Friday, 5 February 2010


It's rather frustrating, but having recently seen Disney's latest animated film, The Princess and the Frog - opening in UK cinemas nationwide today - I don't unfortunately have the time (due to a fearfully pressing book deadline) to write about it in the kind of detail I would, normally, find hard to resist! Still, at least it saves you having to read an interminably long post!

The film, loosely based on the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale, 'The Frog Prince', is relocated in Jazz Age, New Orleans and features a non-princess princess (it's all part of the plot, look it up on Wikipedia!) named Tiana and has been hailed as a landmark (or lambasted for being behind its time) for the fact that it features the first African-American Disney heroine.

However, as it happens, Tiana is not the first black character in a Disney animated film and she has several non-white predecessors including Pocahontas, Mulan, Lilo and Esmeralda.

The film is significant for another, less debated, reason in that it is the first hand-drawn Disney film since the studio chucked out all the pencil-wielders six years ago and turned animation over the digital whiz-kids of Pixar. Personally, I like Pixar animation and I like traditional hand-drawn animation and it is to the credit of Pixar (now Disney) supremo, John Lasseter, that he has brought back those traditional animation techniques to the studio whose fortunes were founded on that very art form.

The Princess and the Frog is a good yarn, rattlingly well told, filled with strong characters, great music, one or two frights, a typical dollop of Disney pathos and is, all in all, vibrantly brought to life in a medium that - due to the success of such films as Toy Story and Little Nemo - has been too long neglected.

And, for what it's worth, I think Tiana is portrayed as a proactive, self-determining character who'll provide a positive role-model for any child of any colour, since what she represents is the importance of what we all are beneath the skin.

Can't stop to tell you more, but on tonight's Radio 2 Arts Show - at around 11:30 pm if your Horlicks hasn't kicked-in by then - you can hear me interviewing the film's directors, Ron Clements and John Musker (who also gave us The Little Mermaid and Aladdin) and afterwards discussing the film with the show's host, Claudia Winkleman. And, as usual, it'll be there on BBC iPlayer for the next seven days.

Just one word of warning!

Before trundling your tots off to the cinema to see The Princess and the Frog you should be aware of a news story revealing that, last month, FIFTY children in the US (mostly girls under the age of 10) were taken to hospital suffering with salmonella poisoning after kissing frogs!

Both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians (I didn't know reptiles and amphibians could become vets!) issued statements warning parents of the dangers of allowing children to handle and kiss frogs.

By the way, I hope you noticed "mostly girls", but obviously not exclusively!!

Here (if you've not already seen it) is the trailer...


Suzanne said...

What about the health hazards of kissing guys who turn into toads?
edlevent: an important event which has to be missed due to other important commitments

Brian Sibley said...

Said with feeling, SUZANNE! A sentiment, I suspect, with which quite a lot of us can empathise!

SharonM said...

Well said, Suzanne!

But kissing real toads - yuck!

It looks a reasonably enjoyable film to see - since it is set in New Orleans, I would hope that the music would be really good.

You and Claudia Winkelman - did she suggest you take part in the next Strictly Come Dancing?

Brian Sibley said...

You mean doing the zimmer-frame tango?

Andy J. Latham said...

I'm going to see it tonight! Woohoo!

I've been in a permanent state of excitement since first hearing about the film 3 years ago. My colleages must find me unbearable today :P

Brian Sibley said...

Steady, lad! You'll be hyperventilating next! Hope it lives up to hopes/expectations. I think it's pretty fab! :)

At the end of the film, when the audience stampede starts, try to get yourself somewhere where you can watch the end-titles without heads going across your line of vision: they are the most exquisite series of pastel drawings.

Also in the final scene in Tiana's restaurant - note the name of the musical group displayed on the base-drum: a little in-joke you'll enjoy!

Have fun...

ChrisF said...

That news story sounds like urban myth.

Ryan Rasmussen said...

I, too, am pleased to see the return of Disney's hand-drawn animation, as well as a general upswing in the storytelling (last year's Bolt was great fun, too).

This was Hawk's first proper film viewing (he got excited whenever the TV ads came on; in fact, even waking from a dead sleep to bop to the music) and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. What a delightful film!

(And hallo from the southern hemisphere!)

Brian Sibley said...

CHRIS F - Could be... More a case, I think, of linking fact to fiction: here's one version of the news story connecting the statistics to the film; and here, without the movie reference, are details of those medical stats.

For further reference, this is the American Veterinary Association's warning and an update from the Department of Health and Human Services/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In any event, when all's said and done, it's probably best to leave the frog-kissing experiments to Princess Tiana.

RYAN - Great to hear from you! I hope life is good in the Southern Hemisphere - give the island and the city my love! Also nice to have a genuine 'user testimonial' on the film. Thanks, Hawk!

Andy J. Latham said...

Brian, it surpassed my expectations! I loved it! It took me right back to my childhood.

Dr Facilier is a fine villain, one of Disney's best in my opinion, beautifully animated and very very creepy. Is this the first Disney film to carry a 12A certificate? I've never known them to go higher than PG before.

Yes, after the round of applause that the film received, I did stay for the credits as I always do with animated films, and often do for live action ones. The drawings used are indeed lovely. The cinema staff were impatiently waiting for us (as the last two there) to leave!

And I had to stop myself leaping up and pointing when I saw the "Firefly Five Plus Lou" with Frank Thomas at the piano. That was a really nice little touch. I wonder how many films Frank and Ollie have appeared in now? I know of three....Princess and the Frog, The Incredibles and Iron Giant. On That subject, this is interesting.

Oh and how good were the songs in "Frog"? Randy Newman did a sterling job with them, as did the couple of other song writers I noticed in the credits.

All in all, a top-notch film that I will certainly be going to see again before it finishes it's cinema run.

And it's a great time for 2D animation in general with Ponyo coming out finally next week and the new film by Sylvain Chomet next month.

Brian Sibley said...

ANDY - Thanks for sharing your response. Glad you enjoyed it as much as you (and I) hoped you would!

Only time will tell whether hand-drawn animation has really made a come-back. I think there is still a view out there that computer animation is 'cool' and, somehow, more 'grown-up' than hand-drawn films.

Princess & Frog and Up are going head-to-head at the Oscars and I'm sure that'll prove a non-contest; but, personally, I love both types of animation (although I have a greater passion for the grace and fluidity of the hand-drawn medium) and hope they will be able to co-exist. I guess it's largely down to John Lasseter, now that he's the animation-supremo at Disney. Fingers crossed.

Thanks for the Brad Bird in-jokes link. I never previously noticed the newspaper headline from Lady and the Tramp being being re-worked. Fun!

On your question about animated film appearances by those two great veteran Disney animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnson (both of whom I had the privilege of knowing for many years) there is also a reference to them in the 1995 Disney Mickey Mouse short, Runaway Brain: Mickey's adventure begins when he visits the laboratory of the mad scientist, 'Dr Frankenollie'!

Andy J. Latham said...

You know with all these legends you have known, it's about time someone was interviewing you Brian! :P

How did you come to know Frank and Ollie? I'd give anything to meet some of my animation heroes. Obviously Frank and Ollie would be a bit difficult though! I'd love to meet people like Glen Keane, Eric Goldberg, Bruce Smith, Andreas Deja, James Baxter, or any of the other people on my infinite list!

Thanks for the tip-off on the Mickey short. I just watched it. I like the nods to Steamboat Willie in it! And I notice that the monster is voiced by Jim Cummings who did Ray in TPATF :D

I'm quite sure that all forms of animation from 2D to motion capture should be able to co-exist. Each has their own strengths. I'm hoping the "coolness" associated with CG is dying away a little. The thing that saddens me is the sheer volume of animated films in production. I think Dreamworks are due to be the first to release two animated films in the same year. That studio is already a bit hit and miss when it comes to quality, so I don't think increasing quantity over quality is going to help!

Brian Sibley said...

I first met Frank and Ollie when I was co-writing The Disney Studio Story. Subsequently I interviewed them for a couple of BBC radio series I made and, on one occasion, at the NFT on South Bank.

We also met socially in LA and London and at various Disney events in the US. I loved them both (along with my other favourite Disney veterans, Marc Davis, John Hench and Ward Kimball) and I treasure memories of those meetings along with my correspondence from them - including many years of their annual Christmas cards, all of which, as you'd imagine, were highly individual!

Brian Sibley said...

This is really just for ANDY...

One glaring omission from my list of Disney Veterans I've been privileged to know: Joe Grant - a sweet, modest, genius who's fingerprints are over all the early features and who then, in late life, came back to Disney and contributed to many of the later features like Pocahontas and Mulan. He was one of the masters...

Something that struck me about the Disney legacy in relation to TP&TF: just as some of the animators we've talked about (commonly referred to as Disney's 'Nine Old Men') carried the torch following Walt's death and passed it on to a new generation of animators, so a new set of Disney Elder Statesmen - Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg and a bunch of others who knew worked with some of those NOM - are now, once again, passing on the torch...

When you look back at the history of the Disney studio, you can see various times when it seemed that the future of animated features was doomed: when the studio was ham-strung by WWII; when Disney died and everyone supposed animation would also die; when the animation unit was kicked out of the studio and sent away to work in warehouses and overseas; and, most recently, when everyone decided that the future was 3D not 2D.

Fortunately - thank, Walt! - there has, on each occasion, been a rebirth. Long may this present revival last!

Andy J. Latham said...

I second that! Thankfully it seems that Disney are trying their best to keep the traditional arm of animation alive with future projects like Winnie the Pooh and The Snow Queen. I must admit I was a bit taken aback when I heard that the next one is Pooh, but the more I hear about it, the more I'm looking forward to it as it sounds like they are treating it with a lot more care than with the recent Pooh offerings.

Joe Grant really did do a lot didn't he? What a fantastic career! And if Wikipedia is to be believed, his own Springer Spaniel was the inspiration for Lady in Lady and the Tramp. Even his dog is a genius!

Brian Sibley said...

As something of a Poohologist, I must confess that I await the new Pooh with a mix of hope and dread! The first three Pooh shorts were - whilst not entirely faithful to the letter and line of A A Milne and E H Shepard - fun and well-crafted. The later ones (plus the more recent permutations in puppetry and digital animation) seem a long way from the Bear of Very Little Brain that I know and love. But we will see...

As to Joe and his spaniel: yes, she was the model for Lady. My book The Disney Studio Story contains a drawing from Joe's collection made at the time he was working with Dick Huemer (with whom Joe had written Dumbo) for a film based on Joe's dog.

An early version of this story can be found in a book called Walt Disney's Surprise Package. The film was never made and much later Disney combined elements of it with a male dog character in a book by Ward Greene called Happy Dan, The Whistling Dog, the result being, as you say, Lady and the Tramp. Joe had left the studio by that time and received no credit on the film.

Joe was also a brilliant caricaturist (it was his show-biz cartoons that got him his first Disney gig on Mickey's Gala Premiere); a fine graphic designer (his commercial Christmas card designs are superb); and, working with his daughter, the creator of stylishly idiosyncratic ceramic plaques, one of which - depicting some kind of Tiki god - hangs on the wall near my front door - to ward off any Shadowmen and to remind me of my old friend.

Andy J. Latham said...

Thanks for the extra info Brian, I'm going to have to learn more about Joe as he sounds like quite a person. I'll have to get hold of your Disney Studio Story book at some point as it sounds like a treasure trove of information :)