Critical Condition: Disney Renaissance returns to screen

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October 7, 2008

2:21 AM

In my hall closet, tucked behind old stuffed animals, winter blankets and family relics of the past, stand stacks of VHS tapes — my own personal Disney vault — the most beloved being a very worn copy of “Beauty and the Beast.” Inside the cover, my name is haphazardly scrawled in kindergarten handwriting. It’s the first film I saw in theaters, and the panoramic view of Belle and the Beast gliding effortlessly across the ballroom is as captivating now as it was then.

To date, Disney has 47 traditionally animated films in its canon, but 2D animation and my beloved fairy tales had, what seemed to be, their final happily-ever-after when Disney acquired Pixar in 2006. The partnership first began in 1995 with the release of “Toy Story,” which began a revolution in animation. The power of Pixar films is undeniable. A CNN.com article tells the story of a father and his autistic son who were lost at sea and used lines from the son’s favorite movie, “Toy Story,” to communicate from the time that they were separated by a rip current until they were finally rescued. Disney films, like all great cinema, stays with you long after you watch it.

While I miss the epic musical scores, the best aspect of the old-school Disney films remains despite the shift to Pixar and computer animation: a strong plot and memorable characters. Pixar has achieved this where its competitors have failed. Most movies rely on dated pop culture references and recycled, flimsy plots. Disney’s Pixar, however, is the leader in originality and the ultimate creator of endearing characters. The most recent Pixar movie, “Wall-E,” an almost silent love story, speaks volumes to the great achievements of Pixar. Conceived on a napkin by its creator, Andrew Stanton, Wall-E was a robot as alive as any other character on the screen. The film pushed the elements of story and animation to a whole new level.

But as much praise as I have for Pixar, I’m ecstatic to see Disney return to its Renaissance era (which included films such as “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast”) with it’s newest feature, “The Princess and the Frog.” Not only is there the possibility that this film will be the last traditionally animated film by Disney, but it also has the distinction of being the first film to feature a Black Disney princess, Tiana. Because of the race issue, “The Princess and the Frog” has been tainted with controversy. The film has already gone through minor changes, but the central story remains the same — a fairytale musical set during the Jazz Age in New Orleans.

I don’t think “The Princess and the Frog” will match the monetary success of Pixar films; I think today’s youth has grown accustomed to the computer-generated realm. But for the generation that grew up with beauties and beasts, street rats and princesses, it will be a welcome return. I look forward to seeing the movie so I can place it among my other Disney classics and new Pixar favorites.

Errin Toma is a Critical Condition columnist. She looks forward to dressing up like a frog for opening night of “The Princess and the Frog.”

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