The Princess and the Frog (2009)

The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker. Starring: Anika Noni Rose, Bruno Campos, Keith David. Released: December 11, 2009. Runtime: 1h 37 min.

There are so many Disney films I still haven’t seen and 2009’s The Princess and the Frog was near the top of the list. The story follows a waitress named Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) who dreams of opening a restaurant. A wrench is thrown in that plan Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos) of Maldonia comes to visit and he crosses paths with the villainous Shadow Man, Dr. Facilier (Keith David) and gets turned into a frog. Mistaking Tiana for a princess, Prince Naveen kisses Tiana hoping to be turned back into a human – but Tiana herself gets turned into a frog and they take an adventure through the bayous of New Orleans.

My favourite aspect of The Princess of the Frog is just the culture of New Orleans and how filmmaking team Ron Clements and John Musker incorporate the popular elements of the city. The film takes place during Mardi Gras and the main dish of the restaurant Tiana wants to open – called Tiana’s Place – is gumbo. The main villain of the film, the Shadow Man, also uses voodoo and he is a great villain. Keith David’s performance is fantastic and his “Friends on the Other Side” song has to be one of my favourite villain songs. These friends from the underworld make for some creepy scenes, too, and look visually great.

Of course, jazz is heavily infused into the music throughout. This is especially the case with a friendly alligator Tiana and Prince Naveen meet called Louis (Michael-Leon Wooley) whose dream is to play the trumpet with the boys, but everyone runs in fear because, well, he’s a giant alligator. Cajun music is also infused in the tune “Gonna Take You There” when our characters meet one of the main comic relief sidekicks, a firefly called Ray (Jim Cummings). As for the music itself, I don’t think it’s as memorable or catchy as some other songs of the last couple years – especially Frozen or even Clements and Musker’s 2016 film Moana – but they make great listening while watching the film. The only one in the actual film I think I’d ever hum is Tiana’s “Almost There” song. Though, I never realized Ne-Yo’s “Never Knew I Needed” was from this soundtrack and that was one song I would always listen to like 10 years ago.

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Keith David in The Princess and the Frog. (IMDb)

That main theme plays a huge part in the film as the film is all about following your dreams and thinking you know what you need, but finding what you actually need along the way. The film also has a strong message of working hard to get what you need throughout. This all happens organically through Tiana and Naveen’s relationship, and their chemistry is great. Anika Noni Rose has a really nice singing voice as Tiana, and her voice acting is great, too.

I liked their story, though I think I got more enjoyment throughout the film from the comedy from the sidekick animals Louis and Ray. As for the animation, I liked the classic look of the film and the character designs, especially the look of the villain Facilier. I think the story feels like standard Disney but it’s memorable because of all the visuals and the very New Orleans elements at play. There’s also a hopeless romantic vibe to this, too, especially as Ray – who is voiced so well by Jim Cummings – thinks his girlfriend is a star in the sky called Evangeline. It’s a bit silly at first, but it turns out quite lovely.

Score: 75/100

PODCAST – Popcorn Flicks, Episode #2, “You Wish!”

PODCAST – Popcorn Flicks, Episode #2, “You Wish!”

I’ve heard that sometimes, a long wait is good for anticipation. But sometimes, there’s too long of a wait. And with the second episode of my Disney Channel Original Movie podcast, Popcorn Flicks, the wait was definitely too long, as I posted the first episode on March 17th. The first episode can be found here, and like I said there, I run the podcast with my friend Bobby Strate, who I met through the scriptwriting program we attended in Algonquin College in Ottawa.

Part of the reason why it’s taken so long to get this out is because we ended up having to re-record it because the first time we recorded it was just too rough. Since we care about the listeners, we wanted to record it again. On the second episode we review the 2003 Disney Channel Original Movie, “You Wish!” because, like the last film, there’s also a lucky coin in this one.

Luckily, we also enjoyed this film more than the last one. We discuss almost everything about this one so of course there will spoilers. I’d love to hear feedback so you can either leave a comment or e-mail me at danielprinn@msn.com. I also don’t have a logo yet but we have a little theme song. There’s still a little vulgarity but it’s not as bad as the first episode and again, this isn’t sponsored by or affiliated with Disney in any way. Also, for the next episode there will be a podcast name change and I hope to have the third episode up in a week or so! Thanks for listening.

I’ve added the audio podcast to the post itself, and to download it, just go here and click the three dots and that it will give the option to download it. (By the way, I don’t mean to condescend by explaining how to download it, just thought I’d include those instructions in case.)

Noelle (2019)

Noelle (2019)

Directed by: Marc Lawrence. Starring: Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Shirley Maclaine. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 12, 2019.

This review contains spoilers.

When Santa Claus dies, the mantle is handed down to his son Nick Kringle (Bill Hader), but he’s scared to take on the role and runs away to Phoenix. His sister, Noelle Kringle (Anna Kendrick) must track him down and bring him back so they can save Christmas.

Noelle has some solid fish-out-of-water humour as Noelle goes to Phoenix to find her brother, which gives it an Elf vibe and there’s nothing wrong with channeling a great movie. I’m also convinced that Anna Kendrick makes any film better and it’s no different here as she brings such a charm to this film. Kendrick truly embodies Christmas spirit as Noelle, as Noelle herself learns what Christmas is all about. Bill Hader’s also good as her brother Nick, and their chemistry is enjoyable. Like Kendrick, Hader can make any film better. Elf Polly (Shirley MacLaine) who helps Noelle is also great acting alongside her.

The story itself is predictable, but to be fair, it would be an honest challenge to find a Christmas film that isn’t predictable. Of course we know by the end that Noelle becomes Santa, but it’s the journey that matters. Some of the moments where everyone but her notices that should be the real Santa are sweet, notably when she speaks to a young girl using sign language though she doesn’t know sign language, as only natural Santa’s have a knowledge of every language. Noelle is a good character in her own right, but Kendrick and her general wholesomeness really makes her come alive.

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Anna Kendrick in Noelle. (IMDb)

A problem with the story here is a lack of conflict. The main conflict is getting Nick back to the North Pole so they can save Christmas because of the Christmas deadline. Meanwhile, back at the North Pole, Mrs. Claus (the delightful Julie Hagerty) is stressing because the interim Santa Claus isn’t working out. By the way, Noelle isn’t simply handed the Santa reigns from the start because the role of Santa is “traditionally” played by a man. This interim Santa is their cousin Gabriel Kringle (Billy Eichner) who works in the technology department. He wants to take some of the joy out of Christmas and deliver presents by drone, and he also comes up with an algorithm for the naughty and nice list that only has less than 3,000 “nice” children in the world because all the kids have minor infractions. The film dips its foot into this conflict but it never really feels like it comes into fruition as it’s all talk. The conflict would be nice, though it would have felt like the Toy Santa villain plot in The Santa Clause 2 if it had actually embraced it, and instead feels like filler.

Noelle’s “friendship” interest here is private investigator Jake Hapman (Kingsley Ben-Adir) who helps her find Nick in Phoenix. Her relationship with this man is fine and it’s unclear throughout if it’s platonic or a love interest, or just a friendship based on the spirit of Christmas and helping each other out. Either way, they’re fine together and Noelle’s friendship and kindness to his son Alex (Maceo Smedley) is charming.

Despite its flaws, I think Noelle is a good film as Anna Kendrick’s performance just distracts so well from any shortcomings, and it’s fun throughout, too. It’s also a solid first effort at an original film on the Disney+ service. And in terms of Christmas movies, I don’t know if I’d watch this every year, but Anna Kendrick would sure make me consider it.

Score: 70/100

Togo (2019)

Togo (2019)

Directed by: Ericson Core. Starring: Willem Dafoe, Julianne Nicholson, Christopher Heyerdahl. Runtime: 1h 53 min. Released: December 20, 2019.

Some spoilers follow.

The story of the sled dog, Togo, who led the 1925 serum run in Nome, Alaska, but was considered by most to be too small and weak to ever lead a dog race. Togo is a true underdog story as even his owner, Leonhard Seppala (Willem Dafoe), never thought he would amount to much. We see through flashbacks Togo being a hyperactive pup and smartly getting out of his pen to go race beside Seppala’s sled dogs.

These scenes are charming as we see how Togo becomes Seppala’s most trusted dog. Dafoe is stellar as Seppala as he leads a noble expedition to get the serum from Nenana, about 675 miles away, as the weather is too harsh for the serum to be flown to Nome. The stakes are high because of the diphtheria outbreak in Nome, and this expedition is to save the lives of the town’s children. Seppala leads the dogs but Togo is the lead interest in the film as an aging dog that looks to be on his final legs.

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Willem Dafoe in Togo. (IMDb)

Seppala knows the risks of using Togo as his lead dog because of his age, but he knows that if he doesn’t bring Togo, they’d never make it. The story about a man and his dog is excellent here and the chemistry is great. The drama here is excellent, too, especially with a charming Julianne Nicholson as Constance Seppala who is the only one who really fights for Togo when he’s a pup.

The action here is also breathtaking and so is the cinematography by Ericson Core, who also directs. The action’s at its most incredible when they race across the Norton Sound, ice breaking and all, and the way back is even more intense. The film has all the inspiration of a sports movie, and brief sports scenes of an actual dog race, the All-Alaska Sweepstakes, shines. I’d just love to see a live-action dog racing film that has a similar look and tone, because a feature-length story of a dog race would be great. I’ve only ever really seen a dog race in Snow Dogs in film, but that’s just a goofy comedy.

I think this is an excellent untold story of Togo as he and Seppala traveled the longest out of any of the relay teams of 260 miles through beyond freezing conditions. Togo’s the star of the 1925 serum run, and the film’s not trying to take away any of the fame of the most-known dog of this race, Balto, it’s just sharing the lesser known tale of Togo.

Score: 80/100

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book (2016)
The Jungle Book
Source

Released: April 15, 2016. Directed by: Jon Favreau. Starring: Neel Sethi, Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley. Runtime: 1hr, 45 min.

Director Jon Favreau brings his vision of Rudyard Kipling’s classic story of The Jungle Book to the big screen – telling the story with fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

It’s a coming-of-age tale about Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a man-cub finding his place in his world with animals in the Indian jungle. In fact, Mowgli is one of the film’s only live-action actors with any substantial contribution to the story.

Seethi is given a high task to carry the film as the only live-action actor. His performance is remarkable, capturing the bravery and charming curiosity of Mowgli, as well as his inventive personality.

He’s the heart of the film and he shows a great maturity as the character. It feels like he’s been performing for years – but this is his first theatrical film, his only prior experience was in a short film called Diwali.

While Seethi is virtually the only live-action actor on display in the core cast – the world between the human Mowgli and the motion-captured, computer-generated animals blend together so seamlessly, it feels like he’s truly interacting with real animals.

The visual effects are flawless and so is the attention to detail in how the animals are rendered. It’s really as great as Life of Pi in terms of creating realistic, visually striking animals. The landscape portrayed is vivid and adds to the film all around. The way the actors capture animals’ behaviour and movements adds a heightened realism.

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Neel Sethi in The Jungle Book (Source)

The voice performances for the classic characters are also great. Bill Murray encapsulates Baloo – his laziness is relatable and he’s a fun character.

Ben Kingsley portrays Bagheer, the panther who found Mowgli as an infant in the jungle. He’s also tasked with bringing him to safety to return to his own kind when he is threatened by Shere Khan, the fearsome Bengal tiger. Idris Elba is menacing as the primary villain and doesn’t like Mowgli in the jungle because he is a human and doesn’t trust them. A human gave Shere Khan his scars. This adds a layer to Mowgli, who at times has to question if he could be destructive like that, too.

Also notable is the presence of Christopher Walken as King Louie. He’s changed from an orangutan to a gigantopithecus, to make it native to India. It also gives the scenes with Louie a much grander feel and breathtaking scale because he is so hulking. He’s actually scary here, in a refreshing turn from the original.

His rendition of the original Disney’s “I Wanna Be Like You” serves as one of the feature’s many high points.

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Neel Sethi as Mowgli and Kaa (Scarlett Johansson) in The Jungle Book. (Source)

Murray also sings “Bear Necessities” and Scarlett Johansson as Kaa sings “Trust In Me” through the end credits. That’s it for the songs used from the 1967 animated musical.

Jon Favreau chose to tell the story of how Mowgli got on his own when Kaa (Johansson) was hypnotizing Mowgli, instead of having her sing the song. The slithering character is seen in only one scene – but she’s memorably chilling.

The choice to cast Johansson and gender-swap the character was to done to add another female to the cast, where the only other primary female cast member is Lupita Nyong’o as Raksha.

It is one of the film’s only disappointing aspects that Kaa only has a small role, almost a cameo – as the more utilized “red flower,” fire to the animals, is more utilized as a villain here. The animated Disney flick basically only mentioned “red flower” in passing, so Favreau was more faithful to Kipling’s use of the element.

The way the story is structured is strong and the narrative is so engaging and entertaining. It also handles the iconic characters so, so well. This adaptation was penned by Justin Marks, who shows a great adapting ability. His two other prior screenwriting credits were a television movie (Rewind) and a video game adaptation (Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li).

It might not have songs at every turn, but it handles its own very well as a film with a few violent moments. The third act is a great finale, and the film maintains a compelling pace – peppering comedy, drama and stunning action set pieces throughout. Some of the action even kept me on the edge of my seat at times.

Favreau perfectly finds a difficult balance of capturing the Disney magic, as well as making a mature adaptation that is unique and memorable. I think parents will be bugging their kids to see it so they have an excuse to watch it. And then watch it again. It’s truly great.

Score: 100/100

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

Hundred-Foot JourneyReleased: August 8, 2014. Directed by: Lasse Hallströme. Starring: Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal. Runtime: 122 min.

Lasse Hallströme helms another adaptation (his follow-up to the awfully silly “Safe Haven”), this time written by Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”) and adapted from The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais; a novel about cooking, not walking.

It follows the Kadam family, who move to France from India to both start anew (especially after the main character’s mother dies) and escape local political violence. Hassan (Manish Dayal) is the main protagonist who has a passion for food. He and his family open up a traditional Indian restaurant next door to Madame Mallory’s (Helen Mirren) French cuisine restaurant that has received one out of a three possible Michelin stars from the annual Michelin Guidebook.

The one star is to say that “it is a very good restaurant in its category.” The film basically depicts the uptight Mallory wanting another Michelin star (which says the restaurant has “excellent cooking and is worth a detour”). She can’t get her hopes up too high for a third star, because as one character describes it – that is for “the Gods.”

Officially, the guidebook says that it has “exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey.” This leads me to believe the film’s title has a dual meaning – saying that Mallory’s restaurant is worth the journey to eat at; and the main meaning is that the Kadam family opens their restaurant one-hundred feet away from hers. As if the struggles of opening an Indian restaurant in France were not difficult enough.

Mirren is good as Mallory, and it’s interesting to see her relax throughout the film. Also good is Om Puri as Hassan’s grandfather, whose stubborn nature brings humour to the lightly entertaining film – especially matched against Mallory’s stubborn nature. The stand-out is the young Manish Dayal who plays the passionate cook who doesn’t believe recipes necessarily have to stay the same.

This adds diversity when the film starts to merge Indian cuisine with traditional French cuisine. It also breaks barriers between the cultures, enabling lovely multiculturalism, always a welcome theme in Disney films. Also notable is the memorable Charlotte Le Bon as Hassan’s friend, and employee of Madame Mallory, Marguerite. When the two friends get too competitive, it interrupts the easy-going flow with troubling and frustrating conflict. There’s enough conflict without it, with the constant, but amusing, ways both restaurant owners attract customers. This sub-plot just isn’t enjoyable. At least it’s better than Meryl Streep’s Julia Child voice in “Julie & Julia.”

Score80/100

Frozen (2013)

FrozenReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring (voices): Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel. Runtime: 1o2 min.

I heard that “Frozen” utilizes music to assist its narrative and to portray the character’s feelings, but I didn’t think there’d be a musical number right off the bat. There’s a cute reindeer and a cute little kid on the screen while working men are singing a working song while loading ice onto sleds. The catchy tune and the beautiful landscapes hooked me right away. I couldn’t help but wonder why the landscape looked green and wasn’t frozen? The story starts when the two princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), are children. The two sisters are best friends, until a near death-experience for Anna, when Elsa and her were playing, wipes her memory of Elsa’s true powers and makes their parents want to hide the two princesses from the kingdom in order to hide her powers.

When Elsa becomes the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, she has to interact with the people. She is scared of what the people would think if her powers were exposed, while Anna could not be happier to be let out of the castle. Later on in the night, Elsa’s powers are exposed in a fit of impatience, and when she runs away, she puts unintentionally puts the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna must set out on a perilous journey climbing snowy mountains accompanied by a worker bee Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a trusty snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad).

I thought this might have been a bit more like “Narnia” where the kingdom has been trapped in a winter for awhile because she didn’t know how to reverse it; not where the kingdom is trapped twenty or so minutes in. I didn’t mind, though. It’s interesting to see the way the citizens have to adapt to the sudden change of weather. The character designs look absolutely great; the princesses are really beautiful, and great additions to the Disney princesses line-up. There’s one character called Hans (Santino Fantana), who Anna falls for pretty quickly. Elsa is a realistic character who doesn’t think people should marry each other after knowing each other eight hours. Many might expect Kristoff to be the initial love interest, but it’s refreshing how that isn’t the case.

Anna is a great character because she is so full of wonder at everything, and you’d be, too, after being trapped in a castle after all those years. The isolation is reminiscent of other animated films, but it’s handled so well in this. Anna’s curiosity is entrancing, and it’s heartwarming how she wants to love her sister so badly even though she feels like she doesn’t know her anymore. It’s heartbreaking, too, because Elsa is afraid of hurting her sister again. It seems that Elsa is an antagonist to herself because she is scared of what her powers might do to others, but she still has a lot of love in her heart, even though she struggles with it. A lot of these emotions are portrayed through incredible original songs.

She’s not a villain, but an anti-hero who doesn’t mean to harm others unless endangered- or so it seems to me. She has a great sense of self-empowerment, really, as shown in “Let It Go” – a song that also shows she is accepting her true self. I love the bond of sisterhood portrayed here. One main antagonist is the Duke of Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), who sees Elsa as a sort-of Frankenstein. And there’s a giant snowman called Marshmallow that Elsa makes to protect her. Other than them, there’s not many antagonists, but a lot of conflict – and a whole lot of entertainment.

The music is one of the best parts about the film, and the voicework is memorable. The bonds between all of these characters are fascinating. I think the singing is just excellent. Jonathan Groff is pretty good, I liked him best when he was doing his voice for his reindeer Sven. His mannerisms are very funny, especially when his tongue hangs out. It’s also refreshing that the animal can’t talk. Yet, there’s a talking snowman. Olaf is hilarious, and a bulk of the comic relief, but other characters in the film are funny, too. This is just entertaining and remarkable. The animation is also outstanding, snow has never looked so beautiful in an animated film. The landscapes are just quite breathtaking.

I hope there are more films made that have stories based in Norway. It’s kinda cool. (I didn’t really realize it was a Nordic country until a scene featuring a character with a very Nordic accent.) What I think is really great about this movie, is that even though it has themes that Disney has used before – love, accepting oneself, sisterhood, all those great themes that help improve the narrative – it still has the ability to surprise and mesmerize, manage to solve conflicts in refreshing ways, and make classic themes feel original – and that’s quite an achievement.

Score97/100