Well, this isn’t a sentence that I would have been expecting to say when I first started this challenge – but I preferred Bolt to The Princess and the Frog. There’s no doubt that, in this film, there is a definite return to the feel of what made the Disney classics of old (and the Renaissance) so distinctive. However, something has been lost along the way and it just doesn’t quite measure up.
It starts out well, a few good opening tracks and they really establish the world of The Princess and the Frog as being a fairy tale in the semi-modern world. You have an exceptional supporting character in the spoiled, but ultimately good-hearted, best friend. There’s great motivations and some cutting commentary (for a Disney animated film) on how hard it is to be a working woman of colour trying to achieve their dream. Then it just sags in the middle.
My husband put it well when, having finished the film, he said that this film had sixty minutes of story which had to be stretched with 30 minutes of padding. He isn’t wrong. Once Tiana has kissed the transformed prince and they begin their adventures in the swamp, the whole thing begins to lose steam very quickly. The introduction of more sidekick characters feel more a way to extend the movie than to actually contribute something salient to the plot (although the story arc of the firefly is incredibly poignant and ultimately comes out of left field).
I guess that if this had the songs of Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King or the better written gags of Aladdin or even Bolt that this could have worked better. It’s just strange that, at least for me anyway, this film completely front-loads their best songs, which leaves you a bit lost after the brilliantly dark voodoo-inspired sequence for ‘Friends on the Other Side’. Nothing quite reaches the heights of ‘Almost There’ or ‘Down in New Orleans’, which means you have to wait until the final confrontation with the villain before things really start up again.
There are some positives in this film though. Firstly, this is the first time where – in what is ostensibly a Disney princess film – the prince ends up growing and changing for the sake of the female protagonist. Sure, Tiana comes out of it softened slightly having finally been given the time to remind herself what it’s like to not work all the time – but the big character development is for Prince Naveen. He comes in as this shirking womanizer and ends up maturing and ready to work to help the love of his life achieve her dream. We kinda saw this in Beauty & The Beast, but that was more the destruction of psychologically damaging barriers than a marked shift in goals and behaviour.
It’s also worth noting that this is a beautiful looking film. After a long time with CGI Disney, it was great to return to the world of traditional animation for the penultimate time. With Bolt and Tangled we’re now at the stage where the quality of computer animation is high enough that you don’t miss traditional as much, but this is the last time where a Disney animated film looks like a classic Disney film. Seeing how I’ve been doing this for the better part of a year by now, the loss of an art style feels like something worth mourning as we go into the first CGI Disney film to look truly beautiful: Tangled.