You know you’re getting old when you find yourself shaking your head and saying, “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.” But, sometimes, they really don’t. Take Disney. After making Home on the Range in 2004, the cartoon conglomerate announced that that would be their last 2D animation production, and that henceforth it would be fancy schmancy, newfangled CGI all the way. Fortunately Disney relented, decided they do still make ‘em like that, and released their latest charmer, The Princess and the Frog, in old-school 2D.
But while the technical aspects of this Broadway-style musical hark back to the golden age of animation, the social ethos is very much twenty-first century, featuring Disney’s first black princess. Right on! And our heroine Tiana is not some sappy chick who’s just trying to snag herself a man. Hell no! (Sorry, that’s not very Disney. I mean: Heck no!) She’s an independent Louisianan woman working to fulfil her late daddy’s dream of opening a restaurant to sell their homemade gumbo. You go girl!
But even with its modern take, this is still a Disney fairy tale. We, the viewers, can be pretty confident that it’s not going to end in a Quentin Tarantino-style bloodbath or anything unpleasant like that. We must start with a sneaking suspicion that Tiana’s going to end up with both her restaurant and her man, right? So how is the film going to maintain the interest of anyone over the age of eight?
One smart move was setting the action in 1920s New Orleans. This not only allows for some colourful Louisianan characters and settings (the French Quarter, the bayou), but, even more winningly, a foot-tapping soundtrack with some memorable roaring jazz numbers. It might not be in the same league as The Jungle Book (to my mind the apotheosis of Disney animated musicals), but it’s a great effort.
Plaudits too for the line-up of characters. The central couple are not bland, unlike some Disney protagonists. Tiana is hard-working, straight-talking and realistic and her beau Prince Naveen is far from squeaky clean. There’s also Ray, a romantic firefly in love with a star which he has mistaken for a very taciturn female firefly; a deep-voiced, smooth-talking dastardly baddy; a nutty voodoo lady and a fat man to laugh at. And there’s Oprah doing one of the voices. What more do you need?
It also succeeds simply because it’s Disney: Walt and co have been churning out heart-warming musical cartoons in which goodness triumphs, evil founders and the nice girl always gets the guy longer than most of us have been alive, and they know a thing or two about doing it. They got the characters right, they got the songs right, they added enough slapstick and talking animals for the kids and enough knowing humour for the adults, then they sat back and let nature take its course. Love or hate Disney, these people know their onions when it comes to wholesome family entertainment.
So if your children want to see it, leave your cynicism at home and acquiesce. Yes, you know it’s going to be formulaic and unrealistic. But it will work its polished, well honed charm on you and send you home suffused with warmth and googling gumbo recipes.
Director: Ron Clements, John Musker
Starring (voices): Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David, Michael-Leon Woole, John Goodman, Oprah Winfrey
On at: Cinema City Cotroceni, Hollywood Multiplex, Movieplex Cinema