Sunday, July 7, 2024

Disney Watch: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Watched:  07/05/2024
Format:  Disney+
Viewing:  Second
Directors:  Ron Clements, John Musker

At long last, the Disney parks have refurbished "Splash Mountain" (based on Song of the South.  I know.) in Florida and California and are replacing it with "Tiana's Bayou Adventure" (based on the 2009 movie, The Princess and the Frog) and re-themed and built associated restaurants and gift shops.  

There are many reasons, big and small, that this is a good idea.  But it *is* basing a whole part of the park on a movie I'd seen only once, and which left me with no particularly strong impressions, so Jamie and I gave the movie a whirl.

My understanding is that The Princess and the Frog is very important to folks younger than myself, and I get it.  It's cute, it's got a few memorable characters.  And kids like stuff they watch over and over.  You go, you little numbskulls.  

But.  It is not Disney Animation's best.  I'm sorry.  I want it to be.  It's the final hand-drawn movie , I think, before they went full CGI (late edit: it's the penultimate movie.  There's a Winnie the Pooh movie that was the last one).  It's the first majority-minority feature film, and with a Black lead who has an interesting geographical and historical context.  And yet.

The movie is a set of moving parts that don't fit particularly well.  None of the main characters know each other for a good chunk of the film.  What's at stake for the villain is not clarified until well, well into the film.  Our heroes don't seem that upset that they're frogs now - which is really a comment on my feelings about the verisimilitude and comedy of the film.  

And, man, speaking of comedy, the go-to gag in this movie is "then they trip backward into something and fall down, and then things fall on them to the sound of wacky noises".  I feel like this happens at least twelve times - and it's an indicator that this movie feels really geared toward small children while also aiming at some complex adult themes that will not land with kids at all.  

The theme is basically "you need love above all, but, also, find your opposite because people need to work and people also need to play, and you working ladies should definitely support a guy who wants to play ukulele all day and maybe dance around a bit, but he's got a trust fund."  Or something.

I am not shocked I didn't remember the movie particularly well as the movie's narrative just moves from beat to beat, working from a Disney story template and wacky supporting character dispenser.  Even if the set-up doesn't fit into that template all that well.  

I don't hate this movie.  I just think it's oddly perfunctory, and a reminder that not every Disney film is a homerun.  Frozen is kind of a unicorn.  I see the music was by Randy Newman, which is a weird, weird, LA-ish choice.  Yes, I know Randy Newman is from New Orleans originally, but by 2009, he was more or less synonymous with LA.  And if you're leaning into the idea of having a Black princess.  I mean, how many hundreds of people got passed by who might have been a better fit?

No, I don't hate Randy Newman.  But I think the fact that no one can name any Princess and the Frog songs (and I think they wrote new music for the ride) maybe that hints at how this effort went. 

It's a shame, because Disney's animation is really nice here.  It feels like a classically animated film, and some of it is really pretty.  The design of characters is solid and in line with some memorable films.  The voice work is really good.  There's some nice change-up of styles in some sequences.  But the writing just doesn't feel authentic, and we never really get to know Tianna.  She feels entirely one-dimensional.  "I want to own a restaurant" is not a personality.  And that leaves Keith David as our villain and a lightning bug side character to kind of steal the show.

Anyway, glad for the rewatch and reminder, even if I couldn't afford to make it to Disney and to see the ride if I wanted to.  


JAL said...

Why they didn’t redo the ride with Pocahontas is a mystery. It’s right there in Frontier Town and she does paddle around in a log.

The League said...

I think the honest answer is that: almost immediately after releasing Pocahontas, which Disney felt was pretty progressive at the time, folks cracked open their World Book Encyclopedias and found out the real story of Pocahontas is not what's in the movie and is deeply complicated, rooted in colonialism and ends with her death at a very young age. Disney hasn't backed off from Pocahontas as a film, and made a direct-to-video sequel, but they're aware that they can't use the character in the same way as they can a fictional character. And, Tiana stands in direct opposition to the issues of Song of the South.

JAL said...

Mystery solved! This makes sense.

We are usually there in the fall for Halloween when we go, so I'm always adverse to getting wet. Sadly, I've never ridden it. but have seen it from the train that circles the park.

Anonymous said...

“Ive got friends on the other side” in David’s menacing ad against the dangers of smoking voice is pretty good and is a song I remember. But it’s definitely a throwback to Thurl Ravenscroft era orchestration and recalls the “Haunted Mansion” (intentional?).

“Almost there” — existed but I don’t have any impression of it.

Perfunctory seems right as the whole of “Frozen” seems to me. I hate it. And I hate the chord progression of “Let it go”. But I also hate “defying gravity” and those two are definitely related.

The League said...

I am so sorry you hate Frozen. It sounds to me like you have an Adele Dazeem problem.