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Much ballyhoo has been made of The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first animated film featuring an African-American lead character.  This movie has already undergone more microscopic scrutiny than the H1N1 virus and has a huge wall of opinion ready to fall at the first umbrage.  Worry not, naysayers, Disney is exactingly solicitous in its handling of the political and cultural aspects of The Princess and the Frog; in fact the only people who would be offended by it are people who like good movies.

We’re in early twentieth century New Orleans, where pragmatic little Tiana just can’t understand her wealthy friend Charlotte’s obsession with finding a Prince Charming.  Taught all her life by her adoring parents that good things are only ever gotten by hard work, the whole fairytale where kissing a frog answers all one’s prayers eludes her.  Her skepticism is enforced later in life; now a young woman living in the Jazz age as the family breadwinner since her father’s passing, Tiana holds down multiple jobs in an effort to live her dad’s dream of owning a beautiful restaurant and serving his recipes. Not everyone is as fond of the hard work concept, however, and in another part of The Big Easy, a slimy back alley magician, Dr. Facilier, sees his chance to scam some VIP tourists for money and favours while making a play for the New Orleans big time.  A spell cast by the magician goes terribly wrong for visiting Prince Naveen, who finds himself with flippers and a taste for flies.  At a masquerade ball given by Charlotte, the prince convinces Tiana, dressed in one of Charlotte’s old playtime princess gowns to lay the lips on him in the hopes of recovery.  Alas, nobody is what they seem and the spell backfires, leaving Tiana with greater leg strength than she could ever have hoped for.  The pair, chased by Dr. Facilier, set off on a hazardous journey through the Louisiana swamps to find Mama Odie, the Voodoo priestess who will change them back to their human forms.  The amphibian couple is helped by Louis, an alligator who isn’t happy in his own skin, and Ray, a Cajun firefly who aspires to gain the love of one literally high above his station.

Disney’s walk on eggshells around The Princess and the Frog has apparently robbed them of the ingredients that make a Disney animated movies so special.  From Snow White and Cinderella decades before the advent of DVDs and cable television, to The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin afterward; a Disney feature is an event.  Bring out your best animators; it’s going to be huge.  Why then is The Princess and the Frog marked with all the low-rent shortcuts and A.D.D.-tastic frenzy of something lesser?  The poorly drawn, flat animation is the worst I’ve seen outside of a Saturday morning cartoon and so is the screenplay, which feels like the filmmakers were told to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the audience and see what stuck.  Utterly uninspired, the supporting characters are unendearing and all strike of ones we’ve seen before; Louis the whiny gator and Mama Odie’s hapless companion, JuJu the snake, are second-string versions of Balloo and Kaa from The Jungle Book, and Ray the firefly is a cut-rate ringer for the Muppets’ Pepe the King Prawn.  Disney gives us our first death of a good guy in this film and I couldn’t have cared less.  Our big bad, Dr. Facilier, is a lawsuit-worthy ripoff of Geoffrey Holders’ Baron Samedi from 1973’s James Bond chapter, Live and Let Die.  I half expected to hear Holder’s inimitable cackle coming from the rubbery villain with the half-baked scheme; that would actually have been clever.  In one of the film’s many sloppy and weird inconsistencies, or failed attempts at humour, Prince Naveen in introduced with an faint Indian accent and for some reason sounds like Pepe Le Pew once he’s transformed, while Tiana stays accent neutral throughout.  Oh wait, he’s a frog and French people are called frogs because they eat frog legs.  Hilarious.  Even our lead, Tiana, isn’t particularly charming or engaging.  Drawn lovingly, she never really gets to exert any personality outside of trying to get all the money she can.  I expected her to break out into a jazz version of “She Works Hard for the Money” somewhere before the second act.  It certainly doesn’t help that any possible opportunity for character development has to stop every five minutes for yet another blockbusting, show-stopping musical production number.  Clearly meant to mimic the lavish spectacle of the ultimate Disney musical sequence, Be My Guest from Beauty and the Beast, this movie piles on these over-the-top scenes all with the same wait-for-applause moment of silence at the end.  Unlike the carefully doled out sequences in Beauty and the Beast, the creators of The Princess and the Frog have no clue about timing and these endless entreaties for standing ovations were like a harangue in the key of “C.”  I felt like I was watching Disney’s pitch for “The Princess and the Frog - Live on Broadway.”

This shrill, uninteresting, headache-inducing explosion of paint and fury does no credit to the occasion that the film has come to represent.  Instead of using this opportunity with all eyes on them to raise the standard of Disney films, everything in The Princess and the Frog, from script and animation to its musical score, is slapdash, afterthought and second rate.  The Princess and the Frog is a huge disappointment and one of the worst of the prestige Disney features I’ve ever seen.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

December 10th, 2009

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Walt Disney Pictures)

 

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