- Today’s the day that The Princess and the Frog opens in two million theaters. It’s being called 2D animation’s last best chance of survival. Of course, that’s ridiculous; I don’t accept it for a minute. Just as I didn’t accept it when Eisner at Disney or Katzenberg at Dreamworks proclaimed 2D animation dead, several years ago.
But I’m conflicted.
Certainly, I want it to do well – extremely well; I’d like it to make the road easier for the next non-Winnie-the-Pooh feature at Disney. But I don’t think that this is going to be the best of the recent features – cgi, stop-motion OR hand drawn. I’m sure there’ll be a couple of tour de force animation sequences. Yet, there’s not much pulling me to any of those 2 million theaters.** I just don’t have the highest of expectations. Looking at the “Art” in the book, The Art of The Princess and the Frog didn’t warm me toward the film, either. There aren’t many pictures in the book that remotely represent “Art” to me.
Yet, I am looking forward to seeing it. Because it IS 2D animation drawn by some of the most acclaimed animators in the industry. I am anxious for them and want it to supersede my trepidations and be a positive for animation. The truth is that I don’t know what I’m going to see, and I want it to be better than the trailers and books promoting this film.
When I saw all the advance bits and pieces of The Fantastic Mr. Fox, I hated what I saw. I could imagine only negatives. The more I saw, however, the more I was being won over by the voice cast. When I saw the film, I loved it. I mean, I LOVED it. I’m looking forward to seeing it again . . . and again. Wes Anderson pulled together a brilliant film full of charm and wit and intelligence. It not only was one of my favorite animated films of the year, it was one of my favorite films . . . period.
Perhaps, that’s what’s in store for me with The Princess and the Frog. Perhaps the animators will overwhelm me, the directors will have a new vision, the artists will get to me. Perhaps, I’ll see everything I hope for. But I’ll have to wait.
I was set to see a screening on Dec 1st. But I can’t. There’s another more important event that evening. (Anytime live people are involved it wins hands-down over a filmed event.)
There’s the celebration at the Paley center of Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, complete with a panel consisting of Darrell Van Citters, Animator and Author of Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol: The Making of the First Animated Christmas Special, Judy Levitow, Daughter of Magoo Director Abe Levitow and Marie Matthews, Voice of “Young Scrooge”. I’ll be at the Paley Center.
I’ve arranged to see The Princess and the Frog on Dec. 5th. That’s Walt’s birthday, so it seemed appropriate. It’s two weeks after the opening, but I’ll manage. Or if not, I’ll do like everyone else and pay to see the film. The problem is that I’ve been seeing about five films a week (it’s Academy screening time), and sticking another one in there is difficult. We’ll see. Consequently, if I do give honest comments on this film (not that anyone is waiting) it’ll have to hold until then.
** Jerry Beck in the comment section wrote: that the film opens in “one or two theatres today in NY and LA. It opens in “two million theatres” on December 11th.” My mistake.
Regardless, the film got reviewed today. The race issue presented problems for some:
- Manohla Dargis’ NYTimes: Not quite glowing, she says the “. . . finale, like the story itself, represents progress of a kind, I suppose, even if this princess spends an uncommonly long time splashing around as a frog. A frog whose green hue suggests that, if nothing else, Disney finally recognizes that every little girl, no matter her color, represents a new marketing opportunity.”
The NYDaily News: (3 stars)”The good news is that “P&F” quickly cruises past the fact that Tiana is Disney’s first African-American heroine. Unfortunately, the story that surrounds her often finds itself stuck in the swamp.”
The NYPost 3 stars) A generally positive review but says that the film isn’t up to “Alladin”, “The Little Mermaid” or Pixar.
The Village Voice: A not enthusiastic review: “Much ballyhooed as Disney’s return to its tradition of 2-D “cel” animation after a five-year hiatus, The Princess and the Frog is pleasantly, if unmemorably, drawn. But the movie as a whole never approaches the wit, cleverness, and storytelling brio of the studio’s early-1990s animation renaissance . . .”
- Today’s also the day that The Fantastic Mr. Fox opens wide. Prior to this it played only four theaters in the US: two in NY and two in LA. It did exceptionally well at those four theaters; let’s hope it continues at a couple of thousand.
Go see it. That’s all I can say. This is a great film. Go see it.
- Let’s back up a bit and talk about that book – The Art of The Princess and the Frog. This is only one of about 16 books Disney’s releasing on the film. I’ve read that they’ve been very successful with any merchandise featuring Princess Tiana. Everything from the Little Golden Book to a cookbook. The one that intrigues me most is the Learn to Draw The Princess and the Frog. (In the past, they would have called it “How to draw . . .”)
But back to the one Chronicle sent me hoping for a review. I’ve been a fan of Chronicle’s animation books. Amid Amidi‘s exceptionally well designed book, Cartoon Modern, was the first book of theirs that grabbed my attention. It did what other Art/Animation books should have imitated. Amid’s follow-up, The Art of Pixar Short Films was equally attractive, though I didn’t have much interest in the subject.
The book, The Art of the Princess and the Frog is also well designed, graphically, but the material is, for me, less than thrilling. I’m not sure I am in tune with writer, Jeff Kurtti‘s approach to structuring the book.
The book, itself, seems less about animation than about how to display the artwork offered. It breaks chapters into characters or settings and gives lots of models, storyboards and Bg examples. It makes for a very different format in the book and makes for a new way of organizing the material.
There are plenty of storyboard selections to view.
This sequence by Jeremy Spears.
There are a lot of quotes from many of the principal artists and animators involved, and the book plays out from those quotes. There are a lot of characters analyzed in the book, so I’m curious to see how they play in the film and how much screen time any of them get.
The end result, for me, is that there doesn’t seem to be a strong focus in the book. I’m not sure what I should be looking for. Is it just a big scrapbook of artwork promoting the film? Or is there a larger focus that I missed? But then I get the feeling that the film is a mish-mash of styles, itself. The book doesn’t help in this regard, but, of course, it’s a gathering of a lot of preliminary art, so it’s hard to tell.
Given the large number of art books on the subject of various animated films, I suppose there have to be other models for the “Artwork of . . .” series, but I’m not sure this is it.
There are some interesting bits about the film that were stated. For example, the chapter on Background design illustrates how the artists looked closely at Lady and the Tramp for “inspiration”. Here’s a breakdown in two illustrations that the book uses to discuss this inspiration.
“. . . We looked at Lady and the Tramp not so much for the “application
of paint,” but definitely the caricature of shapes, and the compositional
elements. Large foreground elements utilizing the screen shape, and then
space of depth, and pattern, and a nice balance and rhythm of light shapes.”
I wonder what Disney film the Art Directors of Lady and the Tramp
studied when they were preparing to design their film?
The Lady and the Tramp Bg as it appears in
Bob Thomas’ The Art of Animation.
Bg for The Princess and the Frog by James Aaron Finch..
Should this be an inspiration for me or for future animation artists? The Thomas book was a model for me; for years I studied, memorized and pored over every picture of that book. I wonder how I would react to this if I were young and looking for something to keep me enthralled with the medium.
We need to redefine the art of “The Art of . . .” books. They have to be more than a promotional device> Throw enough pretty pictures at the audience and you’ll make enough sales to cover cost and bring people to the theaters. Some creativity might be required.
Here are a few of them.
Two illustrations by James Aaron Finch. .”
Something lost. Something gained?.”
Bill Schwab on the left | Rik Maki on the right
Eric Goldberg on the left | Bill Schwab on the right
Bg by Doug Reggers. There are a lot of steamships in the book.