Dis­ney re­paints old fairy tale on a silky can­vas

Stu­dio goes back to its hand-drawn roots with The Princess and the Frog, a ro­man­tic fam­ily story bound to melt the hard­est of hearts

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODLOOKING -

THE LAST time we heard from the hand-drawn an­i­ma­tors at Dis­ney, they of­fered up the bar nyard tale Home on the Range. The 2004 ’toon was so for­get­table it seemed it re­ally might be the last time we ever heard from the hand-drawn an­i­ma­tors at the stu­dio where the art form was pi­o­neered.

Thank­fully, the spirit of an­i­ma­tion mae­stro Walt Dis­ney lives on. The stu­dio has gone back to its roots with a fresh, funny retelling of a clas­sic fairy tale in The Princess and the Frog, Dis­ney’s re­turn to hand-drawn an­i­ma­tion af­ter a five-year hia­tus.

Like every­one else, Dis­ney and sub­sidiary Pixar An­i­ma­tion mostly are fix­ated on com­puter an­i­ma­tion. But Pixar mas­ter­minds John Las­seter and Ed Cat­mull, who su­per­vise all Dis­ney an­i­ma­tion, love car­toons of ev­ery kind and have re­newed the stu­dio’s com­mit­ment to the penand-ink va­ri­ety along with the pix­e­lated.

The Princess and the Frog isn’t the sec­ond com­ing of Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King. It’s just plain pleas­ant, an old-fash­ioned charmer that’s not strain­ing to be the next glib an­i­mated com­pen­dium of pop-cul­ture flot­sam.

Up­dat­ing the Broth­ers Grimm tale The Frog Prince into a toetap­ping mu­si­cal set on the Louisiana bayou in the 1920s, direc­tors Ron Cle­ments and John Musker de­liver a sat­is­fy­ing gumbo of snappy di­a­logue, lov­able char­ac­ters and bright-hued im­ages, spiced up with just the right touch of voodoo peril.

Start­ing off in New Orleans, the film cen­tres on hard­work­ing wait­ress Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose), who saves ev­ery dime in hopes of open­ing the restau­rant that was the dream of her late fa­ther (Terrence Howard). In a small role, Oprah Win­frey pro­vides the voice of Tiana’s mom.

Tiana is side­tracked by some dark magic af­ter Prince Naveen (Bruno Cam­pos), a jazz-loving dream­boat from a land far, far away, comes to sam­ple the vi­brant New Orleans mu­sic.

Naveen falls un­der the spell of voodoo prac­ti­tioner Dr Fa­cilier (voiced with ooz­ing men­ace by Keith David), who tur ns the prince into a talk­ing frog as part of a plan to un­leash his evil “friends on the other side” in New Orleans.

The frog prince en­coun­ters Tiana dressed as royalty at a cos­tume ball in the man­sion of her child­hood friend Char­lotte (Jen­nifer Cody) and her gen­teel dad (John Good­man).

The in­evitable kiss Naveen talks Tiana into doesn’t re­store his hu­man form, though. Rather, Tiana is trans­formed into a frog her­self, and the two wind up pur­sued by Fa­cilier’s evil al­lies.

In fine Dis­ney in­ter-species tra­di­tion, Tiana and Naveen find comic side­kicks in Louis (Michael-Leon Woo­ley), a goofy al­li­ga­tor who dreams of play­ing trum­pet with a jazz band, and Ray (Jim Cum­mings), a gap­toothed Ca­jun fire­fly with a heart as big as the heav­ens.

The songs and score by Dis­ney stal­wart Randy New­man, in­clud­ing a tune sung by Dr John, are brisk and catchy, while there’s plenty of action and slap­stick hu­mour for boys and dads in what is largely a love story for girls and moms.

Sure, the ro­mance is a lit­tle sticky and cloy­ing. But even the hard­est of hard cases might snif­fle a bit over how the un­ob­tain­able love of fire­fly Ray plays out.

Cle­ments and Musker, whose cred­its in­clude such hits as The Lit­tle Mer­maid and Aladdin but also the mega-bomb Trea­sure Planet, present rich worlds both in the city and on the bayou. Some of the an­i­mated se­quences are down­right trippy – Dis­ney in­flu­enced by the wild imagination of such mas­ters as Hayao Miyazaki, whose US re­leases the stu­dio han­dles.

Like the jerky stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion of Fan­tas­tic Mr Fox, the silky can­vas of Princess and the Frog stands as a nice coun­ter­point to the sharp vir­tual worlds of com­puter im­agery that dom­i­nate to­day’s car­toons. The hand­drawn style is where Dis­ney fea­ture an­i­ma­tion started seven decades ago with Snow White, but even­tu­ally, in Hol­ly­wood at least, ev­ery­thing old is new again.

Princess and the Frog mostly ig­nores the racial di­vides of the times. Tiana’s a poor black girl, her best friend’s a rich, spoiled white girl. How of­ten did that hap­pen in 1920s New Orleans?

But this isn’t Roots, it’s a Dis­ney fam­ily af­fair. In her favour, Tiana joins a list of eth­ni­cally di­verse Dis­ney hero­ines – Poc­a­han­tas, Mu­lan, Lilo – that show how far things have come from

POND-ER­ING: The frog prince en­coun­ters Tiana dressed as royalty at a cos­tume ball.

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