I am really looking forward to seeing Disney’s newest movie, The Princess and the Frog. Yes, I’m serious, and no, I’m not 8 years old or African-American. I am a 22-year-old white kid who grew up during the height of Disney’s animated movie revolution. While Disney made some of its most beloved (and most awesome) movies between 1937 and the 1970s (101 Dalmatians, Cinderella, Snow White, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Dumbo, The AristoCats, Robin Hood, etc), the 1980s and 1990s brought about two very awesome things in the world of Disney: 1) the re-release of all the old classics on VHS for home enjoyment, and 2) a wave of amazing fun new animated movies to cherish.
Among these “new classics” were The Little Mermaid (which really got the ball rolling in 1989, though Oliver and Company and The Great Mouse Detective were two early 1980’s classics that are often overlooked), Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. These new Disney movies offered the same things that made the classics just that – classics. They had fun, catchy songs, beautiful animation, and an exciting and engaging story that appealed to both children and adults. The animal characters were cute, and the human characters… looked human.
And then something happened. That something was Toy Story. In 1995, Disney teamed up with a then-unknown animation studio named Pixar to release the first fully computer animated full-length movie. And it was great. It was a fun movie, a touching story about a friendship that emerges between two rivals. It also brought to life that possibility that every child wonders about when they leave their room: What if my toys come to life when I’m not looking? Yes, Toy Story was a delightful movie. The only problem was that Disney realized CG was cheaper than old-fashioned animation, and so it began making less traditionally animated movies, and the ones that it DID make were of lesser quality than those of the early 1990s. Instead of the beautiful and detailed animation that we got in Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King, we got Hercules and Tarzan. Even the songs were not as good. Can you remember a single song from Tarzan? I can’t, but I can sing you a rousing rendition of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty and the Beast. Eventually, Disney abandoned traditional animation altogether in favor of new-and-improved computer animation. Even movies starring characters who were traditionally hand-animated began showing up in CG instead (Winnie the Pooh and his gang, for example).
While the full length movies were cranked out in CG, cartoons for TV were still done in traditional animation, both in the world of Disney and in other networks, like Nick and Cartoon Network, but it was not the same. These cartoons were not cute. In fact, many were downright ugly. The animals were scary-looking or just gross, and the humans didn’t look human. The backgrounds were plain, ugly, or undetailed. My main examples of this phenomenon are Spongebob Squarepants and The Fairly Oddparents. Both shows are just weird and ugly, not at all like the cartoons I grew up with, and even these animated shows are the last of a dying breed. Both Nick and Disney are replacing many of their kids’ cartoons with live-action shows like iCarly, or, God forbid, Hannah Montana.
But then something happened. That something was The Princess and the Frog. It is important for two reasons: 1) It features Disney’s first African-American princess (and she’s pretty cute, from what I’ve seen), and 2) It is traditionally animated. I must admit, I was not entirely honest with you earlier. Disney does tend to put out one or two old-fashioned animated films per year. However, most of these are either sequels to a previous Disney film (Cinderella II , The Little Mermaid III, The Lion King 1 1/2 [wtf?]), or an otherwise minor film that generally goes straight to video. The Princess and the Frog is different. It is a bona fide full length film about an original character that is based on a timeless story. It has cute animated animals, who sing and play instruments. It has a young girl with big dreams who has big adventures. It basically follows the same formula that created so many other Disney classics. And that is what I hope this movie will be: an instant classic. I am deeply hoping that this movie will drum up a dormant love of traditional animation in older viewers, and will be immensely popular with the younger kiddies who have grown up on a steady CG diet.
So go on, Tiana. Take your rightful place on my movie shelf next to Cinderella, Belle, Jasmine, Aurora, Snow White, Mulan, and Pocahontas. And may you usher in a new era of animated Disney awesomeness to replace the horrible decade of bad animation and manufactured music stars that they’ve been pumping out. I think you just might be Disney’s saving grace, little Cajun queen.