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Blu-ray Review: The Princess and The Frog
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Princess and the Frog blu-rayThe Princess and The Frog
Three Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo
Directed by Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring Bruno Campos, Jennifer Cody, Keith David, Jenifer Lewis, Jim Cummings
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 16, 2010

With 3D animated films suffocating the market these days, it truly is a breath of fresh air to watch The Princess and The Frog. Walt Disney Studio’s eagerly awaited return to traditional animation is an impressive 2D animated feature for the studio that mastered the art form so many decades ago.

Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), The Princess and the Frog moves the classic fairy tale setting to a stylish version of 1920s New Orleans (finally an American fairy tale!). Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), the first African-American Disney heroine, is not a princess, but a young woman who hopes to fulfill her father’s dream of opening a restaurant to serve food that will bring together people from all walks of life. Tiana may wish upon a star, but she believes that hard work is the way to fulfill your aspirations. Her dedication clashes with the visiting prince Naveen (Bruno Campos). A voodoo spell cast by Dr. Facilier (Keith David) (in a showstopping number by composer Randy Newman) initiates the events that will bring the mismatched hero and heroine together. Tiana finds comfort and support in three supporting characters — Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley), a jazz-playing alligator; Ray (Jim Cummings), a Cajun firefly; and the 197-year-old voodoo priestess Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis). Spurred on by a little bit of courage and a great big dream, these new friends come to realize what’s truly important in life…love, family, and friendship.

It really is too bad the film didn’t do better at the box office. The first completely hand-drawn animated film the studio has released since the cowboy comedy Home on the Range in 2004, The Princess And The Frog garnered rave reviews (Time Magazine’s #1 movie of 2009), but middling box office returns. What should have been a catalyst for an increased production of 2D animation now is impetus for an uncertain future for the hand-drawn animated film. The animated Snow Queen has already been canceled and Rapunzel has was re-titled Tangled thanks to the supposed stigma of the ‘Disney Princess’ brand.

The video and sound on the Blu-ray are spectacular and this truly is the way the film is meant to be seen and heard. While on the subject of sound, The Princess and The Frog is not only a return to traditional hand-drawn animation but also to the big Disney animated movies of their second renaissance period in the early 1990s. Pixar stalwart Randy Newman adds warmth and a wonderful sense of genuine Americana to both the score and the songs (the soundtrack is definitely worth a purchase). In particular Dr. Facilier’s song, “Friends on the Other Side”, is killer. It’s big, it’s broad, it’s scary, and I loved every second of it! When I hear the songs they make me want to dance and sing along with the characters, which really adds to my level of immersion in the film (as well as being responsible for some near accidents on the freeway as I drive and listen).

The Princess and the Frog is a marvelous treat. It’s a fantastic film, certainly as good as any of the classic Disney films of yesteryear or from the second renaissance period which I love. It’s full of heart, has an engaging and dynamic story, and gorgeously rendered animation. All of the actors put in great work and add something special to the film and the soundtrack and the setting will also capture your heart and leave you with a smile on your face.

Hand-drawn animation has a magical quality to it that I can’t explain and I really hope this isn’t the swan song of 2D animated films from Disney. I encourage you to take a trip to N’awlins, who knows, you may not want to leave.

Bonus Features:

Audio Commentary by Directors/Co-writers John Musker and Ron Clements with Producer Peter Del Vecho
This is a nice commentary which really provides a clear and detailed history of the movie’s development and production (they got it done in three and a half years, which seems unnaturally speedy for a traditionally animated film). Only occasionally do they dive into the anecdotal or repeat what’s being talked about elsewhere on the disc. Generally, it’s a strong effort and well worth your time.

Deleted Scenes (HD, 11:43)
There are four scenes included here (“Advice from Mama,” “Alternate Louis Introduction,” “Stop and Smell the Roses,” “Naveen Confided in Ray”), each with brief introductions by the directors. The only one that’s really worth watching is the “Alternate Louis Introduction” sequence, because it’s got some killer animation bits by Eric Goldberg, who did the amazing “Rhapsody in Blue” section of ‘Fantasia 2000’ and was lead animator on the Genie in ‘Aladdin.’

“Never Knew I Needed” by Ne-Yo Music Video (HD, 4:04)
A nicely shot Ne-Yo video that goes with the theme of the film. I’m glad it wasn’t like the traditional “lets just play clips from the movie” music video that Disney loves to do.

What Do You See? The Princess Portraits Game
This is some kind of interactive game. This may appeal to the kids in your house.

HD Bonus Content:
There are a whole bunch of Blu-ray-exclusives on this disc, too, the biggest of which is a work in progress picture-in-picture feature. It should be noted that the disc is BD-Live ready but at the time of this review no additional BD-Live content was up.

Work-in-Progress Version
This is a really, truly excellent feature. Anyone who’s seen the dazzling, forthcoming documentary ‘Waking Sleeping Beauty,’ about Disney’s return to hand-drawn animation dominance in the early 1990’s, can talk about the emotional heft of seeing the final sequence of ‘Beauty & the Beast’ (when the Beast becomes human) in rough animation, which is just how the audience at the New York Film Festival saw it (they gave the movie a standing ovation). Here, we get that for the whole movie. There’s a box in the top right hand corner of your screen that is running the entire movie, except in either storyboard or rough animation. It’s really an enchanting feature and well worth watching the movie in this way. The only downside is that you can’t watch it this way and play the audio commentary.

Bringing Animation to Life (HD, 8:08)
This brief doc shows how dancers and actors were brought in to act out sequences, with that footage handed over to the animators for reference. Not all that interesting.

Magic in the Bayou: Making of a Princess (HD, 22:11)
At a little under a half hour this is a surprisingly in-depth look at the development and production of ‘Princess and the Frog.’ This is a highly recommended doc.

The Return to Hand Drawn Animation (HD, 2:43)
This is the first in a series of micro-documentaries, all about different aspects of the film, and all of them part of the electronic promotional surge that flooded the internet. This is about the return to hand drawn animation. Best part: seeing veteran animator Andreas Deja, responsible for Scar and Lio, doing a jig.

The Disney Legacy (HD, 2:31)
This is about the team’s commitment to the Disney animation legacy.

Disney’s Newest Princess (HD, 2:51)
This is all about Tiana, the newest Disney Princess and lead character of the film.

Princess and the Animator (HD, 2:26)
About what it says — a brief look at the character and her supervising animators.

Conjuring the Villain (HD, 1:50)
Keith David FTW!

Return to the Animated Musical (HD, 3:13)
This is all about the commitment to return to the big, brassy musical format and what a huge role Randy Newman played in it.

Art Galleries (HD)
Loads of concept and production artwork abound, although It would have been nice to have seen more in the Dr. Facilier section, as he was originally envisioned as a hulking voodoo master like Baron Samedi in ‘Live and Let Die,’ but then was slimmed down to the fast-talking hustler seen in the final film.

Note: I also share my thoughts on the film in this episode of my podcast Entertainment Overload.

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