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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

The Princess and the Frog [Blu-ray]

(Ron Clements & John Musker, 2009)

 

 

 

 

 

Single Disc version also available:


 

  Re-issued with a DVD on February 8th, 2011:

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Walt Disney Animation Studios

Blu-ray: Walt Disney Home Entertainment

 

Disc:

Region: A-locked (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:30:26.295

Disc Size: 48,014,931,059 bytes

Feature Size: 26,009,978,880 bytes

Video Bitrate: 24.10 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Expanded Blu-ray case w/ flippage

Release date: March 16th, 2010

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC Video

 

 

Audio:

DTS-HD Master Audio English 3750 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3750 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Dolby Digital Audio French 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Portuguese 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio Spanish 640 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 640 kbps
Dolby Digital Audio English 320 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 320 kbps / Dolby Surround
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps

 

Subtitles:

English (SDH), French, Portuguese, Spanish, none

 

Extras:

• The Making of a Princess: Magic in the Bayou – (22:11)

• Bringing Life to Animation – (8:08)

• Disney's Newest Princess – (2:51)

• The Princess & the Animator – (2:26)

• Conjuring the Villain – (1:50)

• The Return of Hand-Drawn Animation – (2:43)

• The Disney Legacy – (2:31)

• A Return to the Animated Musical – (3:13)

• Deleted Scenes – (11:43)

• Music Video by Ne-Yo – (4:04)

• BDisney Live

• DVD of the Feature Film

• Digital Copy Disc

 

 

The Film: 8
Pixar may have the lock on 3D animation, but from Snow White through Lilo and Stitch, Disney has remained the gold standard for hand-drawn animated feature films (that is, until the discovery of Hayao Miyazaki, not coincidentally distributed in the U.S. on video by Buena Vista). There was that misstep in 2004 with the dreadful Home on the Range – but it was the story, not the artwork that resulted, for entirely the wrong reasons, the kiss of sleepless death for hand-drawn art for the studio. Studio bosses made the mistake of thinking audiences needed that reach out and touch it dimensionality that Toy Story, Antz and Shrek offered. Ironically, when John Lasseter, who had made Pixar the King of 3D CG animation, came over to Disney as Chief Creative Officer in 2006, he made the wise decision to offer his support for that which Disney has always done best.

The Princess and the Frog is written and directed by the team of Ron Clements and John Musker, who gave us Aladdin and The Little Mermaid, among others (not, I am happy to say, Home on the Range.) It was Musker and Clements that Lasseter brought back to life out of mothballs, as it were, feeling strongly, as I and many others do, that this is an art form that needs encouragement, not a requiem. (A bit of trivia I picked up about John Musker is that he went to the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia - just north of L.A. - with John Lasseter, Brad Bird and Tim Burton.)

With all the fanfare about Disney's first animated African American leading lady, which is true enough, it is easy to forget Mulan, Lilo and Aladdin's Princess Jasmine. Perhaps more significant about Tiana, our frog's favorite princess, is that she is a fairly contemporary figure and not a character of antiquity and legends. Placing her story in New Orleans in the 1920s offers not only a slice of Americana, but the ideal opportunity for the return of the animated musical, a genre that had kind of been put on ice since The Lion King and the death of Howard Ashman. (Yes, I am deliberately ignoring Disney's other attempts at reviving the genre.) Randy Newman's songs in Princess and the Frog may not quite match the inspiration and consistency of Ashman and Alan Menken, but they acquit themselves without embarrassment and aren't all that shabby on their own terms.

I hesitate providing a plot summary, or even divulging the set-up, for nothing should spoil your being naïve at the moment of the kiss. But that's probably asking too much. So let's try this: Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose, who looks too much like Tiana for comfort) is a young woman whose obsession in life is to fulfill her father's dream for her, which, as she sees it, is to have her own restaurant, catering to a clientele appreciative of her fine Cajun cooking. Her daddy died in World War I, which only fueled Tiana's ambition all the more. Her mama (Oprah Winfrey) tries in vain to reinterpret her daughter's understanding of what was important for her daddy as things closer to home, but Tiana is steadfast.

Meanwhile, Tiana's wealthy childhood friend, Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), the very portrait of a narcissistic southern debutante – and we love her for it – pines for her prince, as she has ever since she wished for hers on the evening star long ago. "Lottie" makes it quite clear that she would be willing to resort to kissing a frog if it meant finding her prince. Tiana finds the prospect revolting, to say nothing of its going against her idea of ethics: one should work hard, and then work harder.

Enter: visiting Prince Naveen (a rake, a charmer, a playboy – you name it - voiced by Bruno Campos). Naveen arrives by boat with his loyal and besieged valet, Lawrence (Peter Bartlett – not, as I guessed by the look and sound of him, Timothy Spall) to find a wealthy princess of his own to marry, else forfeit his inheritance – or something to that effect. Both Naveen and Lawrence are ready made for the wiles of the great con artist and voodoo conjurer and Shadow Man, Doctor Facilier (Keith David), whose ambition in life is a bit more, how shall I say, considerable than Tiana's.

Charlotte has her daddy – that's "Big Daddy" of course (who else, but John Goodman!) – put on major costume ball in honor of Naveen, who shows up in a most unexpected outfit. That's quite enough. And now to return to our review:

What's an animated feature without art and life. It was Disney that developed the idea that moving drawings could have expression, and thus character, and thus life. Each of the studio's major contributions to the form have had their own unique artistic style, their own production design, if you will. The Princess and the Frog is no different. There are echoes from 2-dimensional features of the past, most recently and effectively, Mulan, but here fine line drawing and flat perspective takes on the aspect of a sophisticated magazine cartoon rather than a Chinese watercolor. In addition – and this is both ambitious and risky from a formal point of view – each song has its own look to go with it. The trick is to make everything work coherently.

Once we move from what is taken to be reality to what we must take as fanciful, two things happen, Disney gives himself permission to let the stops out artistically, which makes sense, and he brings in more fanciful animated animals: an alligator, a firefly, in addition to frogs, and to devise adventures for them to meet and overcome whilst on their way back to the starting point. For me, this was a stretch, even for a fairy tale. A talking, singing, dancing frog is one thing, but the more critters that speak, the less interesting froggie gets. The writing gets more obviously clichéd and the situations predictable, and Tiana's first kiss, anticlimactic.

That criticism aside, the animation is awesome, the colors stunning, the line art exquisite. The Princess and the Frog is a joy to behold.

 



Image: 10/10  NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Perfect. No nicks, no scratches, no transfer issues, the line art maintains integrity with aliasing or other pesky problems. The color is always consistent. Motion remains intact. Blah, blah, blah, blah.

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/8
The dialogue is 100% looped and studio controlled: what we hear is what was intended, so my one niggling complaint that Doctor Facilier sounds too fat, is just an difference in artistic judgment. The musical numbers come alive with instrumental timbres so true you can sense their presence in the room; just feel the plumy weight of that bass drum, the razzle of the snare drum, and the silvery tones of Louis' trumpet. The singing and choruses, too, are vividly presented. Effects and atmosphere subtly and fantastically realized in the room with proper locational cuing. You may have to duck as Ray the firefly buzzes past your ear and over your head.

 

Operations: 6
The menu design permits only three chapter thumbnails at a time, and scrolling that requires one click for each scene. This is not nice. In a similar vein of user unfriendliness, there are several brief bonus features that should have been presented together in a Play All.

 

 

Extras: 8
Ron Clements & John Musker are on hand to introduce and/or guide us through most of the bonus features. I had high hopes for both The Return of Hand-Drawn Animation and The Disney Legacy, but there is only five minutes between them to put The Princess and the Frog into perspective. Here and elsewhere Musker, Clements and others refer to the "Nine Old Men" – Disney's pioneering artists in the medium, a few of whom were still available to give these guys a hand when they joined the studio years ago. "A Return to the Animated Musical" spotlights Randy Newman's contribution to the movie. Another feature shortchanged in the packet.

In "Magic in the Bayou" "The Princess and the Animator" and "Bringing Life to Animation" (a redundant title if you think about it for a moment) we see how storyboards and live action supplements are rendered into animated drawings and then the finished product.

Storyboarding with vocals (a nice touch, even if not necessarily the voices they ended up with) are useful in the Deleted Scenes. The Music Video is nicely presented in widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. All of the Bonus Features are in good-looking HD.

 

 

Bottom line: 9
The story fails to deliver on its promise once Tiana kisses her frog, but the visuals are among the best Disney has given us. The high definition rendering of image and sound is demonstration quality as well as satisfying entertainment. Disney offers this title in a single disc box, without the digital copy and DVD. Worth considering for those who don't need them.

Leonard Norwitz
March 16th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

Single Disc version also available:


 

  Re-issued with a DVD on February 8th, 2011:


About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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