Not to give away too much information about my age, which is totally classified by the way, but Disney was an integral part of my childhood. I grew up watching Disney adaptations of famous tales such as The Little Mermaid, Robin Hood and Aladdin on rainy weekends. However, I think it would be fair to say that Toy Story, the first feature film to be completely computer animated, was a game changer when it came to producing children’s entertainment. As much as I love the wonderful work produced by famous companies such as Pixar and DreamWorks, I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart. So, as you can imagine, I was absolutely delighted when Disney announced that they would be producing another animated fairytale classic The Princess and the Frog (2009).
In the book of fairytales that I used to read as a child, the frog rescues the princess’s golden ball from a magical pond. In return for this good deed, he asks the princess for three favours, one of which is to kiss him thus transforming him into a handsome prince. Of course, this being Disney, the classic tale is given a slight twist. Set in 1920s New Orleans, Disney’s version involves a hard-working waitress Tiana, a ne’er do well, playboy Prince Naveen and a superb villain in the creepy Facilier, otherwise known as the Shadow Man. The story starts by following the life of Tiana, a young, ambitious woman who is determined to achieve her dream of owning a restaurant through hard work and sacrifice. In contrast, the visiting Prince Naveen enjoys partying and living the high life but has been cut off from funds by his family. He hopes to improve his financial status by marrying Tiana’s childhood friend, the fabulously wealthy Charlotte La Bouff. However, before he can attend that all so important ball, he finds himself lured into a trap by the menacing voodoo witch doctor Facilier. After his magical transformation into a frog, a series of unfortunate events leads Prince Naveen to mistake Tiana for a princess and ask her for a kiss to break the spell. Unfortunately, the kiss backfires. Instead of changing Prince Naveen back into a human, it changes Tiana into something similarly green and hoppy. The two frogs find themselves racing against the clock to escape the Shadow Man’s clutches and to find a cure for their magical condition. Along the way, they find themselves making some unusual friends including Louis a musical alligator who longs to play jazz with the humans and Ray, a wise and loyal firefly, who takes them under his wing(s). Together, they all make the dangerous journey to Mama Odie’s, a voodoo witch, who might just be able to help…
After years of waiting for this film, I can honestly say it was worth it. The Princess and the Frog is a truly enchanting story, it has a unique blend of modernity and tradition. I absolutely loved the 1920s setting, it is completely different from previous films and it is played upon beautifully with the use of jazz music, the style of costumes and some very art deco inspired animation. The emphasis on New Orleans continues throughout the entire film, it is mentioned alluringly in several songs and the famous city is truly portrayed as a magical and wonderful place to visit. The characters are well-developed and likeable; you can’t help instantly rooting for the tenacious Tiana and the charming Prince Naveen. The development of romance between the two leads feels very natural as they move from dislike to friendship and then eventually to love. It is certainly a case of opposites attract! The supporting characters are also fantastic, Ray is an adorable mixture of naivety (he believes that the Evening Star is actually a firefly called Evangeline) and good, old fashioned common sense. Louis makes alligators seem positively cuddlesome and Charlotte La Bouff is hilariously brilliant as the spoilt Southern Belle with a kind heart.
The only criticism that might be made of The Princess and the Frog is that it is surprisingly dark in some parts particularly the elements of the plot which involve Facilier and his use of voodoo for evil. However, with this being Disney, it never gets too scary or graphic, I would argue that it’s just the right amount of darkness to spook the audience (and make you check your shadow twice) without scaring the younger members.
Like many of the original fairytales, this film has a moral fable at its heart, a fable which in these times of economic uncertainty, materialism and ever increasing concern about work/life balance has a certain resonance. Tiana is so determined to own her own restaurant that she spends all her time working and loses out on having fun with her friends or finding romance. Prince Naveen wants to regain his fortune so that he can continue to live a life full of luxury yet he admits that such a lifestyle left him feeling empty and alone. As Mama Odie puts it ‘what you want isn’t always what you need.’ A film which places emphasis on love and friendship above material possessions, well I don’t think that message is relevant just to kids, do you?
Red Hamilton (has an irresistible urge to throw a 1920s themed party. Bring on the jazz!)