While dazzling CGI animation has become increasingly life-like and detailed in recent years, some audiences likely have been missing the "old-fashioned" charm of hand-drawn animation. Disney's latest, "The Princess and the Frog", is the latest effort from writer/directors Ron Clements and John Musker, famed for their collaboration on Disney's "The Little Mermaid". "Princess" is the first film from the two since 2002's "Treasure Planet".
The picture takes place in pre/post WWI New Orleans. Early on, young pals Charlotte and Tiana (voiced by Breanna Brooks and Elizabeth Dampier) chat about whether or not they would kiss a frog. Years later, Tiana (now voiced by Anika Noni Rose, from "Dreamgirls")'s father has passed away in the war and she works towards achieving the dream they shared: of opening a restaurant.
As Tiana tries to get together enough to put a down payment on an old factory, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) is throwing a party for an incoming prince, Naveen (Bruno Campos). Unfortunately, Naveen crosses paths with Dr. Facilier (Keith David), who turns Naveen into a frog using voodoo. The frog hops up to Tiana, mistaking her for a princess, and asks her for a kiss. Unfortunately for them both, not only does it not work, but Tiana is also turned into a frog.
The two realize that they don't have any other options, and hop deep into the swamps, looking for assistance from Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), who they hope can return them to their human form again. They get help from a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) and a cute firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings). Meanwhile, Facilier reveals his scheme to take over New Orleans.
The film is an entertaining adventure, although not without a few minor concerns. The story is a bit formulaic and wrapped somewhat abruptly, but Clements and Musker still focus on story and character over flash, and result manages to be charming and engaging. Voice work is solid, especially Rose, Campos, Cummings and, in brief performances, Oprah and Terrence Howard. The animation is rich and colorful, and it's quite a pleasure to see hand-drawn animation again from Disney. Some of the musical tunes are catchy and memorable, although the film seems overstuffed with music and could have dropped one or two songs.
Still, these are mild concerns that don't take away from what's otherwise quite an enjoyable effort from Disney.
A DVD edition - as well as a digital copy edition - are included in this set.
VIDEO: "Princess and the Frog" is presented by Disney in 1.78:1 (1080p/AVC). This transfer is an absolute delight, as the hand-drawn animation looked wonderfully smooth, clear and detailed throughout the running time.
No edge enhancement, pixelation or other concerns were spotted, as the presentation looked absolutely pristine. Colors remained bright, well-saturated and bold at all times, with no smearing or other faults. This is certainly a very high quality presentation from the studio.
SOUND: The film's DTS-HD 5.1 presentation was first-rate. While not a particularly aggressive offering, there were a number of instances of enjoyable surround use for effects and ambience. The film's many songs also sounded well-recorded and full, with some reinforcement from the rear speakers. Audio quality was quite pleasing, with crisp, precise detail and clean, natural dialogue.
EXTRAS: co-writers/director Ron Clements & John Musker, as well as producer Peter Del Vecho offer an audio commentary for the picture. The trio offers a lively and insightful discussion about the production, chatting about animation technical details/obstacles, character development, working with the cast, story and other elements. The three keep the discussion going quite well throughout the running time.
A little over 10 minutes of deleted scenes are offered, and appear in rough form, with introductions from the filmmakers. The scenes are interesting and enjoyable, although they wouldn't have added to the story. "Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess" is a "making of" featurette that runs around 20 minutes - the piece is somewhat better than the usual EPK featurette, offering enjoyable behind-the-scenes clips and analysis from the filmmakers.
"Bringing Life to Animation" offers three different clips, with commentary from the writer/directors. These clips offer a comparison between the final footage and the live-action reference of the scene that was filmed by the animators.
Also offered are a series of featurettes that run a few minutes each: "A Return to the Animated Musical", "Conjuring the Villain", "The Princess and the Animator", "Disney's Newest Princess", "The Disney Legacy" and "A Return to Hand-Drawn Animation". "Hand-Drawn", "Legacy" and "Return" are particularly enjoyable and offer some decent tidbits in their short running time.
Finally, we get a series of still galleries, "What Do You See?: Princess Portraits" interactive feature, Ne-Yo music video and previews for other titles from the studio.
Final Thoughts: "Princess and the Frog" isn't without a few minor concerns, but the picture's strong voice work, beautiful animation and delightful, old-fashioned charm makes for a highly enjoyable family film from Disney. The Blu-Ray offers beautiful image quality, which is accompanied by terrific sound quality and a strong set of extras. Recommended.
The Film B+