Disney’s return to traditional animation should not have been a “return” at all. The seemingly forgotten art was dropped by the studio with the success of Pixar, and Princess and the Frog is at least some proof as to that mistake.
Tradition is a strong word here though, as the film’s story arc, characters, and style rely on the classic clichés. Although fresh, much of the content feels dated. A risk in terms of animation style, but the studio restricts any brave new direction for its actual content.
There is also a disappointing focus on Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose) to turn her into the next Disney Princess. That line of merchandise has brought millions of dollars in revenue, and Tiana is next in que. Demographics play a role too, offering an African American character and expanding the marketing power in the process. In some way, it cheapens the whole affair as a cash grab, not an honest attempt to revitalize the art.
The benefits however include setting the film in New Orleans, offering brilliantly hand painted backdrops of the familiar city, and allows Randy Newman to compose some wonderful, catchy songs to serve the animation.
Countless complex sequences exist, and the first transformation of Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) into a frog is met with fantastically drawn rubber legs. Naveen bounces around the room with smooth, flowing animation. Prior to his transformation, he plays jazz with a street band, which involves numerous people bouncing to the beat. That is the moment that makes you remember the artistry of Disney’s original crew, and how CG animation does not contain the same charm.
Princess and the Frog is colorful and whimsical, with talking gators, voodoo, comic sidekicks in the form of insects, and two charming lead characters that can carry this fairy tale to its conclusion. Kids should be entranced, the quicker pacing and flashier effects grabbing their attention a bit faster than anything else in Disney’s vast traditional library.
Certainly no child will regret growing up with Princess and the Frog, much like the previous generation does not regret Aladdin or Lion King. For the current set of young ones, Disney’s latest affair was made for them (marketing or not), and hopefully can begin a lasting interest in what animation is capable of in the right hands.
Disney delivers a generally outstanding AVC encode that still manages to surprise. The wonderfully bold solid colors are remarkable when their vibrancy is allowed to show. Each palette is accurately represented, from the pink of the opening bedroom story time, to the cold blues of the more dramatic moments. Despite the color intensity, no moments of banding are noted, impressive considering the amount of shots that fully showcase the night sky and the glowing moon.
Each is aided by a bright contrast and rich, inky blacks. Dr. Facilier’s main introduction to Prince Naveen is appropriately dark, yet maintains the texture of the backgrounds. No information is lost. Lines are razor sharp, showcasing the clean strokes of the animator’s hand perfectly.
The transfer has one issue, and that is ringing. At times severe, and at times hardly noticeable, it is a regular struggle. High contrast edges suffer from that slight halo, first becoming apparent around Facilier’s shoulders and hat at 18:32. In motion, it is a little harder to spot, especially if you are not looking for it.
The severity of the problem is undoubtedly dependent on screen size and sensitivity. Regardless, this is not a severe, crippling problem. The source animation truly bursts from the screen, all of its colored majesty preserved in hi-def. A disc such as Sleeping Beauty generates more saturated colors for sure, but Princess and the Frog is more than capable of showcasing its own style.
Update: On a second viewing, the ringing issues were caused by the set itself, not the disc. A recent calibration eliminated the problem, bringing it back up to date. The score remains the same, of course.
The music. Not much else needs be said for the clarity and depth of this DTS-HD mix. Every song is audio perfection, with a smooth low-end presence, wonderfully rich, full highs, and crisp, clean lyrics bursting from the speakers. The surround bleed, aided by choir cues, add that additional immersive layer that is truly remarkable.
As for the action, this track loves splitting the stereo channels. Tracking across the fronts is flawless, following the on-screen action accurately. A chase at the party just after the main characters transform into frogs is a perfect example of movement. The creepy voodoo shadows are consistently a presence, both in the fronts and rears. Some light ambiance in the swamp, aided by a small thunderstorm, is effective.
Transformation scenes envelope the viewer with various “swoosh” effects, and pops in the LFE. This is not room shaking bass, but then again this is not trying to blow anyone away. The subwoofers job here to pick up the necessary cues to add that additional thump without being overpowering. In that sense, it is effective. Some may be disappointed the action scenes lack a crushing, towering presence from the LFE, yet that would only be distraction. Everything here is in balance, and nothing is too aggressive, a perfect audio accompaniment for this animated fairy tale.
Extras begin with five deleted scenes (11:45 total), including an introduction from directors/co-writers John Musker and Ron Clements. They return to intro the live action reference footage split into two sections. Likewise, they join producer Peter Del Vecho for a feature commentary.
Magic in the Bayou is the standard making-of, running 22-minutes, with interviews from numerous people who worked on the project. The disc then begins a flurry of five very brief featurettes, ranging from two to three-minutes, none of them long enough to carry much weight. They focus on the Disney legacy, the Princess line, animators, the villain design, and the music. These should have been combined, but instead push the viewer back to the main menu after each.
Galleries, a game, music video, BD-Live access (nothing specific to this disc), and trailers are left. The movie is also available in a three-pack including a DVD and digital copy.