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The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/16/2010

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/14/2010

This has probably been discussed by others in the past, but while watching The Princess and the Frog, something occurred to me; each generation can be defined by the animated Disney films which were released during that time. Unfortunately, I grew up during one of Disney's most stagnant periods. Following the release of Robin Hood in 1973, Disney went into a slump. The two big releases of my childhood were The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound. While I enjoyed both at the time, history hasn't been very kind to either. No, it wasn't until 1989 that Disney released The Little Mermaid and began a new trend of quality animated films. Then, in 2004, Disney abandoned traditional hand-drawn animation for the computer-generated stuff. The Princess and the Frog marks a return to hand-draw cartoons. Will this kick off a new line of greatness for Disney?

The Princess and the Frog is set in New Orleans in the early part of the 20th Century. Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) is a working-class girl who was raised by her parents to have a strong work ethic and a love for cooking. Her dream is to open her own restaurant, and she saves all of her money for this. Her best friend is Charlotte (voiced by Jennifer Cody), a spoiled little rich girl. They met as children when Tiana's mom would make dresses for Charlotte. Charlotte is very excited, as Prince Naveen of Maldonia (voiced by Bruno Campos) is coming to visit the city and she plans to woo him. Little does she know that not only is Naveen a playboy who is only interested in a good time, this behavior has caused his parents to cut him off. But, Charlotte isn't the only one with plans. The evil voodoo master Dr. Facilier (voiced by Keith David) wants to use Naveen as a pawn so that he can rule the city. He tricks Naveen into a bargain, turning the young prince into a frog. Taking a cue from the old fairy tale, Naveen assumes that a kiss will make him human again, and he convinces Tiana to do this for him. That kiss wreaks any more havoc in their lives and is the beginning of a great adventure which will take them through the bayou and the streets of New Orleans.

Unlike many, I don't think that Disney went back into a slump at the turn of the century and I found plenty to like with Lilo & Stitch and Home on the Range. Having said that, I wasn't ecstatic about the studio returning to hand-drawn animation, as I had been somewhat impressed with their CG output, especially Meet the Robinsons. And, the trailers for The Princess and the Frog simply didn't make the film look very good. I really can't put my finger on why, but it didn't look interesting. I liked the idea that Disney was returning to their roots and basing a story on an old fairy tale, but otherwise, listing the ingredients of the film equaled a "pass" from me.

So, I'm surprised to report that I actually liked this movie. Why? Because in going back to their roots -- and by turning to veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements -- Disney remembered the importance of story and characters. Does the hand-drawn animation look good? Of course, it does (especially on this Blu-ray Disc), but that's not going to sell the film. No, the movie works because we get behind the characters and want to see what they are going to do next.

Much has been made of the fact that Tiana is Disney's first African-American princess. Whatever. The fact that she is a confident, but not annoying or whiny character who knows how to stand up for herself, but yet values friendship makes her appealing. Naveen reminded me somewhat of Aladdin, as he's full of bravado. But, his cockiness also makes him oblivious and he delivers some of the funniest lines in the film. As with any Disney film worth its salt, we are treated to good sidekicks, Louis the alligator (voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley) and Ray the firefly (voiced by Jim Cummings). Both of these characters provide just the right amount of humor and story propulsion to the film without trying to hog the spotlight. Of course, Disney movies often hinge on the villain, and I'm still not sold in Dr. Facilier. He's got the requisite blend of charm and menace, and making him a voodoo practitioner stays true to the New Orleans theme, but, as usual, I wonder about the children. Do kids know what voodoo is? Speaking of the kids, the scenes in which Facilier conjures evil spirits could certain scare the little ones. (Especially those walking voodoo dolls! I'm not sleeping tonight!)

Not only should Disney be applauded for trying to bring back hand-drawn animation, they deserve a nod for the way that they did it. I feel that far too many modern animated films put more emphasis on the celebrity voices than anything else. Of the main characters in The Princess and the Frog, Keith David is the only name with which I'm familiar, while actors like John Goodman, Terrence Howard, and someone named Oprah fill out some of the minor parts. Again, the emphasis here is on character and story and for the most part, it works. The movie doesn't break any new ground story-wise, and there are few surprises here, but the movie is charming and certainly enjoyable.

The Princess and the Frog debates the difference between slime and mucus on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 23 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. Watching the movie on Blu-ray is the way to go, as it looks flawless. The colors are phenomenal and they practically leap off of the screen. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very impressive, yet this doesn't reveal any issues with the animation. The Disc contains a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good and do a fine job of illustrating sounds emanating from off-screen. The surround sound effects are good as well, most notably in action scenes, in the musical numbers, and in the scenes where the evil spirits surround Facilier. The subwoofer effects aren't as numerous, but when used, they are effective.

The Princess and the Frog Blu-ray Disc contains many extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Co-writers/Co-directors John Musker & Ron Clements and Producer Peter Del Vecho. The Disc contains four DELETED SCENES which run about 12 minutes, including an intro by Musker and Clements. These are all done in rough storyboard form and they were cut for time purposes. The Disc includes the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Never Knew I Needed" by Ne-Yo. "Bringing Animation to Life" (8 minutes) is a three-part segment which contains an intro by Musker & Clements. It shows how live-action reference scenes are shot to give the animators a basis from which to work. "Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess" (22 minutes) is a featurette which traces the evolution of the film, through interviews with those involved and footage of the filmmakers at work. "The Return of Hand Drawn Animation" (3 minutes) has the directors explaining the importance of the use of traditional animation on this film. "The Disney Legacy" (3 minutes) gives a brief look at animation at the famed studio. "Disney's Newest Princess" (3 minutes) introduces Tiana. In "The Princess and the Animator" (2 minutes), we meet Mark Hehn, who's in charge of animating Tiana. We get a look at Dr. Facilier in "Conjuring the Villain" (2 minutes). The filmmakers talk about the music and discuss Randy Newman in "A Return to the Animated Musical" (3 minutes). "Art Galleries" contains four sections; Visual Development, Character Design, Layouts & Backgrounds, and Storyboard Art. Finally, "What Do You See?" is a set-top game.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long