Movies: Holiday Alter Ego Movie Review Double Feature
This Christmas break, I finally had enough free time to get out and see some movies in the theaters. By chance, both the films I saw had main characters who underwent radical transformations.
The Princess and the Frog
"The Princess and the Frog" is the first traditionally animated Disney movie since 2004's forgettable "Home on the Range." Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker (who helmed several Disney hits including "Aladdin" and "Hercules"), the film is about a young woman named Tiana who encounters a talking frog. The frog claims to be a prince, Tiana kisses the frog (with the old Grimm fairy tale in mind), and they live happily ever after...right?
It's a very American fairy tale. Not just in its setting - an idealized, sterilized version of 1920s New Orleans - but in its sensibilities. Tiana is the most grown-up Disney princess to date, working two jobs in order to save enough money to open her own restaurant. Her determination to make it on her own through hard work is refreshing in an era of corporate bailouts and government stimulus.
As appealing as Tiana is, the rest of the movie is uneven. Most of the songs are disposable, the animation is hit and miss, and even some of the other characters seem borrowed from other movies (Prince Naveen in particular is dangerously close to the character of Jean-Bob in Richard Rich's "The Swan Princess").
Still, as family entertainment goes, "The Princess and the Frog" easily ranks as one of the better second-tier Disney animated features (think "Pocahontas" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame"). Hopefully, with this out of the way, the House of Mouse can crank out something to rival "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast."
"Avatar," the first feature film by James Cameron in more than a decade, is one of those movies that is best experienced on a big screen, preferably IMAX, with a good surround sound setup, and with 3D glasses:
Every frame of "Avatar" has been so heavily worked that it's hard not to feel a little awe, at least intellectually. No film has ever blended live action and CGI as skillfully; "Avatar" makes the composite shots in "Lord of the Rings" and the "Star Wars" prequels look dated and primitive. All the specular highlighting and skeletal animation pops off the screen, especially with 3D glasses on.
The multimillion dollar technological wizardry does its best to hide the fact that this is essentially "Dances with Wolves" in space. It's well-paced, there are decent performances from everyone (save Michelle Rodriguez, who is playing the same macho-chick character she always plays), but in the end, it's a very simple story.
By and large, the thinly disguised social commentary is over-the-top and absolute - it's Peaceful Noble Savages vs. Genocidal Capitalist Mining Corporation. Going native is a pretty timeworn trope by now, and Cameron's strict adherence to the formula, with no shades of grey, makes the movie less science fiction and more romatic fantasy.
After all, in "Avatar," it's the humans that are exploring the galaxy and visiting other worlds, not the in-tune-with-nature Na'vi. The latter are the heroes of the movie, but the former are the ones who won't be screwed when a rogue asteroid wipes out all life on their home planet. There's certainly a place for hippie, Gaia-worshipping spiritualism, but it isn't out among the stars.