009 at 6:59 pm

    Joel said...

    Awesome, Kris. Can’t wait to see this.

  • 7 11-06-2009 at 7:04 pm

    aspect ratio said...

    Pretty ludicrous if Disney is pushing for an end credits song. If Bruce Springsteen can’t get a nomination with The Wrestler (which was arguably one of the finest songs composed for a film in this decade), no one can. The door for end credits songs is closed.

    Kris, you should do a write-up on the Original Song race, it’d be interesting to hear your thoughts on the contenders, especially now that you’ve seen this and Crazy Heart. It’s always such a hard category to predict for us who won’t get to see/hear them in time.. Or maybe wait until you see Nine and then do it.

  • 8 11-06-2009 at 7:11 pm

    Encore Entertainment said...

    Seeing John or Anika sing…totally great. Neyo…not so much.

  • 9 11-07-2009 at 2:06 am

    Glenn said...

    Didn’t anybody learn anything from when Hairspray pushed the end credits song and then got snubbed when they would’ve been nominated for the original song within the film with its own sequence? Ugh.

  • 10 11-07-2009 at 2:11 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    one of the movies im most looking forward to, good to hear you like it

  • 11 11-07-2009 at 3:28 am

    mike said...

    lets all hate on Ne-Yo cause he is commercial. I’ll have u know he is one of the finest songwriters of the last 10 yrs.

    ” cause i’m so sick of love songs, so tired of tears, so sick of love songs, so sick and blue, so why cant i turn of the radio……”

    i think thats how it goes. really though Dr John would be great.

  • 12 11-07-2009 at 10:57 am

    A.J said...

    Ne-Yo’s song is good and they’re trying to make it a big hit I assume. But we already have one hit in contention (The Climb) and another one that’s trying to be a hit, and will probably be bigger than Ne-Yo’s song (Time For Miracles). And let’s not forget that Taylor Swift is also in contention.

  • 13 11-07-2009 at 12:57 pm

    Mr. F said...

    What is Taylor Swift in contention for?

  • 14 11-07-2009 at 1:44 pm

    Jim T said...

    Kanye West’s approval. But I wouldn’t bet on it. :p

  • 15 11-09-2009 at 9:42 am

    Mike_M said...

    Dr John is the man… I am all for him performing at the Oscar’s. The Dr is one of a handful of artists who practically bleed New Orleans.