In 2004 when Disney announced that they were doing away with their traditional hand-drawn animation style, I remember thinking that it was a good decision. They had already acquired Pixar and it just seemed like 3D computer animation was the wave of the future. So in 2009 when the Princess and the Frog came out I didn’t really give it much of a chance. To me it seemed like Disney wanted to grab some of the nostalgia market by going back to hand drawn animation and by having its first ever black Disney princess. It also didn’t help that early reviews said the movie was racially and culturally insensitive to residents of the Bayou. However, I was graving some old school animation and sadly The Princess and the Frog is the cream of the crop for Netflix Instant Play so I took the plunge and gave it a shot.
Was it as bad as I thought it would be? No. Was it a movie fitting of the great Disney hand-drawn tradition? Also no. However, I think the problem I had with the film is that maybe I was holding it to too high of a standard. After all, as humans we have very strong brand associations and maybe at this point my opinion on Disney films has been too skewed. After all, films like Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, and The Emperor’s New Groove were what I grew up on. No matter how objectively I try to watch all four of those movies, I will never be able to isolate their merit from the feeling I get from watching them. In contrast, a re-watch of the The Little Mermaid reminded me why I never really liked it in the first place. It’s hard to describe, but in terms of how I feel about Disney films they just have to have “it”. I know that makes me sound like a Hollywood talent agent, but it’s true. I never knew if it was the songs, voice talent, or story, but some films just got to me on an emotional level when I was kid and I still can’t explain why. Currently, I can even point out a lot of their serious flaws, but in the end I always overlook them.
The Princess and the Frog isn’t even a bad film. It has some good songs and interesting characters, especially Dr. Facilier the New Orleans’ voodoo priestess. The film even moves into some darker territory that might have scared the seven year olds who saw the film, but appealed to my sentiments. However, after finishing the movie I just wasn’t satisfied. At first I though it was the hammered home theme of hard work and dedication leading to a better life, but as hours passed I respected how it fit into the main storyline. Then I thought maybe it was the biased perspective I had on the film’s portrayal of New Orleans culture, but in reality The Princess and the Frog is a kid’s movie. They usually present a narrow worldview that is easier for kids to digest and understand. Nowadays people require the mature subtlety that Pixar provides in their animated films, but sometimes we have to settle for a film made mainly for children. In the end, the conclusion I came to is that The Princess and the Frog just didn’t have “it”.
I know that is a very unscientific way to go about evaluating a film, but why can’t we use it. After all film reviews are personal and opinionated to begin with, so who cares if you can’t put your reasons into words. The nice thing about film is that it can reach anyone on an emotional or intellectual level for whatever reasons they choose. It may be for the artistic quality of the aesthetics, the emotional weight of the story, or any other of the infinite responses humans have. Kid’s movies are no different, even though the may lack the mature subject matter some people like. Whether they move us to feel like we are eight again, or if they appeal to our adult tastes, children’s films are held to the same evaluative standard as other other movies. Whether we can define our feelings or not, in the simplest terms, they either have “it” or they don’t.
Up Next: I witness the comeback of Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler.