Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie review: The Princess and the Frog

I am not a Disney fan. Don't get me wrong, their art is beautiful. If you want to make your name as a cartoonist you get a job there. Then you go somewhere that doesn't treat you like a slave.

My main gripe about Disney is a relatively recent one. That slave complaint has been there since the beginning. No, in recent decades they've forgotten one of the main points that Walt Disney cared about. You have to have a good story. A good story forgives almost all else. Doctor Who ran for 36 years with a special effects and makeup budget that appeared to be less than they spent on tea, but they had a great show because of great writers. On the other hand, the Transformers movies have a huge special effects budget but so little concern with story that they actually started filming the second movie with no script at all.

In recent decades Disney forgot how to make a good movie. On the rare occasion they did something worthwhile they then started making a series of bad sequels. The executives just didn't understand why they weren't doing better. Then came Pixar. Pixar was a fairly small digital animation company. Steve Jobs (yes, Apple Computers' Steve Jobs) saw promise there, bought up a bunch of the company, and gave it a big cash infusion. "Toy Story" was great, but they didn't have the resources to distribute it. Disney, on the other hand, did. So a five movie contract was struck where Disney got exclusive distribution rights. Sequels didn't count in the five movie but Disney owned the rights to those characters and stories. Kind of a crap deal for Pixar.

"Toy Story" was a hit. So was their next movie and the next movie and anything they touched, really. They were making money like Disney hadn't seen for a long time. Dreamworks got into digital animation and was having similar success but not quite on Pixar's level or consistency. Disney shut down their hand animation department completely. They thought it was the animation style that drew viewers, not the story.

Pixar was making noises about how they wanted better treatment from Disney or they'd find another partner after the contract was over. Pixar got better treatment and higher billing but Disney wasn't happy about it.

Disney wanted "Toy Story 3" to be made. Pixar looked at several scripts and rejected them. They only do good movies. No sequels just for the sake of sequels. So Disney started their own digital animation department. They were gonna dump Pixar and make their own movies. They started with "Chicken Little" which was a complete disaster. "Toy Story 3" was under development without Pixar's help. But after the flop that was "Chicken Little" Disney had to rethink things. People weren't watching their traditional animation. People weren't watching their digital animation. But people were still flocking to Pixar movies. WHY!?!

So Disney makes Pixar an offer. "We'll give you a shitload of money and you take over our animation." Steve Jobs became the largest single Disney stockholder. Pixar became Disney's animation department. Right away, John Lasseter, head of Pixar/Disney animation, kills "Toy Story 3" and reopens the hand painted animation department. As you probably have seen, there is a good "Toy Story 3" script at long last.

At long last we get to "The Princess and the Frog". There's some question about whether this is a Disney or a Pixar production. Technically, there is no longer a Pixar. Sure, they get credit for "Toy Story 3", but that's just marketing. Still, if you know what you're looking at it's clear that "The Princess and the Frog" is more about Pixar than Disney. For one thing John Lasseter is the Executive Producer. For another thing, without checking IMDB, name any of the voice actors for this movie. Disney and Dreamworks posters often show the names of the actors bigger than the title of the movie. Pixar preferred not talking about them at all. For Lasseter/Pixar the important thing is the story. For another thing, the main characters in this movie are black (except when they're green). That's a pretty huge departure for Disney.

And probably the single biggest indication that Disney wasn't really involved with "The Princess and the Frog"...

...the mother is still alive at the end of the movie!

The story of the Frog Prince was chosen for adaption because Lasseter was looking for something that looks back to the beginning of Disney animation. They started with fairy tales and that's what they're restarting with.

This movie is the story of a young black woman in New Orleans who is trying to fulfill her father's dream of owning his own restaurant. Her whole life is spent working towards that goal. Every dime goes toward the down payment.

But, a voodoo conman is trying to use a visiting prince to con some heiress out of the family's money. The prince has been turned into a frog. But while the kiss of a princess will turn the frog back into a prince the kiss of a regular woman will turn her into a frog.

The movie is spent with the two frogs trying to get back to New Orleans to get changed back to normal and stop the marriage of the false prince to the heiress.

I liked it. I haven't really liked a Disney movie since Aladdin. But I liked this movie.

Buy it on DVD? Eeeeeehhh... probably not. But I should probably say that if "Toy Story" were being released today instead of pioneering the digital animation genre I probably wouldn't have bought it either.

I might get Yummy a copy, however.

1 comment:

GreenCanary said...

I LOVED IT! And I would watch it should you get it for me on DVD :-)