The protectors of the style of Disney hand-drawn animation that Walt, Roy O, and their team, worked so hard to develop are getting worried about the box office numbers for The Princess and the Frog. Rhett Wickham at LaughingPlace.com is calling for all Disney Fans to respond by going out en mass to see the film this weekend.
While I think that’s a good idea, a stronger showing against Alvin & the Chipmunks would give the suits more confidence to greenlight future hand-drawn products. However, there are some unforeseen circumstances that are making an impact.
More pre-teen kids, boys and girls, are being taken to see Avatar than people expected. This is cutting into Disney’s take. James Cameron has a couple of the things that Walt possessed; a love of new technology with the ability to harness it for story telling and the ability to tap into what the public wants, even before the public knows they want it. There’s no one in Burbank who can do that right now. They’re all up in Emeryville.
The Princess and The Frog also presented Disney a marketing challenge. How hard should they push the “first black princess” angle? How would they show it’s not just a story for girls, while still being a princess movie? They chose to let the PR people handle the first one and I think they dropped the ball on the second just a little.
The Princess and The Frog has a lot going for it and certainly shows that Disney still has the ability to make hand-drawn style animation magical. But it also had enough flaws, a week second act and too many characters, that it didn’t really generate great word of mouth, particularly when up against Avatar.
If you need a reason to go see The Princess and The Frog this weekend, do it for Roy E. Disney. Roy spent much of the later part of his career attempting to revive the art of animation at the Walt Disney Company. He played the rebel when necessary, but mostly kept his mouth shut when it came to the movies Eisner and Iger were making. Now, we get a return to Hand-Drawn animation and it runs into the one thing that it couldn’t possibly defeat, the spirit of Walt.
Update: Roger Ebert noticed the similarity between what Cameron is doing and Walt Disney too.