Archive for December, 2009

That is One Good Looking Frog

I love the design of this poster, it's absolutely wonderful

It feels so freaking good to be able to gush about a non-Pixar Disney movie again. This one is a doozy. Their first hand animated film since Home on the Range in 2004 and their first animated musical since Tarzan in 1999.

The film has become a bit of an anomaly. With the animation industry in America shifting almost entirely to CG animated films, the thought of a hand animated film (especially one out of Disney, what with their reliance on Pixar) to even come out now is staggering. What surprised me even more than the fact that it was released, was that the movie actually managed to live up to all of my ridiculously high expectations. I grew up during the second Disney renaissance. Aladdin was the first movie I saw in theatres, the Lion King was the first movie I saw in theatres twice. Thanksgiving in my family was always the day that we would go see the new Disney movie. I always had the atrocious novelizations of each movie and would read them incessantly before seeing the actual movie. Disney was a colossal part of my childhood, and this movie really took me back to that innocent time.

Man, Disney changed it's message in this movie. You can wish upon a star, but only hard work will make your dreams come true.

As you may have guessed, the movie is based off of the “Frog Princess” fairy tale, but it also takes reference from E.D. Baker’s novel (also called the Frog Princess) in a very fast and loose fashion. The film follows Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) who desperately wants to open up a restaurant in her hometown of New Orleans and Prince Naveen, a prince from a small European country, who wants to reclaim his fortune and continue with his frivolous, party boy lifestyle. Naveen gets turned into a frog through a voodoo spell by Dr. Facilier (Keith David, who has a surprisingly good voice for a villain) in a deal gone wrong. Needless to say, things go wrong and Naveen and Tiana have to set things right. It’s a typical story for Disney, but there are some points that are worth mentioning.

Let the silliness commence.

First off is the character of Tiana. She is a very strong female character and is a person who doesn’t really need saving. She’s able to fend for herself and uses her intelligence to solve her problems and Naveen is the polar opposite of the typical Disney hero. He’s vain, uncaring, and wants nothing but money and one night stands. Wow, I just realized that he is basically a G-rated Barney from How I Met Your Mother. Even the comic relief characters were interesting. Louis the alligator was genuinely enjoyable to watch, partially for his humourous voice and the incredibly odd idea that was making him a trumpet playing alligator who got chased off of river boats for trying to play with Jazz bands. I was very surprised that I liked the character of Ray the firefly, he has all of the marks of a bad character: he’s a stereotype, he has some pretty corny jokes, and he ends up being a very important part of the film. All of this should have made me hate him, but there’s just something about him that I enjoy, of course this might have to do with the fact that he’s voiced by one of the greatest voice actors ever, Jim Cummings. Seriously, check out what he has done. You will be incredibly surprised by what he’s done.

Kali ma! Kali ma!

Another thing I was surprised about was how dark this movie was. It wasn’t quite as dark as Robert Zemeckis’ take on a Christmas Carol, which was genuinely scary at moments, but it’s still a item of note with children. The shadow creatures that Facilier summons are pretty creepy and there is a point -SPOILERS- in which a character actually dies, and I’m not even talking about the villain.-SPOILERS END-. Even Tiana’s motivation is kind of sad, her father died in World War I before he could complete his dream of opening up a restaurant, and Tiana is carrying on his dream.

Beautiful masquerade is beautiful.

The original songs for the movie are pretty fantastic, with every style of music found in Louisiana being represented. Randy Newman definitely had his work cut out for him. The ragtime styled song sung by Dr. Facilier, “Friends on the Other Side” really took the cake for me. I have always loved the villain songs, with “Poor Unfortunate Souls” and “Hellfire” being my particular favourites, but this one has definitely moved up the ladder. The sequence in and of itself is incredibly fun to watch with all of Facilier’s magic tricks and the paradigm shift once they get to “transformation central” and everything turns into a neon Marti Gras styled freak out. The theme song, “Down in New Orleans,” is a very fun romp that captures the feeling of the movie very well and definitely sets the mood. The other song I want to talk about is “When We’re Human.” This is definitely the “Hakuna Matata”cor the “Be Our Guest” of the movie. It’s not completely essential to progressing the plot, but it’s a Jazzy little diversion that you don’t hate for popping up. It’s also what “Human Again” from the Beauty and the Beast Broadway show should have been, but that’s neither here nor there.

Madame Odie needs a better piece of real estate.

This film is absolutely gorgeous, there were many moments when I was left completely speechless from what I was seeing on the screen. The backgrounds are always lusciously detailed and extremely colourful, but never overwhelming. It definitely captures the spirit of New Orleans, especially around Marti Gras when the movie is set. One that sticks out in my mind was during Madame Odie’s song “Dig a Little Deeper” when they go out onto the top of her home. Words can’t really give the design of this scene justice, as the it’s just a gold background with coloured bottles hanging from the trees, but the lighting and the actual content of the song give it so much extra oomph that I was left completely flabbergasted.

His friends on the other side.

I couldn’t tell for sure, but I believe that the backgrounds of the film were rendered in the Deep Canvas program. For those of you who don’t know what Deep Canvas is, which I’m assuming most of you don’t, it is a computer program created for Tarzan that allowed for the rendering of CG backgrounds, but would make them look like they were hand painted. What I find most interesting about the program is that it even keeps track of the brushstrokes as the backgrounds are created, which leaves them looking even more like paintings than before.

Actually, almost all of the songs had moments like this. For “Gonna Take You There,” it was the shapes and fixtures all of the firefly would make, including the shadows. For “Almost There” it was the transformation into the graphic design of 1920’s posters.

The lighting in this scene is perfect, absolutely perfect.

There is one last thing I want to gush about regarding this film, and that is the water effects. The water in the movie would constantly amaze me. It looks like it was hand animated, but was then rendered in Deep Canvas, but the end product was always wonderful, especially during the final transformation (that’s not a spoiler, the trailers show the happy ending).

But seriously, for all of the ranting I did above, I hope that it gave you the idea that this film is worth seeing. It truly is. It’s heartwarming, it has an interesting story, Randy Newman’s music is exquisite, and the images on the screen are always beautiful to look at. Go see this movie, I can assure you that you won’t want your money back after the credits roll. And now that this movie is out, I can’t wait for my Birthday present from Disney next year, Rapunzel.