Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Princess and the Frog

March 15th, 2010

The Princess and the Frog - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray, or Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

With The Princess and the Frog, Disney marked its return to 2D animation (tough not really... more on that later). A 2D animated film from the same studio that brought us Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Bambi, etc. The expectations for this film couldn't be higher.

Set in 1920s New Orleans, The Princess and the Frog stars Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, a young lady determined to own her own restaurant. This was her father's dream and she has inherited it, as well his work ethic as well. Her mother, on the other hand, is a little worried that her single-minded nature is preventing her from living the rest of her life. Since childhood, she has been friends with Charlotte, whose father is one of the richest people in New Orleans. Charlotte's used to getting her way, but is still a kind person.

One day, Prince Naveen visits New Orleans and Charlotte sees this as the perfect time to fulfill her greatest wish, marrying a Prince. In order to do this, she hires Tiana to cook for her big party, which would provide Tiana with the money she needs to open her restaurant. Meanwhile, there's another New Orleans resident interested in the Prince: Dr. Facilier, a Voodoo priest. He sees Naveen as his ticket to wealth and to the power that comes with it. He changes the Prince into a frog, and changes the Prince's put-upon manservant, Lawrence, into a copy of the Prince. The frog version of Naveen manages to escape and meets Tiana, who is in a fancy dress at the time. He mistakes her for a princess. Thinking a kiss from a princess will reverse the curse, Naveen convinces Tiana to kiss him, but since she's not a princess, instead of him returning to human form, she joins him as an amphibian.

Now the two of them have to figure out how to become humans again, with the help of some friends they meet along the way, while also stopping Dr. Facilier's evil scheme to trick Charlotte into marrying the fake Prince.

As I mentioned "above the fold", so to speak, The Princess and the Frog is the latest feature-length 2D animated film from Disney, which is the studio that essentially created that art form. (Yes, there were a few such films that came before Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but in many ways Walt Disney was the pioneer of the genre.) Because of that, the expectations for this film are huge. The animation techniques have obviously come a long way since then, but techniques aside, can it match previous films in terms of style? And will this film be able to match the earlier works in terms of storytelling and music?

It's a good modern adaptation of a classic Fairytale, with a twist. Tiana is more pro-active than many Disney princess have been in the past, while setting the film in a more modern time in America does give the film something to set it apart (as does having a predominantly African-American cast). However, the plot does seem quite familiar, following the simple formula that most Walt Disney princess tales do. Sure, by setting the film in New Orleans, there is a natural reason to inject jazz music into the movie. But a lot of these elements are skin-deep. Louis, the trumpet playing alligator, and Ray, the Cajun firefly, were only adequate as sidekicks and didn't have the charisma to carry a scene like they needed to. On the other hand, Charlotte is almost more fun than the rest of the cast of characters combined. (I'm not surprised Jennifer Cody won an Anne Award for her voice work.)

The Princess and the Frog is a true musical, with several major numbers that will wow moviegoers. Mama Odie's performance of "Dig a Little Deeper" is a perfect example of this, while "Friends on the Other Side" is a number that also really works. It actually earned its two Oscar nominations for Best Original Song for "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans"; however, there's a difference between what makes a great song and what makes a great musical number. Musical numbers need to be theatrical, and "Dig a Little Deeper" and "Friends on the Other Side" are just that. However, while the score highlights the musical style that New Orleans is known for, I don't think there's a song here that's really a classic. I don't think that we'll remember them 30 or 40 or 70 years from now. And I don't think I'm being facetious when I say 70 years, because that's exactly how old "When You Wish upon a Star" is.

Finally, we get to the style of the film. Compared to past Disney films, this movie is more "cartoonish", especially Charlotte, whose movements at Duke's Café felt more like Bugs Bunny than Belle. But this actually helps the film's more magical elements. You couldn't do "Friends on the Other Side" in the same style as Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, the background paintings are as gorgeous as you can find in Disney's films. The shot of La Bouff Mansion is an early example of that.

Overall, The Princess and the Frog harkens back to the classic Disney Fairytales, while also being more modern in setting and tone. Some characters were fantastic and stole every scene they were in, while others were not as memorable as they should be. A couple of the songs/scenes seemed like they were trying too hard to be charming, while sometimes the action scenes seemed out of place (the three hunters spring to mind here). Add it up and you get a film that is great, but not in the upper echelon of Disney's all time classics.

Onto a non-review related topic...

As a box office analyst, I deal with perceptions as much as realities, because often times perceptions are more important than reality when it comes to a film's box office chances. If people think this is a major return for Disney, then there are very high expectations. However, despite what Disney stated, they never really left 2D animation. Remember, Home on the Range came out in mid-2004. Not 1984. Not 1994. But 2004. The first rumors that Disney was going to make a feature-length 2D animated movie surfaced in early 2006. The time between the "final" 2D animated film and the return was less than two years. Not so much a triumphant return to an abandoned art form. More like taking a short break while looking for the right script.

On a side note, every studio should do that with every style of movie. I would love to hear a studio head say, "We are not making another Science Fiction movie until we can find a story that is worth sinking three years of development time into. In fact, we are not making any movies until we can find stories that are worth that."

I only have the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, but since it has the DVD and the Blu-ray, it should be easy to figure out what's on what format.

The DVD extras start with an audio commentary track featuring John Musker and Ron Clements, the co-writers and co-directors, as well as Peter Del Vecho, the producer. There are four deleted scenes that run for 12 minutes, including intros. There is a game in which you try and figure out what princess the fireflies are drawing in the sky. If you get them all, you then can see short clips of the movies they were in. Finally, there's a music video for "Never Knew I Needed".

The Blu-ray has that, plus many exclusives, mostly in the form of featurettes. The first of these exclusives is a Picture-in-Picture track that shows the work-in-progress animation. Bringing Animation to Life looks at the "Life Action Reference Footage" that the animators use for difficult shots. There are two clips, plus an intro, that run a combined 8 minutes. There is a 22-minute long "making of" featurette called Magic in the Bayou. Up next is a series of short, self-explanatory featurettes: The Return to Hand Drawn Animation is just under 3 minutes, The Disney Legacy is roughly the same length, Disney's Newest Princess is also just under 3 minutes, The Princess and the Animator is a 2-minute look at Tiana's animators, Conjuring the Villain is just under 2 minutes, and Return to the Animated Musical is just over 3 minutes. Finally, there are several image galleries for concept art, characters, and backgrounds. Also the disc is BD-Live enabled, but whatever extras are found there can't be found in Canada.

As for the film's technical presentation on Blu-ray, it's very close to perfection. I didn't spot any flaws. Colors are bright, details are amazing, and the voices are clear and the surround sound speakers get a workout throughout.

Looking over the prices and we find that currently on the DVD costs $17, the Blu-ray costs $23, and the Combo Pack costs $28. If you were planning on buying the Blu-ray anyway, the Combo Pack is just $5 more for both the DVD and the Digital copy, which is a good deal. Additionally, since the Blu-ray has so much more in terms of extras and video / audio quality, its worth making the upgrade to High Definition.

The Verdict

The box cover has a quote that calls The Princess and the Frog the best Disney movie since The Lion King, but I think that's going way too far. In fact, it's not even the best Disney movie of the year. (The best is Up, which is in fact the best movie of the year from any studio.) However, it is still one of the best animated films of the year and it earned its Oscar nominations. The Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is absolutely worth picking up and is a clear contender for Pick of the Week.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, The Princess and the Frog