I was thinking I would do this by character. Let's see if that works.
I have very mixed feelings about Tiana. To be honest, when we watched the Dreams Come True special that highlighted this movie the week before it came out, we kind of got the impression (which we may have imagined) that John Lasseter was implying that she is vastly superior to all those vapid airhead Disney princesses we've had before. Since we love all the Disney princesses (though sometimes Athena doesn't care for Jasmine, and Pocahontas kinda gets on our nerves, but I'm not sure she counts (then again, she is a princess of sorts, so why wouldn't she?)), we were insulted and so I wasn't ready to adore Tiana as a character. Then someone said outright that she's vastly superior to all the past Disney princesses, thus setting me off on a fault-finding mission. I'm getting over it, but I am going to list her faults first, because it's better to end with compliments.
Anyway, I think there's a potential problem with Tiana in that she had to "fix" her man, and a lot of women seem to get the delusion that they can fix their deadbeat boyfriends. I have this imagined idea that everyone thinks of Tiana as this great, wonderful role model, and she does definitely have role model potential, what with her work ethic and practicality (she totally saved Naveen and Louis from like a million dangers just in one verse of "When I'm Human") and powers of observation. But on the other hand, she might come across as a little holier-than-thou sometimes ("When I'm human, at least I'll act like one♪" (Though to be fair, she was hanging out with Naveen at the time)). I think when the Fenners told her she couldn't have the restaurant after all, and then she fell and all the food fell on her, she didn't show enough emotion. I wanted to really see her despair (I can be sadistic, it's true), and I was kind of disappointed not to. Maybe she's just the type to not be very emotional, which is understandable, but less entertaining to me.
On the other hand, she is adorable. Her character design is great. And I like that she's not perfect--they keep telling her she needs to learn that there's more to life than work. I do sometimes get annoyed when people say they want to see heroes fail (why can't they always choose the right?), but I think it's important that they're not perfect at first. Otherwise there's no room for learning and growing, and then the audience has no opportunity to learn and grow through them. Despite how other people seem to feel about the other Disney princesses, we think she fits right in.
Naveen is fantastic. Only not. When he first showed up, I was like, "Ooooh, handsome and fun-loving! Nice!" Then Lawrence pointed out that he was a deadbeat, and I was like, "Hmm, I don't know about this guy... But he's cute, so at least I like him as a character." Then they were singing "When I'm Human," and I haaaated him as a person. Still entertaining as a character, though. But I really hated him. I was like, "I hope they decide to be really original and have Tiana end up with somebody else!" (Celeste tells me that's not so original these days, thus proving how lacking our movie knowledge is.) But then he changed to be worthy of her, and he was soooooo cute and sweet and lovable. I always like a guy who's willing to face his fears (getting a job) to protect the woman he loves.
Charlotte was pretty awesome. We were a little surprised that she didn't turn out to be jealous and evil, but pleasantly so. She was cute and funny, and they did a really good job of capturing the fangirl spirit. On the other hand, I worry that the public will think she represents the past Disney princesses, who supposedly do nothing but sit around waiting for princes to come and get whatever they want all the time. Having Tiana right there as contrast doesn't help. But someone like Charlotte was totally necessary for the story, and we really like her a lot. We did wonder why it was that Tiana turned into a frog upon kissing Naveen and Charlotte didn't, but we have two theories. First, Tiana was what Naveen needed (Diiiiig a little deeper♪) in order to be a decent human being and become worthy of not being a frog, and they were destined and all that. Second, and (I think) much more likely, he didn't kiss Charlotte back.
He was a very intriguing villain, which is why we wish we'd gotten more information on him in the movie. I mean, he hints at his debts when he goes to ask for shadows to get Naveen back, and he says it outright right before they get him, but we still feel like we don't really understand his whole deal. Or the significance of the amulet. I feel like there must be a deleted scene where he goes to his friends on the other side to get the amulet, where we learn all about his debt and more about who he is and stuff. I just feel like there are too many questions about him. And when he tells Lawrence, "Now I'm reduced to going to my friends on the other side," we think it would have been much more dramatic if he had just said, "Now I'm reduced to going to my friends." We all would have known which friends he was talking about, especially since he clearly doesn't have any other friends. But we loved the way he was animated and all the stuff with his shadow, and Keith David did a fantastic job with the voice. He was fascinating, and I think it would have been nice to get just a liiiitle bit more about him.
Oh, Louis. For some reason, despite being perfectly alright with an alligator being able to play the trumpet with no lips or opposable thumbs, I have a really hard time forgiving the fact that burrs were penetrating his thick scales. It must be the sympathy pain, I guess. Burrs are kind of scary when you look at them too close. We didn't like Louis. We felt like he slowed down the story, even though all the seemingly useless things he did tended to work toward the next plot point: getting Tiana and Naveen more tangled up led to Raymond joining the party, his slowing them down to get the burrs out of his butt gave them time to have dinner and let Tiana give Naveen a purpose in life, etc. Athena says she could probably forgive him if he hadn't been the reason for yet another song preventing us from getting to see the characters interacting more. On the other hand, the idea of an alligator learning trumpet on the bayou and trying to join a jazz band is quite hilarious.
I like to call him by his full name, because I like the Cajun accent. I so want to watch all his scenes and steal his colloquialisms for some Kansai dialect character somewhere in a translation. I really love how he calls Tiana "cher."
Ray actually caused what I think was my biggest problem with the movie. I don't mind him dying, that's just drama. It was at the funeral, though, when the clouds cleared away and there he was with Evangeline. Now, I'm a romantic, and I think normally I would be all happy for him and "Awwwwww♥♥♥!" that he got to be with his true love. But I'm also pretty religious, and the only other event I know of with an obvious new star in the sky (probably from having been deprived of "It's a Wonderful Life" as a child) is the birth of Jesus Christ. And I just didn't think Raymond, awesome as he was, merited that. Even Mufasa didn't get an obvious star in the sky, and they even say in that world that the stars are the kings of the past. In Hercules, it worked because he got a constellation, and they still worked with the rules for stars in Greek mythology. In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana even gives the scientific definition of stars for the real world. Though I guess one of the messages is that stars are more magical than that, but still. I do think it was amusing that now Timon can brag that his star theory was correct after all.
So anyway, the new star thing had me like, "Oh, what?" and then it went right into the wedding. I think if the star thing had worked for me, it would have been like, "Oh, yay! Raymond gets to be with Evangeline, and now we can have Tiana marry Naveen." But since I was like, "Oh, what?" I wasn't in the mood for a wedding, and that didn't quite work for me, either. Plus the funeral scene kind of slowed down the ending. It was kind of like, "Climax! ...depressing denouement. Oh wait, we're happy now! Aaand finale."
As for Raymond himself, though, loved him very much. He was funny and helpful and Jim Cummings has always been a brilliant voice actor but I don't know if I would have realized it was him if I didn't already know Jim Cummings was in this movie as someone.
Okay, I'm done doing it by character. Let's see. I want to keep working out why this movie didn't click with us as well as we wanted it to. It was actually very very good, it's just there were some personal preferences that got in the way. First there was the music. Randy Newman seems like a great person (we saw him on The Colbert Report), but we've never really been able to get into his music. I think there's something about it that, for me, keeps me on the outside, and that might be voluntary because it doesn't fit my tastes. And it's partially because of that that I didn't feel like I was able to go inside the world of The Princess and the Frog like I do with all the other Disney films. (I tend to feel like more of an observer than a participant with Pixar stuff, too, actually.) It was especially apparent during the frog hunt scene. We tend to zone out during action sequences, except for Disney movies for some reason. Maybe because they don't spend as much time on action sequences in animated movies. But I think it might also have to do with the music keeping us inside the movie.
The scene where Tiana's father talks to her about their restaurant seemed a little off somehow. Athena figured out that it's because the way they're sitting on her bed looks like they just sat her down for a Talk, but the conversation itself sounded more like they had been talking for a while, and everyone would already be comfortable and stuff. Or they would have been in the middle of something like washing dishes.
Our final complaint is that it felt a little slow in the first half. We were spending so much time on music and singing that we weren't spending a lot of time with the characters. It's kind of strange, though, because the songs are there to help us get to know the characters, and yet we felt like they were preventing us for getting to know them. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but it probably had to do with impatience for... something, I don't know.
But the second time we saw it, we didn't need to be impatient to learn anything, because we knew all the stuff and we knew we'd see it, so we were able to enjoy it more.
Anyway, I feel like the review was mostly complaining, but we did like the movie. We were really excited to see it the second time, and we're really excited to see it at least three more times like we told Eric Goldberg we would when we happened to meet him at Comic Con. And the more we talk about it and analyze it, the more we realize how carefully the story was constructed and everything, and the more we like it. Or something. And do I even need to say that the animation was amazing?
Whew, I knew that was going to be long.
Today I'm thankful for companies that send out checks promptly (got money today, but neither of our delinquent checks), having money to go deposit, finally finding that last dressphere in FFX-2, only needing three more percents to get 100, and bundt cake.