Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nostalgic Indulgence: The Frog Prince (1986)

I watched this movie a lot when I was a kid. We had it on VHS, recorded on an old tape that died before DVDs really became a thing. I saw it on Netflix when I was bouncing around the other day, and decided to see how well it held up. I probably hadn't seen this movie since I was 12 or so, back in 96.

The plot is pretty basic. Zora, a lonely might-be-Princess (played by Aileen Quinn, who was also Annie) loses her golden ball in the pond behind the palace, and a frog-looking dude agrees to retrieve it for her if she will be his friend. She agrees, and he tries to teach her the kinds of Princessy things she might need to know if she is chosen as the true Princess. See, she and her sister Henrietta (played by Helen Hunt, of all people) are both nieces to the King, but only one of them is truly the Princess, so a Baron with a ridiculous name is supposed to choose one of them and crown her as Princess.

She's singing about how today is gonna be her lucky day. Spoilers: It's not.

Henrietta doesn't think Zora has a chance, but when she sees the giant frog dancing with her sister in the ballroom, she decides to ensure things by hiding Ribbit (what Zora calls the princely frog) in a hole in the woods, which may actually be called the Dark Heart woods. If Zora doesn't make it back to the ball by sundown, Henrietta will be declared the princess without argument, but she has to save her friend, who will die without water. Obviously, she makes it in time, because this is a fairy tale movie, and she turns Ribbit into the Prince of... Feedly? Freedly? Something, and everyone lives happily ever after.

This still cracks me up. No, she doesn't sing.
Does it hold up? Well... no. It is supposed to be for kids, and it shows. It was also supposed to be a musical, but there aren't many songs, and they're all pretty bland and forgettable. It's unfortunate because Aileen Quinn and John Paragon (who plays Ribbit) are talented and could have both pulled off stronger music.  The plot is also, unfortunately, an idiot plot. (Idiot plot: a plot that only works when everyone involved is an idiot.) It just doesn't hold up in any way, shape, or form.

For some reason only one of these two girls is the "true" princess, and their mother didn't reveal which one so their uncle the King would love them both equally.



If only one of them is the true princess, then they both have two different fathers. And they are clearly like ten years apart. We don't really need a genetics test.

Unless the implication is that she cheated on her husband or something, and that means one of these girls is a bastard. Or possibly adopted? I don't know, and it's really not a well-explained dilemma. On what authority does Baron Von What's-his-nuts declare a girl a princess? Why does the King have no authority on this at all? Why not claim them BOTH to be Princesses? Even if only one is his official heir, at least he could assure wealth and happiness to both girls.

The most useless King ever?

Further: when Henrietta traps Ribbit in the forest, she literally pushes him into a hole in the ground and lays a wooden woven cover over it. She stakes it into the ground. I've known toddlers who could escape such confinement in about half an hour. I know it's implied that Ribbit is weak from lack of water but it's ridiculous to have your "hero" trapped in something that a dog of average intelligence and sufficient motivation could escape. (Edited to add: props for having the princess save him, though.)

Furthermore, it looks like it's made out of pretzels.
Of course, Henrietta "captures" him by kinda throwing a net on him, ish. Both of these things bothered me when I was younger. When an 8 year old is going "That's stupid, I could escape from that," you need to step up your game.

It's hard to see, but the net basically just covers his head, and he could pull it off easily.

When Zora runs off to save Ribbit, her uncle sees her go. 1: He knows she's going to save her friend. 2: He's a King. 3: He knows that Henrietta is responsible. 4: He does precisely zilch for Zora. "Take my fastest horse," or "Here, have some men to protect you," would both have been perfectly acceptable.

Yes, I appreciate that there are some things you must do on your own, but Zora is 12. Two horses and a liveried servant would have been more than sufficient for her needs, and she'd have been back in time to have dinner and a bath before she was presented to the Baron von Whatever.

Henrietta's friend Darcy could have spoken up, admitting that she helped Henrietta trap the Frog Prince and that it was done specifically so Henrietta would have no competition for the crown. Whether or not Henrietta would have been arrested (and rightfully so, had Darcy not marked the location on a map, Prince Ribbit would have most certainly died) she definitely would have been out of the running for Princess, and it's likely the Baron would have been willing to postpone the ceremony in honor of the ongoing rescue mission.

So, basically, I have spent far more thought on the film than the writers ever did.

Also, Zora is 12. The man playing the Prince is 17 years older than Aileen, who might have been as old as 15 when this was filmed. While their relationship is presented as platonically as possible, there are several moments where the age difference is both apparent and incredibly creepy. Especially when Ribbit is in Zora's bedroom, trying to convince her of how beautiful she is. I may be reading too much into it, because when I was younger I just assumed that Zora marries Ribbit, but I don't think I am.

Just a little creepy.

This movie was really fun for me to rewatch because I watched it so often when I was a kid. I may or may not still know the lyrics to some of the songs. But this isn't what I would consider a classic, not even a cult classic. It suffers from many setbacks, and if I hadn't been so interested in seeing how well it held up from my childhood I never would have watched it all the way through. I'm half-tempted to re-write the story of this film into a much better plot. There are some interesting threads, here, but overall it's just kind of poorly done. If you have a nostalgic reason to watch this film, go on ahead, but I don't think there's much here for anybody else.

(Edited on 5/15/13 for some errors.)


  1. been looking for this, used to watch it over and over haha, where can i buy it??

    1. When I watched it for this review, it was available on Netflix Instant.

      Sadly, this is no longer true. I would keep an eye on Amazon and ask clerks at your local video stores, they might have a copy just sitting on a shelf, moldering.

      If you have a VHS player you might be able to find an old tape somewhere for really cheap, but the only VHS tapes on Amazon were going for a lot of money. That means it's either fairly scarce, or Amazon's price algorithm is acting up (again).

  2. I'm sorry, I know this makes me a humongous loser, but I just love this movie. I admit it has a lot of "crap" in it, but for some reason I just can't get enough of it. I blame my childhood. Love this review, by the way!

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  4. I came across the review while looking for the DVD of this movie.Nice review.I remember I watched this movie just once when I was 7 or 8 in early 90s.Those days there was only one TV channel across the nation(I m not from US) and during summer vacation they used to show kids movies.This one I took so seriously.I was in love with princess Zora and used to think about her in the night before sleep.I often used to talk about the movie to my elder sister and she would say I talked like a girl.I always assumed that Zora and Ribit got married and lived happily ever after.After searching for the movie on google I finally managed to buy it and watched it on my lappy in my ships cabin lying on my bed.I enjoyed this movie as much as I did 23 years back.