Wednesday, December 16, 2009
A New Era Begins
Friday, 11 December 2009 marked a momentous occasion for the animation industry, namely, Disney's glorious return to classic, hand-drawn animation. (I should mention that this day also marked the end of our four-month, 45-film Disney Animation Marathon event, starting with the earliest Disney animated film on 26 August and working our way through the entire canon, almost all of which, we are just a little startled to learn, we own on DVD.) Since its previews first aired, The Princess and the Frog had been advertised heavily as a classically 2D-animated film, Disney's first since Home on the Range in 2005. Naturally (and as has been made abundantly evident here on the blog), I was thrilled and couldn't wait to see it. I should mention, however, that Disney's more recent 2D animated films have not gone unnoticed by me, and I feel even the weakest of them has a lot of generally ignored positives. What bothered me most of all was how Disney seemed to be throwing up its hands (and throwing out its light tables) and shifting all its attention to making sub-par 3D films, when their sister company Pixar was handling that medium just fine. They surely must have thought that Pixar's movies were so successful because of the style of animation, when really Pixar's strength is storytelling and character development, and understanding making quality films with heart designed exactly for their target audience. (I still feel like Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. would be as successful if they were hand-drawn, the stories and characters are just that strong.) So, if this new offering, Disney's 45th (or 49th, depending on what you consider canon) animated film, was successful, it could mean any number of things for my future career aspirations. It had been ages since I bought a Disney soundtrack ahead of time and listened to it before even seeing the movie, though I admit I limited myself a little this time so as to avoid any MAJOR spoilers. And finally, the day came, and Julie and I went to a first-run theater on opening night, which only the biggest and most exciting film releases merit. I promise I won't spoil anything on this post, but I will say this:
EVERYONE within reach of this blogvoice must see this movie forthwith, and by any means possible! It was the most fun I've had in a movie theater in I don't know how long, and it was classic Disney at its absolute finest. I hesitate to award the label "favorite," of course (that honor still belongs to Aladdin), but in so many ways it returns to the classic art form, the brilliant storytelling, and the charming characters of Disney's past. The story is enough of a twist on the well-known story to make it interesting, new and original, while still staying true to the spirit of fairy tale storytelling. The early 1900s New Orleans setting lends itself quite nicely to a diverse display of characters, colors, light and locations, including a take on classic Mardi Gras, a riverboat under sparkling stars and the mystical bayous of Louisiana. The voice acting is excellent as well, featuring Tony Award-winning Anika Noni Rose (also seen in the film version of Dreamgirls) as Tiana, Bruno Campos as Naveen and Keith David as the suave and sinister "Shadow Man," Dr. Facilier, not to mention the awesome supporting cast. There are appropriate themes and some deeper lessons than expected present, and a surprising emotional element. (I'm not even going to try and deny that I cried at one point.) It had everything the classic Disney film formula calls for: A beautiful, strong female lead (a princess to boot), a charming, rough-around-the-edges prince (read: frog, for a lot of it), a fabulous, striking villain, and a strong set of secondary characters (which include, yes, talking animals). Then of course, the soundtrack by Disney/Pixar favorite Randy Newman is a glorious blend of several styles of appropriate music. It's been so long since I've had new Disney music stuck in my head, and I am loving it. I predict already that "Ma Belle Evangeline" is destined to be one of Disney's most treasured love songs, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that it's sung by a toothless Cajun firefly. This movie was at times funny, sweet, colorful, exciting, just the right amount of frightening, and now and then even heartbreaking.
In the end, we both loved this movie, and I was all for turning right around and seeing it again, it was just that good. And of course, we're not the only ones who feel this way. It seems to be getting glowing reviews from all over the place.
For the record, the fact that Tiana is the first black Disney princess has little to no interest to me whatsoever. There were some issues raised in the film regarding class distinction and such, but they had little to do with the overarching themes and overall storyline. Her race as far as the story goes is practically immaterial, and all I cared is that she's a charming, vibrant, beautiful addition to the Disney Princess canon.
Go see it!