Monday, December 7, 2009

Princess and the Frog: Animation Review

A few weeks ago, myself and fellow RSF blogger Matt Schwartz attended an advanced preview of Princess and the Frog on the Disney lot. Not because we've got awesome connections that totally hooked us up, but because we shelled out enough money for this "Disney Experience," including activities themed after the film, a limited edition lithograph, and several photo opps with live Disney princesses.

Yes, we're a little lame, but Schwartz and I are unashamed of our Disney love. Growing up, we wore down our Aladdin and Lion King cassette tapes, and we're as pumped walking through the gates of Disneyland today as we were when we were five. For those brief moments we turn off our sardonic adulthood, and revel in some well-crafted nostalgia. Therefore, we could hardly wait to see what Disney's return to 2D animated musicals could offer us.

I'll touch on a few things, but I'll mostly focus on what I know best: the animation. Hopefully Schwartz will write an in-depth review covering the music of the film, but our general consensus was about the same: it ain't too bad.

For the first ten minutes, I was worried. Things were pretty bland and schmaltzy in the beginning, and I kept thinking to myself "these are just people walking around, there's no reason for this to be animated." Animation should be cartoony, it's best when exaggerated and doing the impossible, otherwise what's the point? You might as well film it live-action.

Thankfully, things pick up and they really pull out all the visual stops for the music numbers. The voodoo villain's interactions with shadows and black magic are all some beautifully playful eye-candy, and the scenes that turn the characters and their surroundings into stylized art-deco renderings are pure gold. I wish they'd make a whole movie that looked like that, and it was nice to get an extra taste of it during the end credits (which, coincidentally, were designed by my good friend Joe Pitt, one helluva talented guy).

The best performance comes from Louis, the fat alligator who wants to play his tiny trumpet in a real-live Dixie band. I wonder if they took a note from Tex Avery for some of the human-interaction antics? Unsurprisingly, Louis' lead animator was Eric Goldberg, whose first gig was the Genie (a perfect example of what animation should be used to accomplish). If only every part of this film dazzled me as much. Instead, there were lots of bland moments, which shouldn't be the case with a plot trying to bring together an overwhelming amount of diverse characters.

As I said, this film certainly ain't bad, I just really was hoping Disney would knock it out of the park. Although it feels like they've yet to get their sea legs back, it's still nice to have them at the helm again.

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