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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Princess and the Frog

Happy June!  Since it is my birth month, I am being self-indulgent and writing about all of my favourite movies.  For some of the more well-known movies out there, I will be mostly reflecting on the why it is one of my favourites, as opposed to the usual format of a plot rundown and a wee little bit of reflection.  Not all of my favourite movies are classics – some fall into the guilty pleasure category – but whatever.  It’s my birthday month, deal with it.  OK, disclaimer out of the way, let us begin…

#346: The Princess and the Frog (2009).  I love this movie.  So very, very much.  So, let’s get to it.

The Players:

Tiana: Voiced by Anika Noni Rose.  Tiana is hard working, to a fault.  She has spent her life working towards the dream her and her father shared of opening a restaurant, forgoing all fun and games and any kind of a social life.  She is a poor African American living in New Orleans, but keeps positive and focused on her dream.

Prince Naveen: Voiced by Bruno Campos.  Prince Naveen has just been cut off from his money, and is in New Orleans to get married so he can be back in the cash.  He’s a playboy, who is more interested in playing his ukulele and wooing the ladies than he is being a Prince.

Charlotte “Lottie” La Bouff: Voiced by Jennifer Cody.  Charlotte is a rich, blonde, Prince-wantin’ white girl from the “fancy” side of New Orleans.  She is also really sweet, and Tiana’s best friend since childhood.

Eudora: Voiced by Oprah Winfrey.  Eudora is Tiana’s mother, who wants all of Tiana’s dreams to come true, but not at the expense of her happiness.  She doesn’t want Tiana to miss out on love.

Dr. Facilier, a.k.a. “The Shadow Man”: Voiced by Keith David.  The Shadow Man is the villain.  He practices some nasty Voodoo, and owes his “friends on the other side”… something?  Power?  The souls of New Orleans?  They’re never quite clear on that.  But he is bad news, y’all.

Lawrence: Voiced by Peter Bartlett.  Lawrence is Naveen’s manservant, and boy is he sick of it!  He takes sides with The Shadow Man.  

‘Big Daddy’ La Bouff: Voiced by John Goodman.  Lottie’s father, also one of the richest men in New Orleans.  He spoils his daughter, but has a good heart.  He appears to be the main target of Dr. Facilier, so he must be a big deal.

Louis: Voiced by Michael-Leon Wooley.  Louis is an alligator who lives in the Bayou.  He plays the trumpet, and longs to be a professional trumpet player.  He’s also not so bright, but extremely lovable.

Ray: Voiced by Jim Cummings.  Ray is a Cajun firefly who lives in the Bayou, and he is made of awesome.  He helps Tiana and Naveen find Mama Odie, the Voodoo Priestess, and true love. 

Mama Odie: Voiced by Jennifer Lewis.  Mama Odie is a Voodoo Priestess living in the Bayou.  She’s quirky and has a very weird relationship with her pet snake, but she knows her stuff.  She also gets one of the best songs, but I’ll get to those in a minute…

OK, that’s pretty much everyone involved.  The story:

The story is pretty simple, and yet not.  There is actually a lot going on, too much some would argue, which is the main issue with this movie.  But ya know what?  I don’t care.  Again, I love this movie.  So, let’s go!

It opens with Eudora reading the story of the “Frog Prince” to adorable little Charlotte and Tiana while she finishes making a princess dress for CharlotteCharlotte is completely enraptured by the story, while Tiana is a little interested.  When it gets to the part about the princess kissing the frog, Charlotte is all mooney, and Tiana is grossed out.  You go, girl. 

‘Big Daddy’ gets home, and I guess he’s a widower, because he instantly starts in on spoiling Charlotte by ordering another princess dress from “New Orleans finest seamstress”, Eudora.  She is happy to oblige because, hey, easy money!  This scene sets up nicely why Charlotte and Tiana are friends.  No doubt Tiana and her mother come over, like, every other day to make dresses.

So, while Charlotte gets a puppy, Tiana and Eudora head home.  They hop on the trolley car and ride from the fancy neighborhood (Garden District?  That pretty area down by Tulane?) as the scenery dissolves into a row of identical wooden shacks.  This is where Tiana, her mom, and her dad live.  Tiana is super excited to see her daddy, and to cook gumbo with him for her family.  OMG, y’all.  Growing up, I loved to cook with my dad.  Still do.  He’s pretty much the only person I can tolerate in a kitchen with me.  I am Tiana.
*Ahem*, sorry.  Off of me, back to the movie… Anyway, Tiana’s gumbo is the best gumbo in the world, and her and her father are going to open a restaurant someday. 

Having heard about wishing on stars from Charlotte, Tiana decides to give it a try, wishing for her restaurant.  A frog is on her windowsill, croaks loudly at her, and she runs in fear.  Fade to title and about ten years later.  A now-grown Tiana has arrived home from a long, sad night of waitressing.  She puts her tips in her restaurant fund, and flops on the bed.  For about ten seconds before the alarm goes off.  Up she gets, changes out uniforms and heads to another restaurant for another long day of waitressing.  Damn, girl. 

We finally get our first song!  “Down in New Orleans”, which is so.good!  I am one of the few people who actually feels that one of the best things about this movie is the music.  I love me some New Orleans Dixieland Jazz and Cajun/Zydeco music.  For reals.  Anyway, the song lays out a few things.  First, it gives us a feel for the setting – New Orleans.  More about my love of NOLA later.  But it really captures the feel of the city.  It introduces the prince as he arrives, and shows us that Charlotte is still around, and still on the hunt for a prince as she giddily clutches a newspaper article about Prince Naveen.  It ends with Tiana at her job, being the waitress all waitresses both loathe and aspire to be.  She also makes kickin’ beignets.  Do they rival Café Du Monde?  Because those are HEAVEN!  Also, side note: if this movie is anyone’s first/only experience with NOLA, they would assume that all anyone eats down there is gumbo and beignets… which… *sigh* that’s fair, I guess.  It’s all I ate when I was down there last…

So, anyway, after some friends come in and invite Tiana to go dancing, she declines.  She’s gotta work. 

In blows Lottie and Big Daddy.  She is suuuper excited about something, and hilarious.  She keeps cutting off Big Daddy, who finally shuts her up by shoving a beignet in her mouth.  Ha!  Looks like Prince Naveen of Maldonia is not only visiting, but will be staying at her house for Mardi Gras!  She’s gonna marry herself a prince!  She asks Tiana if she could come and make beignets at the party, since the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and all.  She offers Tiana a whole lotta cash, which will be just enough for the down payment on her restaurant.  She’s in!

Tiana goes to see the realty dudes, and they make arrangements to bring the paperwork to the party that night.  The place she’s buying is an old sugar mill, and it has a ton of potential.  Her mom comes down with her dad’s old gumbo pot (aww!) to celebrate.  Eudora stresses that while this is all well and good, she needs to slow down a little and remember that family, friends, a life is important, too.  Tiana sings that she doesn’t have time for all that – she’s “Almost There”, as in thisclose to her dream.  I love this song, mostly for the visuals.  So. Cool.

Meanwhile… Man, I am barely through this!  OK, the more complex stuff kinda out of the way, I’m gonna rip through this, otherwise this will be the longest post ever.

So, meanwhile, Prince Naveen is all about the fun, Lawrence is all about being a stick in the mud, we learn that Naveen is broke because his parents cut him off until he marries and/or learns some responsibility.  The Shadow Man lurks and pounces.  He knows the prince is staying with the La Bouffs, so he manipulates them.  He sings about his “Friends on the Other Side” (awesome), and through Voodoo, turns the prince into a frog, and Lawrence into the prince.

Party: Beignets are kicking butt, Charlotte is freaking out because the prince isn’t there yet, and Tiana gets put back in her place by the realty assholes.  They tell her someone outbid her, and unless she can match their offer and pay in full by Wednesday, she loses the restaurant.  UGH.  They are real jerks about it, too, making comments that a woman of “her standing” should be proud to have almost made her dreams come true.  Assholes.

So, somehow the beignet table flips on Tiana, and she has to change.  Charlotte gives her a princess costume (the party is a costume ball), and heads down to dance with her prince, who has just shown up.  Sounding a lot of like Lawrence

Tiana is devastated about her restaurant, wishes on the star, and Naveen appears.  She makes a crack about having to kiss a frog, he tells her “kissing would be nice”, she freaks out, he promises if she kisses him, when he turns human, he’ll give her money for her restaurant, she agrees.  She kisses him, and… Tiana turns into a frog, too.  Ooops!  Naveen is confused.  If she’s a princess, she should have broken the spell.  But no, she’s a waitress.  Which he points out all the time as an insult.  Side note: I once read in a book that a survey was done and an overwhelming majority of men would rather have their girlfriend be a stripper/exotic dancer than a waitress.  Why is that such a bad thing?  As a former waitress, this kind of bugs.  Anyhoo!

They wind up in the Bayou, and meet Louis.  He agrees to take them to Mama Odie, and in their Wizard of Oz “Off to see the Wizard” moment, they sail on down the Bayou, singing about being human again (also, very Beauty and the Beast).  Wacky highjinks with some Cajun redneck frog catchers, and somehow Tiana and Naveen’s tongues get all wrapped up around each other.  Enter the best character in this entire film: Ray, the firefly.  He is so Cajun, and I freaking love it.  I could listen to him talk all day.  He gets them untangled, and offers to show them the way to Mama Odie’s, since Louis had them going the wrong way.  He enlists his firefly family to light the way (so pretty!) and sings “Gonna take you There”.  Love.

Some bonding between Naveen and Tiana, a love song about Evangeline, Ray’s “firefly” star girlfriend (so sweet!), and they finally arrive at Mama Odie’s.  After chiding Naveen for messin’ with the Shadow Man, she tells them that they might think they know what they want or need, but they gotta “Dig a Little Deeper”.  Love, love, love this song.

So, they realize that since it’s Mardi Gras, and Big Daddy is the Mardi Gras King, that makes Lottie a princess until midnight!  She can break the spell!  They hop a river boat, and since it’s Mardi Gras, the people in the band on the boat assume Louis is just in an awesome costume.  He gets to play with them.  Aww!  So, Naveen has realized that he loves Tiana, he tries to propose, but fumbles it beautifully.  Then, he gets kidnapped by the Shadow… Dudes?  They’ve been following them since the Bayou, by the way.

They get to Mardi Gras, which… I call totall bullshit.  They would be squished as soon as they landed.  Even in the 1920s, when this movie is set, Mardi Gras was insane.  But, it’s a Disney fairytale, so I’ll go with it.  They find Big Daddy’s float, with… Lottie and Naveen getting married!  Oh no!  But… how is that possible, asks Ray?  Tiana has already hopped off to one of the cemeteries and blows up at Ray, telling him that his girlfriend is just a star, and he should stop believing in such silly things.  Awww… poor Ray.  He goes off to save the day again! 

He finds Naveen in a box, gets him out, ruining the wedding, and Lawrence goes to hide in St. Francis Cathedral, as he is turning back into himself because the Voodoo’s wearing off.

Meanwhile, Dr. Facilier has caught up with Tiana, and Ray tries to help fight him off, but he gets squished.  WHAT THE HELL, DISNEY?! 

The Shadow Man tries to entice Tiana with her dream restaurant, if she’ll just give back the amulet that holds the power (read: Naveen’s blood).  He’ll turn her human again, and she can have her restaurant.  Tiana, having realized that she loves Naveen, decides that love is more important, and smashes the amulet.  This pisses off the Friends from the Other Side, and they oh-so-creepily take Dr. Facilier and drag him to the other side with them.  Awesome.

So, Tiana catches up with Naveen and Charlotte (who has discovered what’s actually going on) and Charlotte has agreed to kiss Naveen if it means getting married.  But Naveen tells her that she has to give Tiana the money for her restaurant.  Awww.  Tiana tells them to stop this nonsense, because her restaurant without Naveen isn’t worth it.  Charlotte realizes that Tiana has found true love, and doesn’t want to get in True Love’s way, so she agrees to kiss Naveen, “no marriage required!”  Double awww!  Charlotte is so cool.  But it’s too late, as the clock at St. Francis rings midnight!  She frantically kisses Naveen, but to no avail… looks like Tiana and Naveen are moving to the Bayou!  But not before it is discovered that Ray was, indeed, killed.  Did Joss Whedon have a hand in this script?  Damn.

There’s a funeral for Ray down at the Bayou, and once his body is floated out on the river, a new star appears next to Evangeline, one point touching hers.  Awwwww, Ray is with Evangeline!  Love!

So, Naveen and Tiana are having a Bayou wedding, with Mama Odie presiding.  The scene is beyond stunning.  

So, of course, when they are pronounced frog and wife (hee!), and he kisses her, magic happens a la Beauty and the Beast, and they are transformed back into humans.  Because once Naveen married Tiana, she became a princess.  I love that, because I never really thought of it throughout the movie!  Nice one, Disney!  But I’m still mad that you killed off Ray, even if he is in the sky with his beloved for all eternity…

So, Naveen and Tiana get married again (I doubt the frog wedding was legal) in St. Francis Cathedral, and get to it building the restaurant together.  There is a fantastic reprise of “Down in New Orleans” sung by Tiana, and we see her beautiful restaurant just as she imagined it, Louis is playing with the band, and her and Naveen are super happy and in love.  Charlotte is happy for her best friend, but is still on the hunt for a prince to marry.  And… The End.

Phew!  See?   Lots going on here, and I didn’t even hit all of it.  So, real quick: what could have been better:

There really is so much going on, that everything feels a little rushed.  Tiana and Naveen fall in love, but we don’t see enough of it to really buy it.  Although, this is a Disney fairytale, and usually it’s a love at first sight thing with them, anyway, so at least they grew towards it a little.  But still, some more character development would have been nice.  And could have happened if it weren’t for…

The freaking frog catchers.  I get it.  They needed some comic relief for the kids who at this point are little antsy, I’m sure.  But the scene went on way too long, wasn’t really that funny, and the time could have been better spent on developing the relationship between Naveen and Tiana.  and I realized that I put the scene in the wrong place in my recap, but can't be bothered to fix it.  It's that unimportant...

What I love:

The fact that this is a modern fairytale set in 1920s New Orleans.  This movie is what made me fall in love with the city, and the first time I visited, I had the opening song stuck in my head the whole time.  There are some geographical errors, and like I said, Mardi Gras is insane, but the spirit of the city is captured.  I’ve been down there twice now, and can’t wait to go back. 

Charlotte.  She had so much potential to be completely stuck up and snotty, but she is really sweet and just so bubbly and funny.  She is a great character, and the fact that she is still best friends with Tiana when they grew up is really cool.  She could have totally grown up to be a major bitch, but she didn’t.  Jennifer Cody really straddled the line of adorable and annoying just right.

Ray.  He’s just so much fun, and like I said, I could listen to that Cajun accent all day long. 

The literary references.  There are the obvious Tennessee Williams references (the La Bouff’s have a dog named Stella, “Big Daddy”), but there is also a nod to Longfellow with Evangeline, and some other subtle ones.  Nicely done.

The visuals.  This movie is gorgeous.  The layout artists outdid themselves here, especially in the Bayou.  The colour palette is spot on, and really this is just a beautiful film to look at.  And I love, love, love that this was a return to the 2D, traditional hand-drawn animation style.  We need more of that, please!

The music.  As I said, I really love the music in this, even though some would argue that this is a weak spot.  Not everyone likes this style, and while there aren’t any “Broadway” style numbers, the music fits perfectly with the time and place of the film.  And the actors nail every song. 

If you haven’t seen this, you really should.  It isn’t perfect, but it’s still delightful.

That’s a Wrap!  Up next: a little more Disney magic…

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