It Takes a Frog to Save Disney

princessfrogI randomly flipped on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” the other day and quickly recalled a gathering I attended a few years back where Andreas Deja, a Disney animator, spoke about bringing the zany rabbit to life. Deja had joined the Disney animation department in 1980, where he actually had a chance to meet many of the “Nine Old Men,” that historic group that set the standard for all animated films to follow.

Throughout his career Deja had the opportunity to create such memorable characters as King Triton in “The Little Mermaid,” Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” and Jafar in “Aladdin,” just to name a few. Besides the classic nature of those often fantastic creations, they shared one extremely important quality. They were all hand-drawn creations. Something the future crop of Disney films can’t claim to have. That is, until now. Deja and the Disney gang have brought to life another classic story, “The Princess and the Frog,” in full hand-drawn glory.

In 2006, Walt Disney Studios triumphantly announced it would resurrect the lost art form. Up until then, such practices had all but faded away as Pixar and other studios segued into the land of computer-generated “animation.” It was Edwin Catmull, Disney Feature Animation and Pixar president, that touted such a return.

No matter how advanced CGI technology gets, the human eye, or at least my eyes, can always tell where the pen stops and the keyboard kicks in. Computer graphics remain cold, starkly contrasting the warm fantasy land created in such landmark films as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Beauty and the Beast.” I do realize “Beauty” featured some computer work, but the film itself was a hand-drawn masterpiece. Then came “Chicken Little” and “Bolt.” Two CGI films that did not appeal to my Disney sensibility. When you’re raised on filet, it’s hard to start eating a microwave dinner.

While “Wall-E” stands out as an enjoyable treat, it still fails to connect with me as “Dumbo” or “The Lion King” continue to do. No matter how hard I try, there is little feeling in this heart for a hunk of metal. Even if they pull at my show-tune loving heart with “Hello Dolly.”

Disney has released the full trailer for “The Princess and the Frog,” and with such talents as Oprah Winfrey, John Goodman, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose attached, here’s hoping for a smash success. Because, if this film can succeed in drawing out audiences, old and young alike, then there remains hope that Disney will keep up the great tradition that Walt capitalized on all those years ago.

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