Sunday, January 10, 2010

Well shoot...

So I tried to upload the rest of The Princess and The Frog review the other night and discovered that I had exceeded my storage space. This means that I either have to delete some of my previous podcasts or upgrade to an account with more storage capacity. So in the meantime I think I'll settle for summarizing what I liked and didn't like about the movie without giving you a synopsis of the entire plot. If you've already seen the movie, you'll know which parts I'm talking about. If you haven't seen the movie yet, you're gonna get spoilers. So without any further ado,

SPOILERS AHOY! Turn back, all ye who enter here.

First off, I should make it known that the three of us walked into the theatre a few minutes late, which means that I missed about half of the movie's prologue. So if my synopsis or my interpretation of the movie as a whole is completely thrown off by my missing a vital five minutes of the movie's opening, I apologize. I really don't think I missed anything terribly important to the plot. Particularly because I did see a couple movie clips online that I'm pretty sure were from the prologue.

So anyway, our movie opens on young Tiana and her loving parents. I say parents because she actually has both of them at the start of this movie. But, as I'm sure most of you know, it's not going to stay that way for long. For those of you who haven't figured this out yet, Disney is famous for absent parents, particularly absent mothers. Now, this isn't the case in every single movie Disney has ever made. But it is certainly true for the vast majority of them. I have taken the liberty of compiling a list of the most famous Disney cartoons and their lack of, shall we say, maternal or parental presence:

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (and yes, Dad, it is Dwarfs. I checked)-- No mother.
Cinderella-- No mother and, presumably, no father.
The Jungle Book-- No parents whatsoever.
The Little Mermaid-- No mother.
Beauty and the Beast-- No mother.
Aladdin-- No mother.
Pocahontas-- No mother.
The Lion King-- Dead father, absent mother, and an evil uncle who wants to kill his nephew.
Tarzan-- Starts out with both parents but they are both soon eaten by a leopard.
Lilo and Stitch-- Older sister with issues

And the few, very few, Disney movies that do have parents include:

Sleeping Beauty-- Who actually has both of her parents but is separated from them for most of the movie.
Peter Pan-- Wendy, Michael, and John have both parents.
Hercules-- Has both parents but, again, is forcibly separated from them for most of the film.
Mulan-- Both parents present and accounted for.

So of course, as per Disney tradition, one of Tiana's parents kicks the bucket. In this case it's her father rather than her mother and the way Disney decides to handle the death of Tiana's father is actually nice and subtle. We see a photograph of Tiana's father in a WWI uniform with a medal next to the picture frame. Enough said, really. I realize that no little kid is going to recognize a WWI uniform, much less make the connection that WWI = almost certain death. But that's ok, they don't really need to. The movie just kind of skims over the fact that Tiana's father has been dead for some time. He's mentioned in the past tense but his death is never really thrown in your face, which shows that the movie trusts its audience enough to make the connection for themselves.

When we next see Tiana as an adult, she is working two jobs at two different restaurants (because it would be silly if she were working two jobs at the same restaurant, right?) and has been saving up all of her tips for several years now in the largest collection of coffee cans I've ever seen. Why Tiana doesn't have a bank account, I have no idea. But considering that this movie takes place in the 1920's and the stock market crash isn't far behind, this is probably a smart move on her part. Anyway, it's very clear to us right from the beginning that Tiana is working extremely hard to fulfill her dream of owning her own restaurant. She's not looking wistfully up at some star waiting for her dream to come true and singing about when her prince will come is the last thing on her mind. Tiana's mother, voiced by Oprah Winfrey, is actually kind of adorable in her reaction to this and asks Tiana when she will finally find someone and settle down because, God dammit, Mama wants grandkids!

I mentioned earlier in part one of this review that Tiana and Prince Naveen have these almost opposite personalities that are taken to the farthest extremes. In Tiana's case she has an incredibly strong work ethic and while this is admirable, it's also not exactly healthy. Her mother is concerned about the extent to which Tiana has taken her dream of owning a restaurant and tries to remind Tiana that what we want and what we need are not always the same thing. This is sort of a running theme within the movie that is never entirely explained. But it is hinted that what Tiana really needs is true love. Or something. You never know. Depending on how well this restaurant that Tiana wants so badly works out, what she may really need is Chef Ramsay. But I disgress.

So it turns out that Tiana is friends with the daughter of the richest man in New Orleans, Big Daddy La Bouff. Charlotte, his daughter, has always dreamed of marrying a prince and it just so happens that Prince Naveen, from the fictional kingdom of Maldonia, is coming to New Orleans for Madi Gras and will be staying at the La Bouff's mansion. My Gods, is Charlotte annoying. This is of course intentional and Jennifer Cody, the voice actress behind Charlotte, does such a convincing job of being the most annoying person on the planet that I almost want to strangle her just a little bit. But even though Charlotte is completely and utterly spoiled, she is actually a very kind person. This may be the first time that the spoiled character in a Disney movie is not also an evil minion of Satan.

Convinced that Tiana's fabulous cooking will help her win the heart of Prince Naveen, Charlotte orders a wagon load of Tiana's beignets for the masquerade ball being held at the mansion that evening. This gives Tiana enough money to finally buy the property she's been eyeing for the restaurant of her dreams. Tiana, for her part, does not seem at all jealous or even interested in this unknown prince that Charlotte is after. There's even a scene earlier in the film where Tiana and Naveen meet for a brief moment. Naveen gives her his most winning smile and Tiana, not knowing who he is, just rolls her eyes at him, to which Naveen shrugs and walks away. As I said, it really is very brief and rather subtle, but it gives us a lot of information without throwing it in our faces.

So in the midst of all this we are introduced to Prince Naveen and his valet Lawrence who, now that I think about it, kind of reminds me of Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast. And no, they're not voiced by the same person, I checked. Cogsworth is played by David Ogden Stiers who, it turns out, also did the voice of the Narrator for the same movie. Lawrence is voiced by Peter Bartlett, another broadway actor. Prince Naveen is voiced by Bruno Campos who, as far as I know, has done a bunch of television stuff that I don't think I've ever seen. Simply because I never watch TV anymore. It's just impossible for me to keep on top of school and at the same time keep on top of following all these television shows. Usually if there's something on TV that I desperately need to see, I just go to the internet. So I don't know if Bruno Campos counts as a big name celebrity. All I know is he's been in a lot of television stuff.

That being said, I think Bruno Campos did a pretty good job with Prince Naveen. His voice seems to suit the character and really that's the most important thing I'm looking for in any voiceover performance. Now Prince Naveen, interestingly, has this accent that's not quite French, not quite Spanish and that actually kind of works when you consider that the character comes from a fictional country. So it makes sense for him to have a fictional accent. All we know about Maldonia is that it's some place far away, probably next to that other fictional country ruled over by Julie Andrews in The Princess Diaries.

When Prince Naveen first arrives in the city, we see him as a devil-may-care, fancy-free, sort of jazz enthusiast. He dances up and down the streets playing his ukulele, having a great time, and all the while manages to be quite charming. Incidentally, the fact that Prince Naveen carries around this ukulele reminds me a bit of the hero/tenor in many operas, particularly the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, where the hero almost always accompanies himself on the mandolin, or the guitar, or some other stringed instrument. Thanks to Anna Russell for pointing this out. I'm not sure if this detail was meant as an intentional tribute to the operatic tradition, but it's a nice touch all the same.

Anyway, we find out that Prince Naveen doesn't have a penny (or whatever the smallest unit of currency is in Maldonia) to his name because his parents have cut him off for being a leech. I don't know if this is something that royal families do on a regular basis or if this is some new thing that they're trying out. I always thought that being a leech was more or less part of the royal job description. All I can say about this is that Naveen must have been throwing some incredibly wild and expensive parties and kept leaving his parents with the bill. So what is a handsome prince with no money to do? Marry a girl who has lots of it or get a job. Naveen really doesn't want to do either and this is where Dr. Facilier, voiced by Keith David, comes in.

I still can't say enough about this character, but I'll try and keep it to a minimum. As I mentioned earlier, I love the subtlety of this villain. There are only a few places in the movie where he's outright scary, the rest of this time he just has this quiet menace about him. I suppose in that sense you could compare Dr. Facilier to Scar from The Lion King. But as much as I love Jeremy Irons, I actually think that Dr, Facilier is a better character. Excuse me a moment while I duck away from the barrage of refuse that I'm sure is being metaphorically thrown at me at this very minute.

Just why do I think Dr. Facilier is a better character? Well first of all, when you get right down to it, Scar is kind of a coward. That's just part of his character. Scar gets the hyenas to do all his dirty work for him and while you could argue that Dr. Facilier does the same thing by working through his "friends on the other side", Dr. Facilier does so through a delicate series of negotiations and bargains whereas Scar just bullies the hyenas into doing what he wants. Then when the hyenas finally realize that Scar has been pulling the wool over their eyes they rip him to pieces.

I also really like the way Dr. Facilier's powers are explained in this movie. Facilier tells us that Voodoo can only be used to help other people and therefore Dr. Facilier can't do any magic for himself. So the only way he can actually attain his desires is by deliberately misinterpreting, manipulating, and twisting the wishes of others. Naturally, Dr. Facilier wants what most bad guys want: wealth and power. But of course the only way for him to get it is to manipulate the desires of others and Dr. Facilier sees his chance in Lawrence and Prince Naveen.

Dr. Facilier draws in Prince Naveen with his ability to see into the future and the temptation of financial freedom while at the same time picking up on Lawrence's secret desire for the life of wealth and privilege that Naveen has always had. Facilier tells Naveen that he needs green in order to be free to "hop from place to place" (are you getting the puns yet, audience? Wait for the irony to sink in). And so in a brilliantly sung and visually stunning musical number, Dr. Facilier pulls a sort of Prince and the Pauper: transforming Prince Naveen into a frog and transforming Lawrence into Prince Naveen. But he doesn't just cast one of those wussy spells with the tinkling bells and sparkly dust, ohhh no. Dr. Facilier actually takes some of Prince Naveen's blood (spooky, right?) and uses it to make a talisman that allows Lawrence to take on the appearance of Prince Naveen. Clearly this villain is badass. Oh yeah, and link to the audio of the song here for those who are interested:

Right after this we cut back to the masquerade ball where Tiana is serving her beignets while dressed in some generic medieval costume. Charlotte is all aflutter waiting for Prince Naveen to show up and when he finally does, Tiana experiences a brief moment of recognition as she realizes that the Prince is the very same guy that she blew off earlier that day. Oh, snap! Again, I have to applaud Disney for making this moment so brief. Dwelling on it for more than a second or two would have just been overkill. All we needed was that brief flash to tell us what was going on in Tiana's head and it worked just the way it was supposed to.

But, as you've probably guessed, this is not really Prince Naveen. It is of course Lawrence, wearing the talisman which gives him the appearance of the prince. We soon discover that Lawrence is under the thumb of Dr. Facilier, who demands that Lawrence do as he says in return for granting his wish to become a prince. Now Lawrence is out to marry Charlotte, not only to secure his new financial future, but also to bring Dr. Facilier closer to Charlotte's father, Eli "Big Daddy" La Bouff. Because apparently if Dr. Facilier can influence Big Daddy he can control all of New Orleans thereby having both money and power. Or something like that.

Again, I really like the idea of the villain having to work through other people's desires in order to get what he wants. It makes things a little more complex and a little more subtle and it just fits Dr. Facilier's character so well.

Another plot point comes strolling in when the two real estate agents who sold the old sugar mill to Tiana tell her that they have received a higher bid on the property and will have no choice but to sell it to the new bidder unless Tiana can come up with a better offer by Wednesday. Shortly afterwards there's a commotion and Tiana's dress gets ruined, prompting her friend Charlotte to take her upstairs so she can borrow some clothes from Charlotte's extensive closet. This is where Tiana puts on the princess gown and tiara that we've seen in all the previews and goes out on the balcony to mope. In desperation, Tiana wishes on a star, pleading for some way of getting the money she needs to buy her restaurant. At this moment the camera shifts and we see the frog.

This is the scene that's been in all the trailers, where the frog talks and Tiana has her freakout. After that scene plays out we learn that the frog is of course the real Prince Naveen, who has escaped from the jar in which Lawrence has imprisoned him. Naveen explains his predicament to Tiana, despite her total disbelief. He then sees that Tiana is wielding a giant book of The Frog Prince and comes to the brilliant conclusion that a kiss from a princess will break the spell. So he sees Tiana in her shiny ball gown and crown and automatically assumes that she's a princess.

For some reason Tiana really hates frogs. I have no idea why. There's a scene in the prologue when Tiana is a little girl that foreshadows this scene later in the movie. But it still doesn't explain why she hates frogs so much. Maybe I'm just weird, but I've never had a problem with frogs or reptiles, even when I was a little kid. Just keep me away from insects and arachnids. Creepy multi-legged freaks.

So anyway, Tiana wants nothing to do with poor amphibious Naveen. That is, until he promises that if she kisses him he will give her the money she needs to save her restaurant. So Tiana goes through with it and of course she turns into a frog too, as shown in the trailers. To be honest, this was probably the one thing that I was most concerned about. I had read the original plans for the story before Disney made all their politically correct changes to the script. And then I saw the trailer and the moment I saw that the princess turns into a frog my hopes just kind of fell. Didn't Shrek already cover this, guys? I wasn't really sure how I would feel about this new plot point but, as it turns out, Disney didn't really go in the same direction as Shrek at all. And it actually kind of made sense, logically speaking. Anywho, Tiana turns into a frog because she kissed an enchanted prince without being a princess.

At this point Lawrence and Dr. Facilier realize that Naveen has escaped. This is bad because Dr. Facilier needs Naveen's blood in order to replenish the talisman that's he's made for Lawrence. Wow, this is getting a little dark for a kid's movie...and it's so freaking cool. So they have to get Naveen back in order to refill the talisman, otherwise it will wear out. Dr. Facilier chases after Naveen and he and Tiana flee the masquerade amid tons of chaos and comedy relief.

Speaking of comedic relief, there is one little side character who we see once in the entire film and then never shows up again. There's this bloodhound named Stella and she's fat and round and, because this is a masquerade party, she's dressed up in this little centurion outfit and she's soooo cute. I guess she just reminded me of my dog. I have this gigantic Rottweiler named Helga and any time I see a dog that even remotely resembles her in personality or in appearance I can't help but go, "awwwww". So I was really sad that we only saw Stella for, like, two minutes and then never again.

Naveen and Tiana grab onto a bunch of balloons, which carry them off into the bayou where they are attacked by Emeril Lagasse and a bunch of hungry alligators. Yes, They actually managed to slip Emeril Lagasse into the movie. He voices a gator names Marlon who shows up for all of 30 seconds and is never seen again. So they manage to escape the gators and find shelter for the night. During all of this, Tiana finds out that Prince Naveen really had no intention of helping her to begin with because, of course, he's completely broke and doesn't have any money to help her save her restaurant. But she agrees that she will help him find a way to become human so that he can marry Charlotte (who has money) provided that he will then have the means to help her buy her restaurant.

So the next morning Tiana builds a raft so they can start heading back to New Orleans. Meanwhile, Naveen continues to kick back and relax without lifting a finger to help. Tiana gets the raft in the water and begins to row all by herself while Naveen plays with a makeshift ukulele made from a forked twig and a spider's web. Naveen continues to be oblivious to the fact that Tiana is doing all the work until Tiana finally gets fed up, turns to him and says, "I could use a little help." To which Naveen simply replies, "Oh. I will play a little louder," all with a charming little smile on his froggy face. I love that line.

It's at this point that Tiana and Naveen meet a trumpet playing alligator named Louis, who is very obviously modeled after or at least inspired by Louis Armstrong. Louis apparently doesn't have a taste for frogs and is voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley. I love Louis. He's funny as hell and a great supporting character. Louis is both hilarious and adorable and his fondest dream is to become a jazz musician. Unfortunately, his big pointy teeth and green scaly hide kind of keep humans from being able to appreciate his talent. There's this great scene where Louis tells Tiana and Naveen what happened the last time he tried to join in an impromptu jam session aboard one of the river boats that pass through the bayou. I can't do justice to this scene with words alone, but luckily, it's on youtube! Go watch before it gets yoinked for copyright infringement

So Tiana and Naveen tell Louis that they're really humans who have been transformed by an evil witch doctor and Louis offers to take them to this Voodoo lady named Mama Odie who lives in the deepest darkest part of the bayou, with the hopes that she will change him into a human as well so that he can pursue his dream of becoming a jazz musician. The three of them head out toward Mama Odie's and sing another catchy song called "When I'm Human". Link again to the audio: Also, the bottom note that Tiana sings in this song may well be the lowest that a Disney princess has ever sung. Another milestone!

It turns out that Louis is taking them in the wrong direction and it's at this point that they meet Ray or Raymond, a Cajun firefly voiced by Jim Cummings. You all know who Jim Cummings is, you just don't know that you know him. This guy is like the Mel Blanc of the Disney company, but he's also done a wide variety of voices outside of Disney. You probably know him best as a the most recent voice of both Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. This guy has such an amazing, versatile voice that the one place you probably wont recognize him from is the song "Be Prepared" from The Lion King. Jim Cummings was brought in to duplicate Jeremy Irons voice for the last couple of lines in "Be Prepared". Bet you didn't know that, now did you?

But Raymond is not the only firefly in the bayou. Ray calls on the rest of his relatives (and he has a lot of them) to light the way and help him sing the song "Gonna Take You There" as he leads Tiana, Naveen, and Louis in the right direction to find Mama Odie. I love the fireflies in this movie, probably for the music that accompanies them more than anything else. I love that they decided to incorporate this sort of Cajun style of folk music where you've got fiddle and accordion and banjo going on all at once.

This scene where the fireflies light up the bayou is actually quite beautiful and I love the imagery in this portion of the film. The patterns that the fireflies make and the way the fireflies move make them look almost like fairy dust. So visually, I thought this was a really cool scene.

We also get this really sweet song from Ray that is partly in English and partly in French, which suits the song rather well. We find out that Ray is deeply in love with what we think is this person named Evangeline. But Evangeline, it is revealed, is not a person or a firefly but a star that Ray believes is a firefly who lives very, very, far away. It turns out that the star in question is the exact same wishing star that Tiana would stare at when she was a little girl and the exact same wishing star that Tiana was praying to when Prince Naveen showed up. Remember this because it comes back later in the story.

So Ray sings this rather beautiful song called "Ma Belle Evangeline". It's very sweet and has kind of a lullaby quality to it. Meanwhile, Naveen, Tiana, and Louis just sort of look at each other but decide not to tell Ray that his true love is just a star. Ray has what I want to call this almost Man of La Mancha quality about him. He's definitely got the whole dream the impossible dream thing going on and his one desire is to eventually be united with his love Evangeline. Link to the audio for both "Gonna Take You There" and "Ma Belle Evangeline":

In the midst of all this they run into these three guys in the bayou who are out hunting frogs for some reason, which of course means bad news for our main characters. These frog hunters give us a very short but incredibly funny moment of comedic relief as Naveen and Tiana are captured. Not that we need more comedy relief characters in this film, but having them there was just so god damn funny. The frog hunters almost capture Naveen, who gets away, but succeed in capturing Tiana and you'll have to excuse me for a moment while I make another short detour.

When I was a little girl what stuck out to me in a lot of Disney movies and other cartoons, or anything really that was made for little girls, was that generally there was this big moment in the film where the hero had to go and rescue the princess. One of the things I really liked about this film was that Naveen and Tiana both get into a couple of scrapes where they can't get out by themselves or otherwise need help and actually take turns saving each other. There's a part in this scene when Tiana is captured and Naveen starts to get away and this is where we see Naveen starting to become a more complex character who cares about things besides himself. Naveen is free and starts to rejoice when he suddenly realizes that the hunters have Tiana. He goes after her, not because he's in love with her at this point, but because he realizes it's the right thing to do. So Naveen frees Tiana and the two of them basically get these three hunters to beat themselves up in a very cute and funny scene before scampering off.

Ray, Louis, Tiana, and Naveen make it to Mama Odie's house sometime near daybreak. Mama Odie, voiced by Jennifer Lewis, is this 197 year old blind Voodoo priestess and she has probably one of the most creative familiars I've ever seen. She has a seeing eye snake. That's right, a seeing eye snake. This boa constrictor, in a beautiful shade of yellow I might add, goes rigid so that Mama Odie can use her/him as a cane to see where she's going.

Mama Odie was...interesting. She actually seems really similar to another fictional character that I know of. I'm not going to cry plagiarism or anything like that, especially since she's not really close enough to be a full on rip off #1. And #2, I also believe in this concept of people coming up with the same ideas at different times while having nothing to do with each other.

Mama Odie is pretty cool, and the character that she reminds me of is Mrs. Gogol from Terry Pratchett's novel Witches Abroad, which is part of the Discworld series. Mrs. Gogol is a somewhat minor character who is also a Voodoo practitioner. She comes from the fictional land of Genua, which is representative of New Orleans or some New Orleans-esque type place. The similarities that she shares with Mama Odie are first of all, that they are both Voodoo priestesses, secondly that they both live deep in the swamp/bayou, and thirdly that they both gaze into pots of gumbo to see into the future. Ok so in Mama Odie's case it's a bathtub full of gumbo, but same thing. Also, Mrs. Gogol is relatively young and is not blind like Mama Odie.

So I thought about these things when I first saw the movie and then told my mom about it and we both started to wonder is perhaps one of the script writers had been reading Terry Pratchett.

But that's pretty much where the similarities end. However, it would be really interesting to me if it turned out that one of writers had been reading Terry Pratchett and perhaps took a little bit of inspiration from Witches Abroad. If anyone has some actual information on this, leave me a note in the comments, because I would love to hear about it if that is indeed what happened.

Come to think of it, there's another similarity here between this movie and the novel Witches Abroad. Mama Odie talks again about how the things you want may not always be the things you need and I swear this is exactly what Terry Pratchett talks about in Witches Abroad.

Witches Abroad, if you have not read it, is hilariously funny. It is essentially a satire of every single fairy tale you have ever read. It helps a bit if you've read Wyrd Sisters first but it's not totally essential to the enjoyment of the book.

In Witches Abroad you've got this character named Granny Weatherwax, who is a witch, and you also have, in this particular book, fairy godmothers. Pratchett explores this same idea about the difference between want and need and how fairy tales seem to be really frivolous when it comes to giving away wishes. Terry Pratchett's witches are wonderful. They're very pragmatic, especially Granny Weatherwax, and most of them don't get into the whole New Age and crystals hokey because none of that stuff is really necessary to do magic if you're a witch and you know what you're doing.

Pratchett says in this book that the difference between a witch and a fairy godmother is that a fairy godmother will give you what you want whereas a witch will give you what you need. Mama Odie touches on this as well and kind of talks about the difference between want and need without really going into too much detail. But the fact that this is one of the overall themes of the movie and we've got a mysterious voodoo lady who can see the future in a pot of gumbo really makes me wonder if a few of the writers were off reading Discworld during their break.

Again, I could be wrong and it could be a total coincidence but if anyone has any other information on this subject, please tell me because I would love to hear about it.

Anyway, I think the whole concept of want vs. need is a really interesting idea to explore and Terry Pratchett does it very well. But I didn't feel that it was necessarily as well explained in The Princess and the Frog. Mama Odie has a gospel number called "Dig A Little Deeper" about recognizing what you need instead of just blindly going after what you want. She introduces the concept but doesn't really explain it. And this is pretty much the extent of her discussion on the subject. I had to play the song several times and listen to the lyrics very carefully before I was able to really get the message. I guess it works ok as just a musical number, but it was hard to grasp what Mama Odie was getting at the first time around. But when you consider that no little kid is really going to get it either way, I guess it doesn't matter. Link to the audio of "Dig A Little Deeper":

So Naveen and Tiana finally get to see Mama Odie and tell her, "Please help us. We need to be human again." And Mama Odie is all like, "Oh no you don't," and tells them that she wont turn them back into humans and that the only way for them both to become human again is for Naveen to kiss a princess. They then find out that Big Daddy has been crowned the king of the Mardi Gras parade, which technically makes Charlotte a princess for the day. And yes, it counts, but only for that day. Mama Odie also declines to turn Louis into a human, thereby refusing all their requests and sending them on their way. So the four of them set out for New Orleans to try and get Charlotte to kiss Naveen before midnight so that he and Tiana will become human again.

Now, while all this has been going on Dr. Facilier and Lawrence are still on the lookout for Naveen because the talisman is losing its potency. Lawrence has asked Charlotte to marry him and Charlotte, still under the impression that Lawrence is the real prince Naveen has said yes. But the talisman loses all its potency just as Charlotte says yes to Lawrence's proposal, making Lawrence and Dr. Facilier even more desperate to find Naveen. So Dr. Facilier makes a plea to his friends on the other side and the Voodoo spirits/Loa/whatever you please, agree to help him provided that once Dr. Facilier captures Prince Naveen and gains total control of the city that all of the lost souls of New Orleans will belong to the spirits.

So the spirits send out these shadow forms to go and capture Prince Naveen and the shadows are just freaking cool. In design, they're reminiscent of something out of The Nightmare Before Christmas. Like Dr. Facilier's shadow, they can interact with other shadows and when they manipulate the shadow of something else they in turn manipulate the real person or object. So these shadow forms slide off into the bayou and the far reaches of the city to find Prince Naveen.

In the meantime, Naveen and Tiana are hitching a ride back to New Orleans on a riverboat and by this time it becomes clear to Naveen that he is deeply in love with Tiana. Naveen of course has been slowly falling in love with Tiana throughout the movie. There's a very cute scene before they get to Mama Odie's where Tiana, Naveen, and Louis are sitting around and Tiana decides that she's going to cook some gumbo because dammed if she's going to eat any bugs. So she gets Naveen to chop up some mushrooms or something for this gumbo and Naveen who, from the very beginning of the movie, has been trying to cope with the reality of having to marry money or get a job is cutting these mushrooms with such concentrated effort that's it's rather adorable. So Tiana shows Naveen how to prep food and he becomes very good at this and is so impressed by the fact that he has learned a skill (omg!) that later on he chops up some vegetables for Tiana and declares very proudly, "I minced!" and again, is just utterly adorable.

In return for learning a skill from Tiana, Naveen decides to teach Tiana how to dance, even though Tiana swears that she can't. Naveen shows her how (again, this is earlier in the film) and there's a sweet little froggy moonlight in the eyes love scene in the style of Disney.

But back to the riverboat. Louis tries again to join some of the jazz musicians and this time, because it's Mardi Gras, everyone assumes that Louis is just wearing an alligator costume. So Louis goes off to have some fun and play his trumpet without scaring everybody off.

Meanwhile Naveen, who has just fully realized that he is in love with Tiana, decides to propose and this brings me to something else that I really liked in this movie. Instead of rescuing the fair maiden, sweeping the princess off her feet and then marrying her, which is what I tend to think of in some of the classic Disney fairy tales or really any classic fairy tale that anyone has put to film, what happens with Prince Naveen I truly, really, like and this may be one reason why I like this film so much. Prince Naveen completely overcomes his selfish tendencies and suddenly the most important thing to him is Tiana's happiness. He realizes that someone else can be more important than him and now the most important thing to Naveen is being able to make Tiana happy. So Naveen vows to himself that he is going to do whatever he can and whatever it takes to help Tiana get her restaurant because he knows it's her fondest dream and can see just how much she wants it.

To be honest, that right there was really touching. I guess maybe it makes the film a little more adult. But seeing Prince Naveen realize that the key to his own happiness is the happiness of someone else was truly, really touching. I can't help feeling that, in a way, it lends a little more credibility to the relationship. You've got other Disney love stories or other love stories in general where you've got these two characters who fall in love for no apparent reason aside from the fact that they're both attractive. And while you could say that that is still the case with this movie, I think having that element there really gives it some depth that I personally haven't seen before in other fairy tales.

And back again to the story.

So Naveen constructs this little makeshift engagement ring out of a Mardi Gras bead and some wire from a champagne cork and brings Tiana to the top of the riverboat to propose. Naveen prepares a romantic dinner with his new mincing skills and is about to propose to Tiana but can't quite work up the nerve. So of course Naveen walks away from her momentarily and is immediately captured by the shadow spirits that have been sent out after him. And I dunno, maybe I'm just easily impressed, but I still think the way they did this is really cool. The shadow spirits obviously can't touch Naveen, but they've got a hold on his shadow so they literally drag Naveen by his shadow back to Dr. Facilier.

Once Naveen is dragged back to the city, Dr. Facilier takes more of his blood and puts it in the talisman, restoring Lawrence to his princely appearance. It turns out that Lawrence and Charlotte are set to marry on one of the floats during the Mardi Gras parade while Naveen remains imprisoned by Dr. Facilier. Tiana and Ray are puzzled by Naveen's disappearance but are fairly certain that if they can make it to the Mardi Gras parade and find Charlotte then Naveen can't be too far away. Ray and Tiana get to the parade and see Charlotte riding by on this float with what looks to be Prince Naveen standing next to her ready to be married. Tiana, confused and distressed is unable to figure out why she hasn't transformed as well. Tiana, of course, has been falling in love with Naveen just as he has been falling in love with her and as you can imagine is feeling pretty heartbroken right about now. So Tiana assumes that Naveen has abandoned her and runs off in bewilderment.

But Ray and Louis know that something has to be wrong because clearly if Naveen had been turned back into his true form then Tiana would have been turned back as well. So they correctly reason that the person they see on the float can't possibly be Naveen and they go off to try and find out what has happened to him. Ray locates Prince Naveen, who is trapped inside a locked chest on one of the floats, and busts him out with his mad locksmith skillz. Ray and Naveen then get ahold of the talisman around Lawrence's neck, forcing Lawrence to flee as the ceremony screeches to a halt. Ray dashes off with the talisman while Naveen stays behind to try and talk to Charlotte. Ray chases after Tiana, who has wandered into a graveyard, and throws her the talisman, telling her to keep it away from the Shadow Man as Dr. Facilier is right on his heels. Tiana sees the talisman and realizes that Naveen hasn't left her. She then takes the talisman and flees while Ray tries to hold off Dr. Facilier.

And then...Disney does something unpredictable. They actually kill off a comedy relief character. Ray charges valiantly at Dr. Facilier and is quickly squashed and left on the ground. He is found by Louis immediately afterwards and it is clear by the expression on the alligator's face that things do not look good for the bug.

Meanwhile in the graveyard, Dr. Facilier corners Tiana and realizes that she has the talisman. Tiana threatens to smash it and Dr. Facilier again uses his powers to manipulate the desires of others and casts a spell that throws Tiana into a sort of waking dream. Tiana looks around and realizes that she is back in her human form in a lovely 1920's style gown and is walking through the restaurant of her dreams. The sugar mill she's been trying to buy has been transformed and everything is glorious. Tiana looks around, realizing that this is her dream come to life and sees someone who looks like Prince Naveen, but of course it isn't really. It's then that she realizes the full extent of her feelings for Naveen and the fact that no matter how badly she wants her restaurant she can't visualize herself being there without him.

At this point, Dr. Facilier waltzes through this dream that he's crafted and tells Tiana that all this could be hers and that he will make all her dreams come true if she will agree to give him the talisman. Tiana of course, realizing that this is neither what she wants nor what she needs, smashes the talisman. In that moment, the dream rips apart, Tiana is transformed back into a frog and Dr. Facilier's friends from the other side come to collect their due. And they're very upset that Dr. Facilier has been asking for all these favors without repaying them and this destruction of the talisman that they have given him is essentially the last straw. So they start coming out of the gravestones and the gates of Hell open up in the middle of the cemetery and Dr. Facilier is literally dragged down to Hell to a reprise of "Friends On The Other Side". Dr. Facilier is taken away, the gates of Hell slam shut and that's it, he is gone.

But Tiana is still a frog, it's almost midnight and she and Naveen are running out of time to lift the spell. And this was kind of interesting to me because most fairy tale spells are broken when you kill or otherwise destroy the person who cast the spell. So I dunno, I guess I thought that it was kind of interesting that they decided not to do that in this case. But, the way that they wound up resolving it worked very well anyway.

It's at this point that we find out that Ray is definitely dying and there's not much left that they can do for him. So Louis takes care of Ray while Tiana goes off to try and find Naveen. Naveen meanwhile has been explaining everything to Charlotte after some initial coaxing and a repeat of the book smashing scene from the beginning of the movie. He explains who Lawrence is and why's he's a frog and that he needs Charlotte to kiss him in order to break the spell. Tiana walks in at this point just as Naveen is telling Charlotte that he will promise to marry her if she kisses him and breaks the spell, but only if she agrees to give Tiana the money she needs to open her restaurant. So again, I really thought this was touching. Maybe I'm just a sap, I dunno. But again we have Prince Naveen being really selfless at the end of this film and we know at this point how much he loves Tiana and that he is willing to marry someone else if doing so will enable Tiana to follow her dream.

So Tiana stops Naveen, before Charlotte can kiss him and tells him that she loves him and that he shouldn't have to marry someone he doesn't want to just to make her happy and that it doesn't matter if they're frogs because even if she had her restaurant she would never be happy if he wasn't part of it. I guess Charlotte is as much of a sap as I am because she's touched by this whole display and agrees to kiss Naveen so that he and Tiana can live happily ever after--no marriage required. But by then the clock has struck midnight and Charlotte is no longer a princess.

It looks like Tiana and Naveen are never going to become human again, but by the end of the movie they have decided that it's not really as awful as it once seemed because it doesn't really matter what shape they are as long as they can have each other. So they all go back to the bayou and return Ray to his firefly cousins, who carry him through the trees in a glowing procession and send him down the river in a barge made out of a single leaf. At that moment the clouds clear and everyone looks up to see the wishing star and next to it, a brand new star shining just as bright. I know that is just so cheesy, but I and everyone else in the theatre just let out a collective "Awwwwww...." So I guess the only way Ray could be united with Evangeline was for him to die and join her in the heavens. Ray is finally united with his one true beloved, reminding us that all things are possible. I guess that explains why they had to kill him.

Ok, I admit it, I teared up a little bit now shut up.

Cut to the next day (I'm guessing) where Tiana and Naveen are standing before Mama Odie who is about to marry them. The two of them are married--as frogs--and at the moment that Naveen kisses Tiana, suddenly the big, beautiful, Beauty and the Beast type transformation scene kicks in and they are suddenly transformed back into their human selves. The reasoning for this is that at the moment Tiana became Naveen's wife, she also became a princess. So Naveen has succeeded in kissing a princess after all, thereby turning both of them back into humans. Ta-daaaa! See? I told you it worked out well.

So Naveen and Tiana are now human and there is much rejoicing as a second ceremony takes place within a church with all of New Orleans and their respective families present. Right afterwards we see Tiana purchasing her restaurant with Naveen beside her as Louis stands behind the two real estate agents, growling threateningly. Have I mentioned that I love Louis? We then see Tiana and Naveen start working right away to fix up the old sugar mill until it is transformed through hard work into the restaurant of Tiana's dreams. There's a huge party scene at the end where everyone is in the restaurant celebrating and Louis is now the headliner trumpet player at Tiana's restaurant while Prince Naveen plays the occasional ukulele and has become a professional mincer! Of which he is most proud.

The only vaguely creepy thing about this movie is at the very end where we find out that Naveen has a younger brother. Charlotte is out on the dance floor and we hear her say something like, "Well I never knew Prince Naveen had a younger brother. How old are you again?" And then she looks down and we see this little kid dancing on her feet and the kid replies, "I'm six!" To which Charlotte merely shrugs and declares, "I can wait."

Really, lady? Really?

So that was the only slightly creepy thing about the ending and with that our story finally concludes and that is the end of The Princess and The Frog.

As for my final thoughts on the movie, I still think that this was really rather well done. It has the fairy tale formula, it has all of the right ingredients that made the Disney Company so successful during the 80's and 90's and this is probably due largely in part to the fact that you've got the same guys who directed The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast directing this movie. The Princess and The Frog still fulfills the fairy tale formula but at the same time it really feels like an original American fairy tale, which is pretty cool.

I liked this movie and I'll probably buy it when it comes out on DVD. In fact, I kind of want to go back to the theatre and see it again and that's not something that happens very often. But then again, who knows when I'm going to see another hand drawn animated feature from the Disney company?

If you've read through this entire thing and still haven't seen the movie but are thinking about seeing it, I would say go for it. I have one friend who was trying to decide whether or not she should get out to the movies or just wait for it to come out on video and I pointed out that we have no idea when or if Disney will be making another hand drawn animated feature. So this may be your last chance for a while to see something like this on the big screen. If seeing this in a movie theatre is important to you or if you would like to go back to that nostalgic feeling from the 90's when you got to see all the movies of the Disney Renaissance, definitely make time to go see this in theatres because I have no idea when or if they're ever going to do this again. I hope they do. I really, really do.

It's not that I have anything against CGI. CGI can do a lot of great things that traditional hand drawn animation can't. Like I said before, Pixar has put out some of the most creative, well written films that I've seen in a long time. There's nothing wrong with CGI and I don't have anything against it. But there is something about hand drawn animation that is just so visually appealing to me. I'm sure part of that is nostalgia, but part of it is also artistic. You can look at something like The Princess and The Frog or Beauty and the Beast and instead of 3D shapes you're looking at line. And the way that you get depth and a sense of weight in hand drawn animation is through the use of line and color and shading.

I dunno, that's just something that's always really appealed to me. I could be completely wrong, but I'm going to go ahead and hypothesize that the absence of hand drawn animation in the U.S. is one possible reason for why anime has become so popular. I never really got into anime myself for the most part. I have a lot of friends who are into anime and I know there are some really good series out there. It's just that I haven't had the time to pursue them and on the rare occasion that they do come on in the U.S. at a time when I can watch them, the episodes are usually shown out of order so it's completely confusing and chaotic and I have no clue what's going on. That being said, I do love the work of Hayao Miyazaki. Spirited Away is absolutely beautiful and is one of my favorite movies of all time. If you haven't seen Spirited Away, you really should. It's beautifully done, well written, and just absolutely beautiful. So definitely check that out if you haven't yet.

Looking at wikipedia for information on the list of animated features Disney has made thus far, it looks like the next film that Disney is going to be making--not Pixar, Pixar is owned by Disney but is allowed to operate as an independent studio--is an adaptation of Rapunzel. This one's going to be CGI and I'm actually really curious to see how this one works out. According to wikipedia, the visual style that's being planned for Rapunzel is inspired by the Rococo painting, The Swing by French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard. It's one of those famous paintings that you've probably seen but you have no idea of who the artist is. If you look up "The Swing" you'll probably find it. I'm interested to see how this film is going to look because it seems like they're doing a CGI film but they want to make it look more like this Rococo style of oil painting and less like a realistic movie. So I'm actually really curious to see how that turns out visually.

The only thing about Rapunzel that has me, again, a little worried is that they're playing around with the cast that they had. The last time I checked up on this movie they were planning on having Kristin Chenoweth voice Rapunzel. Kristin Chenoweth is another broadway actress and became famous to most people for the role of Galinda in the musical Wicked. I'm not sure what to say about Kristin Chenoweth. She does have this sort of squeeky kind of voice that not everybody likes but god damn, the woman has serious vocal talent and a very impressive range. I would have been very interested to see the kind of music that they would have her perform for this because Chenoweth has experience with the broadway style of music but is also classically trained and very, very talented, vocally speaking. So I'm probably going to miss out on that. According to the latest update from wikipedia, they now have Mandy Moore voicing Rapunzel so we've now got another celebrity being brought it. At this point, I'm just like, *sigh* "Ok...we'll see what happens."

So Rapunzel is coming out sometime around November 2010. And then after that Disney is purportedly going to be working on King of the Elves, which is a science fiction/fantasy story by Sci-Fi author Phillip K. Dick. Who you may know as the author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was turned into the very well known film, Blade Runner. Incidentally, that's another movie that my mom absolutely fell in love with and has seen about a bajillion times.

So that's going to be really interesting I think to see how Disney tackles a Phillip K. Dick story. I haven't read any of his work, but I know that he has a reputation for being a little on the dark side. He also wrote the short story that Minority Report was based off of. I haven't heard anything aside from the fact that Disney is working on this but I'm pretty interested in what's gonna happen. We'll see. Disney's got some interesting stuff in the works.

Aside from that, Pixar has Toy Story 3 coming out this year, which I'm really excited for because Toy Story has just been a great franchise so far. Really entertaining, really well written, and really fun. So I'm definitely looking forward to that. It turns out that Pixar is also going to have their first fairy tale coming out after Toy Story 3. That one is called The Bear and The Bow with Reese Witherspoon doing the voice of the heroine and is scheduled for release in late 2011. The story takes place somewhere in Scotland. I'm not sure what time period we're dealing with here, but it's probably medieval Scotland. Emma Thompson is also doing one of the voices for this film and I love Emma Thompson. She is such a wonderful actress and I will go and see just about anything she's in. So I will most definitely check out that movie when it finally comes out.

So yeah, it seems that there's some really interesting stuff around the corner for Disney and Pixar and I'm looking forward to that.

And just to conclude with The Princess and The Frog, I guess, I'll say once more that this really was a well thought out film and it flowed together rather seamlessly. Every piece fit, there was nothing in the movie that really felt disjointed or unnecessary. So I'm pretty happy with Disney and I love that they went back to this broadway style of storytelling. I don't know if they're going to continue with it, but I having a feeling that they will with Rapunzel at the very least. But I don't know if that's something that's going to continue so we'll see.

So in other words, Disney, good job. You got it right. Thank you. Now try and keep it up and don't screw anything up or Uncle Walt will be very angry. And he will break free of his cryogenic chamber and Uncle Walt will rise again and he will blind you with the force of his wrath!!!

So keep that in mind. Please.

And remember, Disney, Uncle watching.

Aaaand that about wraps it up for me. I tried not to write a whole synopsis, but I kind of did anyway. If you actually read through this entire thing, Gods help you for having less of a life than I do. Now get off the computer, take your dog for a walk, read a book, or go do something constructive. Personally, I'm gonna go see how many books I can cram in before the Spring semester starts, so I'm off to finish reading The Princess Bride.

And if you haven't seen The Princess and The Frog yet, go check it out. It's really good and I have to say I'm pretty pleased with Disney for getting the formula right after so many years of just completely ignoring this style. So thank you Disney for that little present. It would be great if you could do one of these every couple of years. I know lots of people who would love to see more of your hand drawn animation because that is what endeared all of us to the Disney Company to being with. So keep it up. Maybe. Hopefully. And until next time, that's it for me. Later, guys.

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