Sunday, December 13, 2009

At the movies

Noel let me horn in on his daddy-daughter time this afternoon. Usually he takes Cady Gray to the movies and I spend time with Archer. But because I was excited about seeing The Princess And The Frog, he let me switch places with him.

It was a thrill. When you're young and just starting to imagine having a family, you think about taking your imaginary kids to the kinds of movies you saw as a kid. And for me, of course, that's traditional Disney animation. The return of cel animation is like the ability to step back in time and give your children an experience that you had, that for a scary moment you thought never would return.

And I think those who are critiquing the movie for not being an instant classic are missing the forest for the trees. Quite aside from the cultural significance of a Disney heroine and setting in the African-American community -- a belated rectifying of the Uncle Remus legacy -- this is a tremendously enjoyable and often technically astounding piece of work. I think some of the broad, slapstick humor is off-putting, but that's maybe two sequences out of the whole. Some of the most remarkable effects animation in history more than compensates -- the brief song of the fireflies is glorious, and nearly all the musical sequences have animation that pops right out of the frame. I don't know what people who complain about the music are talking about -- it's fantastic; loving, complex, but infectious invocations of distinctly American genres, with some inspired lyrics. Not the most hummable tunes, but really wonderful in context.

The story might be among the weaker of the fairy-tale adaptations, but the writers make something out of almost nothing by giving the hero and heroine a classic ant and grasshopper dynamic. It turns out to be a meditation on what it means to achieve your dreams -- what success consists of -- a theme I frequently bring up with students.

I hope I get to take Cady Gray to many more hand-drawn animated films in the future. Perhaps Noel will let me have that segment of the kid-movie market to experience with my daughter. We both enjoyed our first outing in the series, and hereby petition John Lasseter for a long and fruitful run of the new golden age of the cel.

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