Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kissing Frogs

Texas is so much fun at this time of year. Yesterday, I walked to the movie theater and got a bit warm while wearing a loosely knitted sweater and a light denim jacket. Today, it's been below freezing most of the morning. These drastic temperature swings make it impossible to adjust to any particular kind of weather.

But it was lovely to walk to the theater. I haven't done that in ages, and it was a gorgeous day, so it was a pleasant walk. I went to see The Princess and the Frog, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was pretty much expecting to, as you might guess, since I've played with that story a lot, myself. I also like a lot of the cast.

I ended up enjoying it more than I was expecting to, though. The New Orleans and Louisiana setting was a fun twist for a fairy tale story, and my family is mostly from Louisiana, so it was a fairy tale close to home (I nearly fell out of my seat laughing at a Shreveport reference -- since Shreveport is one of the last places I expect to have mentioned in a Disney fairy tale movie). I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans over the years (it used to be a very popular location for telecommunications industry trade shows, so I was there several times a year for a while), and it's a place I feel like I know pretty well on some levels, which made the movie more real for me. The music even fit the locale, and I can't resist the idea of jazz in a fairy tale movie.

There's been a lot of hype about this being the first African-American Disney princess, but I probably found myself relating more to Tiana than I have to any other Disney princess, even though I'm about as white as you can get without glowing in the dark. A big reason for that is that she's one of the few Disney girls whose big dream had nothing to do with a man/wanting a man/wanting romance. She wasn't dreaming and wishing for her prince to come. She wasn't pining for the man she met once upon a dream. She wasn't wishing to go to the ball so she could meet a prince. She wasn't willing to give up her entire life so she could be with a prince she didn't even know. There was a lot of talk about how Belle in Beauty and the Beast was a new-generation Disney princess because she actually read books and was known for being intelligent, but even her dreams were about a nebulous life beyond the provinces with adventure like in her books -- and they included having someone who understood her dreams, while the books she read were about meeting Prince Charming. I saw Mulan and Pocahontas, but I have to confess that I don't remember anything about those movies, their heroines or what their dreams were (that was in the last-gasp phase when Disney wasn't even trying).

Tiana, however, has a very specific dream that has nothing to do with a man or romance. She wishes on a star to be able to open her own business, and she's totally focused on that. Finding a prince is a byproduct of what she's willing to do to achieve her goal, not the goal itself. She's not sitting around waiting for anything to happen. She's not looking for a fairy godmother. She's putting in the work instead of being magically rescued. She also gets to have real adventures along the way instead of being locked up somewhere.

The other cool thing that I think is groundbreaking for Disney in this film is that the women aren't evil or absent. Tiana's mother is still alive and is supportive of her. The villain isn't a woman. Tiana has an actual female friend who is not a funny little woodland creature or enchanted object. This is such a switch from the usual Disney pattern of female villains, or else no women in the story other than the heroine and maybe a wacky secondary sidekick.

Anika Noni Rose does a wonderful job with the voice of Tiana, which didn't surprise me. I loved her as the unsung Dreamgirl (who I thought was a better actress and singer than the one who was famous before the movie or the one who got all the acclaim) and she totally stole the show in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. I just wish they'd given her more songs, but that's a longstanding Disney pattern. They always seem to give the heroine just one big ballad and then maybe one or two lines in other songs, with most of the songs going to the wacky sidekick characters or villains. Even when she isn't singing, though, her speaking voice has this lovely warmth to it.

The rest of the voice cast was also wonderful. I've been known to watch History Channel documentaries on subjects I don't care about just to listen to Keith David's narration, so it was fun to hear him getting to cut loose as the villain. It's easy to forget in all the Oprah hype that before she was Her Oprahness, she got an Oscar nomination as an actor, so I was pleasantly surprised that for her role in this, she actually acted instead of merely being Her Oprahness. In fact, I wasn't sure at first which role she was doing.

However, this movie did hit one of my pet peeves for musical movies: the insipid pop song over the closing credits. With all the great music in the movie and all the wonderful singers in the cast, why did they need a lame pop song that wasn't in the movie, sung by someone not in the cast, to play over the closing credits? I guess they worry that The Young Folks won't buy the soundtrack album just for those show tunes type songs, so they need a hit by a pop star, but that's what's keeping me from buying the soundtrack. If they'd instead done a nice big ballad sung by Anika Noni Rose, I'd have walked to the Wal-Mart next to the theater right after seeing the movie to buy the soundtrack. As it is, there was enough music to make the movie enjoyable, but not enough that I want to listen to out of context.

I won't be at all surprised if the stage version of this hits Broadway in a year or so. Then maybe they'll do their usual thing of adding some new songs, and since Anika Noni Rose is primarily a Broadway actress, maybe they'll let her reprise the role, and then I'll buy the cast album with the extra music.

Meanwhile, the trailers mostly had me cringing about what passes for family or children's entertainment these days, with Pixar to finally save the day after a string of trailers for cynically insipid films. Their trailer for Toy Story 3 made me cry. Those people are good if they can make a trailer that brings wistful tears to your eyes.

1 comment:

Sandra Bandy said...

Shreveport at Sandra's mom's house: probably a memorable moment after a nice week at the beach and going to Shreveport only to have the dog lick your hair. Do you remember? SLB