Disney’s return to 2D animation wasn’t something that many saw coming. With the advent of 3D, it seems the public’s only desire is for CGI productions and after the relative flop that Home on the Range was, it’s not surprise that they backed off of the medium for awhile. But, lo’ and behold, in November of 2009 their newest 2D outing debuted in theaters (and with Disney’s self-proclaimed first African American princess to boot) to rave reviews and solid ticket sales. While the film itself cost a rather astonishing $105 million to make, it more than doubled that with worldwide box office receipts…not to mention all that they’ll get once this one hits home video.
A timeless heroine in the tradition of Snow White, Ariel, Jasmine and the rest of the beloved royal sisterhood, Tiana comes to life with classic hand-drawn Disney animation from the revered team of John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) and a jazz-infused musical score from Academy Award® winning composer Randy Newman (Best Original Song, Monsters, Inc., 2001). The Princess and the Frog transports audiences to glorious, glamorous New Orleans as Tiana, the first African American Disney princess meets her frog prince and gives him the fateful kiss that leads them both on a hilarious adventure through the mystical, magical bayous of Louisiana. The Princess and the Frog’s colorful cast of one-of-a-kind new characters joyfully raises the roof, with voice performances from stars including Tony Award winner Anika Noni Rose (Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical, 2004,“Caroline, or Change”), Keith David (Crash), Jenifer Lewis (“Strong Medicine”), Jim Cummings (“Mickey Mouse Clubhouse”), Michael-Leon Wooley (Ghost Town), Bruno Campos (“Nip/Tuck”), Peter Bartlett (The Producers), Terrence Howard (Hustle & Flow), Jennifer Cody (Broadway’s “Shrek: The Musical”), Oprah Winfrey and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc.).
I grew up with animated Disney films and while we didn’t always go see them in theaters when they came out, we’d make a trip to Wal-Mart on the day they came out on VHS to buy it. This lasted from The Little Mermaid all the way up to Mulan, but after that point I kind of stopped wanting to own the films and was satisfied with just renting them from the library. But there was always that level of Disney magic to engage in when you were younger and those films are still some of the absolute best representations of the animated medium to date. So when Disney wanted to not only add another 2D “classic” to the lineup, I was questionable that they would be able to do such a thing…but I have to say that they pulled it off quite well.
Admittedly there is a lot in this film that they pulled from others. The Little Mermaid’s influence was felt rather heavily here, as was a bit of The Jungle Book. Not to say it was only made up of these elements of course, but it definitely shared some similarities between the two. But I do have to say that they really pulled off the whole New Orleans vibe, both in appearance, music, and the varied characters that inhabited the film. Obviously the big pull of this film was the fact that this was Disney’s first African-American princess, but considering I care as much about that as I care about Barbie’s, I really have no opinion on that area of its production in the least. But for me the “big” thing about this film was just the animation itself.
Now I was shocked to see the size of the films budget—I mean that’s pretty spectacular for a 2D production (although Home on the Range was somehow $5 million more five years prior), but once you see the animation you can’t help but jaw-drop. It is truly amazing to see and watching it on Blu-ray is just about as wonderful as you’d expect. The fluidity of the animation as well as the nighttime bayou lighting effects and…just, well everything. There wasn’t a single frame of this movie that I wasn’t popping my eyes out at the vibrancy of the colors or the smoothness of it all. Even the stylized super-flat musical pieces look amazing here and I really just have to commend Disney for actually putting this kind of film out again. Sure, they’re going to make major bank on it in the end, but in a market dominated with 3D outings it was nice to see a return to the “classic” style—especially when it looks as flawless as this did.
As far as the story goes it’s a pretty basic affair—although it was an admittedly nice “twist” on the whole kissing a frog thing. Either I’m just easily amused or I wasn’t paying attention in the least (it may have been both…I mean that animation is distractingly beautiful at times), but that whole angle of the story really played out quite brilliantly to me. It eventually devolved into the usual song-and-dance production you get from one of these Disney films, but overall I just really enjoyed everything about this film. It’s not as gripping or tear-jerking as some of the early-to-mid-90s productions, but that could just because I’m not a six year old watching this anymore. In the end it’s a Highly Recommended outing and one that kids will no doubt love to watch over and over again.
Disney unleashes The Princess and the Frog on Blu-ray in the greatest combo-pack of all: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy. All three in one box is a definite treat, plus you have a nice reflective foil/embossed slipcover on the outside to help pop off the shelves. Regardless if you have a Blu-ray player right now, definitely pick up this release over the others—it doesn’t even matter at this point since it comes with a normal DVD copy as well, so once you do upgrade you’ll be able to drop your jaw at the Blu-ray clarity without having to fork over more money. Inside the set is the usual assortment of inserts and whatnot, but nothing overly exciting unless you really like looking at advertisements.
Video arrives in the form of an AVC encoded 1080p transfer that…well, there’s no real way around it. This video combined with the audio (a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix) make for what may be the most beautiful demo disk for a home theater I’ve ever seen. Animation has always been the pinnacle of showing off what the digital disc format is capable of, but this is just truly stunning. Not only is the animation itself flawless, but so is the transfer with just rampant amounts of detail, clarity and a color palette that will cause your eyes to tear up from the sheer beauty of it. Ok I might be overselling it a tiny bit, but it truly is one of the most stunning and jaw-dropping A/V transfers I’ve seen in recent years. Without a doubt this is a true representation of just how beautiful a Blu-ray can look. I could go on and on about the image depth and clarity or remark about how solid the sound field is in the 5.1 mix or talk about the throaty LFE output…but I won’t. I honestly believe if I keep typing about it I’ll just end up using a thesaurus to find different words for “amazing,” so I’ll just spare you (and myself) that process and just simply call this one what it is: amazing.
The extras are pretty spectacular as well. Included:
• Deleted Scenes
• Audio Commentary by John Musker and Ron Clements (co-writers and directors) and Peter Del Vecho (producer)
• “Never Knew I Needed”- Music video by Ne-Yo
Games and Activities
• What Do You See: Princess Portraits — A bayou-style quiz tests viewers’ knowledge of all of Disney’s beautiful princesses. Ray’s firefly family creates twinkling portraits of each princess and if the player correctly identifies her, they can enjoy a tongue-cheek mini re-telling of that character’s story.
• Magic In The Bayou: The Making of A Princess — Co-writers and directors John Musker and Ron Clements take a freewheeling, behind-the-scenes look at the making of Disney’s newest animated film as it grows from an initial concept to a lavish animated film set in the enchanting world of New Orleans and the surrounding bayous.
• The Return To Hand Drawn Animation
• The Disney Legacy
• Disney’s Newest Princess
• The Princess and the Animator
• Conjuring The Villain
• A Return To The Animated Musical
• Bringing Life to Animation with an introduction by John Musker and Ron Clements.
• Deleted Scenes introduced by the filmmakers
• Art Galleries — A collection of storyboard art traces the visual development of The Princess and the Frog’s rich gallery of characters and settings.
• Work-in Progress Track — watch the film with early pencil work, storyboards, etc. in picture-in-picture.
Obviously there are a handful of extras here most animation fans will find superfluous (music videos and games/activities? No thank you.) but the vast majority are featurettes that you’ll want to check out. As long as that “Backstage Disney” listing is though, most don’t last any longer than a few minutes each (“Magic in the Bayou” is a little over twenty minutes while “Bringing Life to Animation” is eight minutes…everything else is 2-3 minutes), so you won’t be spending a whole lot of time in there. The biggest extra here, of course, is the commentary track which is always entertaining. The conversation never wanders off aimlessly into some pointless discussion, instead they seem to understand that they have a scant ninety-seven minutes to talk about this film and as soon as they finish one topic they head straight on into another. It almost feels a little more scripted than spontaneous, but everything they hit upon is interesting stuff so I don’t mind too much even if it is scripted.
Overall The Princess and the Frog is a Must Own Blu-ray package. The extras, while plentiful, are not anything revolutionary (and some are, in fact, quite EPK-y in their execution), but that A/V presentation is simply something you must see. The 1.78:1 aspect ratio really just lends to its beauty as it fills your entire 16×9 screen up and as a result nearly every pixel of your TV is spitting forth some kind of brilliant shade from the films varied color palette.
The Princess and the Frog arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on March 16th.