Saturday, January 2, 2010

Go See "The Princess And The Frog"!

The above illustration adorns this year's Christmas card from my friend, Disney animator, Nik Ranieri. Nik was the principal animator on the pictured character, Charlotte, the delightful status-seeker and childhood friend of Tiana, the heroine in Disney's new animated feature, The Princess and the Frog. I got a big kick out of Nik's illustration on his card - I can almost hear Charlotte singing Eartha Kitt's big song hit, Santa Baby, as she goes over her long list of Christmas gift requirements!

I have seen The Princess and the Frog and, though it may be a flawed film in some ways, I want to state for the record that I enjoyed the film very much. My criticisms are mostly in line with Mike Barrier's insightful and fairminded review, although I do disagree on a couple of points. I also have some minor quibbles about the visual aesthetic, but that's a very personal view. However, because of the fact that this is Disney's long-awaited return (after 6 years) to the art form it is best known for, and allowing for the fact that they have prudently opted to play it safe in order to test the waters before venturing into riskier territory, I am willing to cut them a lot of slack on this film. Though not perfect, the film still serves up a lot of solid entertainment with fun characters, fully expressive animation, and a winning music score. (Actually, on that last point I was leery, not having been an enthusiast of Randy Newman's music in general in the past, but the rascal exceeded my expectations on this one.)

However, I would be remiss in not admitting that this film is in trouble. Tragically, The Princess and the Frog is a victim of its having been released at a particularly vulnerable time, up against such worthy competition as Avatar, as well as such unworthy competition as that Chipmunks pic! I find it hard to fathom why kids and their parents would choose that latter film in such huge numbers, but I'll admit I'm very much out of step with today's popular tastes.

Over at The Laughing Place, Rhett Wickham has written a heartfelt plea to encourage moviegoers to go see Disney's revival of traditional animation because, if the box-office numbers aren't there, it's a very real possibility that the studio heads at Disney may conclude that there's no longer the audience for this medium in films. Rhett offers up a good argument as to why you should go see this film soon if you haven't already. I'm personally planning to see it once or twice more before it ends its theatrical run. My hat's off to all of the talented animation staff at Disney Feature Animation. They've been battling against the odds to create an entertaining film, and I think their efforts are worth supporting by casting your vote where it counts: at the box-office of your local theatre. Thanks in advance!


Omar said...

Ahahaha I loved the film, despite some story issues. Just the fact that it was Disney's return to traditional animation made me grin throughout.

And Nik Ranieri Topped himself again to me, Charlotte was amazing.
And that card made me laugh and want to see the film again!

Amanda said...

Really awesome card! :D

Michael Barrier's review was pretty interesting, and I liked what he said about having human Naveen revealed at the end, I definitely think it would have had a stronger impact and would have been more meaningful to Tiana.

I'm glad you generally liked it, I need to take my parents to see it still, things just keep coming up! Grr!

Brubaker said...

Film has its problems, but I was marveled by the animation. Michael Barrier made some good points that I agree with.

You wrote about Avatar being a "worthy competition". Okay, I'm REALLY curious about what you think of the film. (Personally, the visuals and the 3D effects was the only good thing about it; the story left a LOT to be desired)

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Amanda,

Actually, that's one of the key points where I disagree with Mike. I think Disney was right to first establish Naveen as a human before his transformation. However, I think the mistake was in not really showing his personality clearly until he became the far more interesting frog. Naveen should have been portrayed more as the rakish type right from the beginning, both in his mannerisms and in his visual design.

One of my biggest frustrations with this film is the missed opportunity with Naveen. As a frog he's clearly a charming rogue, akin to Clark Gable's "Rhett Butler" or Charles Boyer's "Pepe le Moko" (itself the inspiration for Chuck Jones' "Pepe le Pew"), yet in human form all we see is a blandly designed prince who looks like a hybrid of previous Disney heroes, Aladdin and Eric. Why not explore a more individual and descriptive look for him?

Ironically, there is a brief shot of Naveen's father at the end of the film during the wedding, where his dad looks a bit like an older Omar Sharif, the Egyptian actor most known for his roles in "Doctor Zhivago" and "Lawrence of Arabia". I actually think it would have been far better to design Naveen himself to look like the young Sharif with his handsome exotic features, but instead we get the same generic hero face we've seen in so many animated features of the last 20 years, Disney or otherwise. As one who teaches character design, I find the constant reuse of generic templates to be discouraging.

Adam Pockaj said...

Oh man, you know Nik Ranieri? He's one of my favorites! There's a certain wit to his characters that I love. In first year I animated Hades for the head rotation assignment and there was so much great animation in the movie to use as reference. Charlotte was great too!

Yeldarb86 said...

I've seen the Princess and the Frog twice during the holidays, and really enjoyed it.

Charlotte was one of the concerns I initially had for this film that has thankfully been in my favor. The previews and early descriptions made it sound like she was going to become a romantic rival for Tiana, not too far removed from the false friendships seen on so many of Disney's tween programs. Charlotte turned out to be one of the surprises of the film, instead representing how easy white women have had in gaining a princess role model compared to Tiana's general lack of interest in the whole idea.

There are plenty of suspicions behind the film's underperformance, all pointing to the wear and tear of the Disney brand from the Eisner era. Still, I'm also sickened that people would rather see ANOTHER CGI/live action sequel, which is only going to encourage more of these things. Disney is getting shortchanged in a time and place where they should've easily been able to conquer, and Lord knows they've been advertising this film in every possible way.

S. Stephani Soejono said...

Saw it on the opening weekend actually. It was an awesome effort and probably my biggest beef is the music itself.

Apart from Almost There, and Friends on the Other Side the rest of the songs feels so,...blah. I liked Down in New Orleans but I thought it could have been improved. (especially, lyric-wise)

Other than that, I do have to ask why do so many people have a problem with the art direction? I mean you're the third person who've expressed this.

Pete Emslie said...

Hi Steph,

I don't have a problem with the overall art direction - I'm just critical of several of the character designs that I feel to be on the weak side.

S. Stephani Soejono said...

Oh , I see. Thanks for clarifying that.

The people I see on the internet complained mostly about New Orleans looking too beautiful in the movie. (And, no it's not just Michael Barrier ^^)

Certainly New Orleans doesn't look like that after Katrina but back in the Twenties, wouldn't all the buildings be pretty new and gorgeous looking anyways?

OT but do you know that they have the complete Blackadder set on DVD (all 4 seasons + the specials+ the retrospective documentary) on sale?

pbcbstudios said...

thanks for posting this!

Pencils and coffee said...

Wow, great post!
Personally I really didnt like the human characters apart from the white chick
Not just because of the design , but because she was so nicely animated she felt squishy and fun! Like one of those bath toys you get where the eyes pop out when you squeeze 'em! Most of the other human characters felt like they belong in the Beauty and the beast intro musical with the town villagers.
And I felt like everything went by too fast. Like there was no laugh pause. maybe it's just me but sometimes a joke or a really funny pose would go by and you dont get the time to observe and laugh at it
But I'll pay for another movie ticket if it pays for supporting the 2d comunity

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Crikette Guilimaux said...

The movie is coming out in France soon ans I'll see it with my kids.
How funny, I know people in Brampton and my elder son love drawing.
I got you link from a friend of Goubelle. Great work ! Nice stuff. Take care.