Faultless is the word to describe Disney's luscious and highly captivating 1.78:1 AVC image transfer for The Princess And The Frog ... and, really, would you have expected anything less?
Animation from Disney or Pixar is not exactly prone to the banding abominations that have plagued titles from the DC or Marvel stables, and you won't find any edge enhancement, artefacts, smears or over-zealous noise reduction either. Jaggies? Nope. Not one. Just one big gorgeous picture emblazoned with screen-dripping pizazz.
Colour tonality is extraordinarily lush. The primaries are so vivid, you'll never want to look at real life again. Secondaries blend with superlative and retina-seducing ease into a palette whose textures and hues are totally dependent on such a smoothly alluring presentation. There are a great many occasions when the screen bursts with neon-bright energy - indeed, The Princess and The Frog must be the most dazzlingly warm and bright hand-drawn feature ever produced - and the disc never falters in conveying such intense vistas as the jaw-droppingly pink boudoir of Charlotte, the miasma of the bayou at dawn or dusk, the kaleidoscopic carnival of Facilier's conjuring (think Joel Schumacker on acid!), or the fine opulence of a Mississippi steamboat and the gay effervescence of the Mardi Gras.
The Creole banjo-led parade of the fireflies looks mighty pretty too, folks, as the little glow-bugs dance in a wafting incandescent cloud through the twilight shadows of the bayou, the yellow light natural and eye-catching, literally entrancing you. Incredible ghoulish greens splash their way across the screen during some of Facilier's diabolical scheming. Midnight blues subdue the night-time scenes, and there is lots of subtle blending and shading taking place within them. Spectral yellows wallop the picture when Mama Odie makes things happen, really melting before your eyes. They did at the flicks and I made a note back then to assess how well the BD transfer coped. The US version that came out ages ago fared extremely well, and this UK edition is no different. Buttery sunlight, folks - you could spread it on your toast! None of the spectrum glitches, blooms or wanders beyond its boundaries, leaving this image right up there at the top of Blu-ray colour presentation.
Contrast is excellent and without error. The black levels, whilst deep and resolutely consistent, are still probably not the best in town, but only missing such Stygian glories by a fraction. Shadow-play, which is more important to this film than most, is obviously wondrous, especially as Facilier's demons speed across the unwitting environs of New Orleans. Depth for a hand-drawn feature is something that many people tend to dismiss. Sure, the backgrounds are flat, the characters waltzing merrily across them as though they were simply matte paintings hung up behind them. But there is a degree of three-dimensionality and depth of field to Princess that is lacking in the more vintage productions. Travelogues through the bayou really do provide some scintillating evidence of this, with shadows passing over us and the characters as we all progress, differing layers of rear-ground trees and foliage, somewhat reminiscent of the original King Kong's glass painted backdrops, providing a smoothly gliding or receding impression.
It is funny, though, how we spend time agonising over the waxy faces of DNR victims in live-action movie transfers, and then sing the praises of a film whose characters look exactly like the most noise and texture scrubbed unfortunates in animated fare. This blandness of face is only to be expected, of course, yet I did find myself looking for pores and whiskers and wrinkles! Jeez, I have to get out more.
Finally, the disc has no problems with any of the fast action that occurs. No trace lines, no judder and no aliasing. With such a magnificent-looking image, and certainly no encoding or compression errors revealing themselves, how could we award The Princess And The Frog anything but top marks?
Proof that hand-drawn animation can stand toe-to-toe with any of Pixar's gleaming pixels in the hi-def domain.
Disney's DTS-HD MA 5.1 track doesn't put a foot wrong either.
You know that you are in safe hands with these mixes. Mickey's audio engineers create fully immersive, rich and full-bodied soundtracks that always deliver the goods and yet seem tailor-made to ensure that they won't aggravate the neighbours or worry the cat.
The Princess And The Frog will not rattle the cages of the more bombastic and expertly steered Pixar offerings - it isn't as dynamically charged a film as any of them, to be frank - but it certainly holds it own in terms of warmth, clarity and ear-caressing sonics. Like the visuals, this track is designed to flood slowly over you, soft and comfy, if you can imagine such a thing. There is a tangible presence to the audio that is immediately buoyant and vivid, engaging and enveloping, but with “niceness” one of its driving motivations. Energy is delivered with Randy Newman's score and the music is certainly lush and room-filling. The stereo spread across the front is wide and detailed, with lots of instrumental separation occurring, giving life to the score. The jazzy numbers have a lively and jovial attitude and they all come across well, memorable or not.
You won't have a problem with the dialogue. The balance is absolutely spot-on for all of the characters, whether human, amphibian, bug or witch-doctor, or whether singing, screaming, wooing or threatening. Separation is brought into play frequently with the speech delivery, with off-camera calls, words receding into the distance and the group exchanges - the redneck hunters, say - affecting a varied array across the front. Steerage elsewhere is precise without being attention-seeking, which is pretty much the remit for a Disney mix, anyway.
For a film with a lot of dazzling magical effects taking place, I was surprised that I didn't enjoy the surround activity a lot more. Plenty of things are issued from the rear speakers - impacts, movement, ambience and musical bleed - though none of it particularly exciting, nothing will make your head swivel. Don't get me wrong, the track isn't failing in this department, it just doesn't compare with many other titles out there that intend to spark a reaction. To me, it feels restrained and sort of reined-in, which is precisely how Disney usually like their audio tracks to be - family-friendly. And there is nothing wrong with that. What I found reassuring, however, was the decent little level of bass to be savoured. Okay, it won't shake the foundations like something such as War Of The Worlds will, but there is some weight provided for the action scenes, and the sub will get some occasional fun thrown its way. The rednecks beating hell out of each other, for instance.
Therefore, what we have here is a track that makes no mistakes and works hard to create a detailed, clear and highly enjoyable experience that floats warmly around the room and brings the colourful odyssey of The Princess And The Frog to entertaining life. A very strong 8 out of 10.
A lot of gubbins have been lavished upon Disney's Princess And The Frog, but if you are, in any way shape or form, familiar with the studio's releases, or indeed any animated family film, there will be little new or unusual. The film is available in either a 2-disc or 3-disc edition. Both contain the same “proper” extra features, plus a SD DVD, but the 3-discer adds a digital copy as well.
I'm not going to go into detail on the stuff that we get here, because, a lot it is composed of very small featurettes that, together with a fair bit of repetition and overlap, merely gloss over the triumphant return to hand-drawn animation and engage on merely a very superficial and pop-promo level. This isn't unusual for Disney, of course, but there is little new to actually report on this time out regarding the slew of technical and artistry nuggets. There are also a few ingredients thrown in for the inevitable kids' meal element of the extras - the interactive game “What Do You See: Princess Portraits” and many of the bite-size glimpses behind the scenes. And there is the inevitable music video for the end credits ballad, Never Knew I Needed, by Ne-Yo. Yep ... it's bad.
Far more substantial is the commentary from the duo of directors and screenwriters, Ron Clements and John Musker, together with the film's producer Peter Del Vecho. Here, the movers and shakers behind Disney's 49th feature deliver a very comprehensive account of what went into creating Tiana's amphibian odyssey, as well as the vaunted return to hand-drawn animation and how enthused the artists were with the idea. The phoenix-like rise to fruition for the idea, instigated by Pixar's John Lasseter, was almost thwarted by an incomprehensible lack of drawing desks at the studio, but fate stepped in and Princesses and Frogs were soon kissing, leaping and singing about. Any possible controversy regarding Tiana's African-American heritage is given short-thrift and the approach to a more modern, go-getting and ambitious individuality for her seems to have been the guiding line.
Disney offer up a nice PiP track that runs Work-in-Progress storyboards in a separate box-out that plays as you watch the film. Not at all as dry as you might imagine, this can be quite fascinating.
We are treated to a quartet of Deleted Scenes, which also appear in storyboard form. Running for a Play All option duration of 11.43 mins, and coupled with an introduction from the directors that explains the idea behind these jettisoned concepts, these are reasonably interesting to see, though would certainly not have added anything much to the finished film.
Magic in the Bayou: The Making of a Princess is a 22-minute making-of that deals with all the material found elsewhere on the disc in one fluffy, and more enjoyable package. The genesis of the story, the tackling of the traditional animation style, a few words with the vocal cast and a look at the character designs and the musical score and you're pretty much covered. To be honest, this is a great little doc that goes over a lot of ground and feels weightier and more substantial than many others of its kind.
Then we get the Art Galleries which, frankly, are vast and beautiful to look at. Conceptualisations of the characters and the layouts, as well as storyboards and visual developments produce, under separate headings, a comprehensive smorgasbord of eye-candy that offers us something like 200 images.
The disc is also BD-Live enabled and offers a couple of Sneak Peaks.
Overall, this is a good and detailed selection of bonus material that provides a very decent grasp of what went into the production. I'm getting tired of super-slick mini-featurettes, but the commentary, the storyboard PiP and the making-of deliver enough of worth to help make this a well-rounded and entertaining package.
The Princess And The Frog is a great film that is welcomed on Blu-ray with a typically beautiful transfer. The connection with the studio's older style blends marvellously with the perks of a fresher, more vivid attitude to its theme and, essentially, its main duo, and a fine, brighter sense of comical escapism is achieved with ease. The voice cast are excellent, with Jim Cummings and Michael Leon-Wooley giving zest to that wonderful Louisiana vibe, and the leads certainly giving the impression that they are enjoying themselves with their amphibian characters.
Whereas magic is often an essential part of a Disney tale, it is quite remarkable how comprehensively the writers incorporate voodoo into the story. Kids may just see this as colourfully fun villainy, but there is an agreeably sly and malicious streak to Dr. Facilier's dark crusade. Only the final act lets things down a tad by becoming too hurried and slightly less satisfying than it could have been with a little more thought and a more sustained pace.
Unsurprisingly, Disney's transfer is stunning to look at. Colours literally melt before your eyes and the animation is rich, detailed and beautiful at all times. The backdrop of New Orleans is exotic without being too removed from the norm, and the traditional old story of cursed lovers and kisses of salvation benefits from a garrulous new twist.
The film looked wonderful at the flicks, but this BD blows it away with such intoxicating warmth and brilliance. The AV performance is excellent from start to finish, and the extras provide a well-rounded and typically optimistic veneer to the package.
Kids of all ages should get a kick out of this ... so, ahem, hop to it!
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