THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

The Princess and the Frog represents Disney’s return to their filmmaking roots – the animated musical. We’ve already had a teaser trailer:

A trailer:

And a sneak peak:

And I think all look very promising indeed. It’s obviously not a traditional retelling (though it seems not to be quite as subversive of fairy tale conventions as Shrek or Enchanted, which is a good thing to my mind).

I remember when I first heard that The Princess and the Frog would replace The Frog Princess, the original working title of the film, I was a bit skeptical. I felt it was a bit bulky (clunky – ?) and perhaps less effective, as the film is a kind of riff on the end of the original fairy tale and now that reference is lost. I also feel its too obvious a ploy to tap into the “Beauty and the Beast” dichotomy that is inherent to the content of the film and is therefore, perhaps, a bit too spot on – a bit too academic, if you will – and I suppose that is what caused my uncertainty about it. But… it’s grown on me, especially after seeing the publicity material.

Of course, this will also mark the first African American princess from the Disney studios and the as yet unreleased film has been followed with controversy in this regard. Take, for example, this article in the New York Times: “Her Prince Has Come. Critics, Too” by Brookes Barnes.

The article says, “For years, Disney has been lambasted by some parents for not having a black princess. Now, some of those same voices are taking aim at the company without seeing the finished product.” Some of the criticism is just ridiculous; one of the most damning comments seems to be this one, from Angela Bronner Helm at Black Voices:

Disney obviously doesn’t think a black man is worthy of the title of prince. His hair and features are decidedly non-black. This has left many in the community shaking their head in befuddlement and even rage.

The New York Times goes on to report that “Prince Naveen hails from the fictional land of Maldonia and is voiced by a Brazilian actor; Disney says that he is not white.” They also say that there has been some backlash against the backlash. This quotation from Levi Roberts:

This is one of those situations where I am ashamed of the black community. Are we being racist ourselves by saying this movie shouldn’t have a white prince?

That just brings us full circle, doesn’t it?

Poor Disney seems to be in a “damned if they do, damned if they don’t” position with this film. I understand that people would like something like this to be racially sensitive, but some of the points raised just lack any kind of perspective. Thank goodness there seem to be some rational people in the middle ground too.

Lastly – the score, by Randy Newman. Newman had an interview in Variety yesterday in which he discussed the film:

New Orleans in the early part of the 20th century – the setting of Disney’s animated The Princess and the Frog – is territory that composer Randy Newman has trod before. “I’ve been dredging those 30 months I spent in New Orleans for all I could in my life,” he quips, referring to the summers of his youth.

I’m very interested to hear what the full score is like, especially as it seems to offer an alternative to the kind of songs Newman has created for the Pixar films.

I think what Randy Newman has done for the Pixar films – created a score and one song that epitomizes the thematic core of the film – really works for those films, which are all fish-out-of-water cum coming-of-age films told in a fairly loose, comedic style. Of course, there are slight variations to the ‘Newman formula’ – Toy Story, for example, has three songs but still focuses on one big thematic number, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”. Toy Story 2 of course featured “When She Loved Me”, which is a very moving song, not least because of the vocal performance by Sarah McLachlan. But it’s still a voice-over reflection on an event long after the it has passed.

While I think that Newman’s Pixar scores (for Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc and Cars) have largely served those films and the mode in which those films tell their respective stories, I feel that they are more obviously functional as scores – serving the action on screen literally without delving too deeply into the metaphorical, emotional core of what’s going on, in the way that Alan Menken did particularly well in his scores for The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. I don’t really have any problems with this, as I think the kind of scoring created for these projects is appropriate to the films, although, as some have mentioned around these boards before, there tends to be certain sameness that has characterizes the songs, which was also evident in Disney’s part-live action part-stop motion version of James and the Giant Peach, which also featured songs by Newman. The only songs that really came anywhere close to working in that film were “My Name is James” and “Family” but even these weren’t consistent in the quality of their lyrics. The rest of the score was disposable. My reaction mainly was – nice tunes. But I think an animated musical needs something more than that, score that is a truly intrinsic element of the film as a whole.

But I’m glad that Newman has had to shift his mode into a different style of scoring for The Princess and the Frog and that John Lasseter (as the “big boss”) or the directors, Ron Clements and John Musker chose not to reflect something of that Pixar tone and style in this film.

I’m really looking forward to it.

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