The Lark Theater
Built in Larkspur in 1936 and refurbished in 2004, the Lark Theater is a single-screen, privately-owned, non-profit theater that doubles as a community center. It is located just down the street from Redwood High School where my dad taught history for ten years. There is a bit of parking to its side, on the unpaved Post St. and diagonally across the street in two parking lots.
There's a lot going on at this theater, so get out your notebook. The Lark shows first-run movies, selected on a week-by-week basis, and held over if proving popular. They also exhibit independent films as special engagements, such as the upcoming documentary Race to Nowhere on January 25th, which looks very interesting. The Lark hosts an annual youth film festival, has special showings for infants and their parents/sitters/etc., and offers membership tiers that confer on the member opportunities for reduced ticket pricing. In addition to films, the theater presents theatre and opera simulcasts, live music performances, and a Super Bowl party (Sunday, February 7th).
The lobby/concession area is small, but nice. Just around the corner, on the way to the clean restrooms, are cafe-esque antechambers where one can sit at small tables. The two entrances into the auditorium are double-doored, minimizing ambient sound and light.
The auditorium seats 246 in modern, plush chairs. While I waited for the film to start, a polite usher walked around handing out booster seats to many children. (Later, I directed an inquiring woman's attention to the supply of booster seats the usher had left behind, and the woman's young daughter turned around to thank me. What a pleasant crowd!) In a final nice touch, the curtains close and reopen just before the show begins.
Afterward, the staff were very helpful in answering a few questions I had and directing me to some of their many fliers detailing much of the information I've summarized above.
The Princess and the Frog
Disney's still got it. Let's run through a checklist: young heroine, handsome beau, talking animals, song & dance numbers, and a villain who is evil beyond evil. Check on all accounts.
As a child, Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) dreamed of opening a restaurant with her father in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Now, as a young woman, Tiana works tirelessly toward that same dream, saving her money to someday buy an old sugar mill where she hopes to open the restaurant. Tiana's wealthy childhood friend Charlotte (Jennifer Cody) hosts a masquerade ball in the hopes of ensnaring the visiting Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos). Naveen, meanwhile, has had a run in with the charismatic Dr. Facilier, aka Shadowman (Keith David), and a sequence of events leads first Naveen then Tiana to be transformed into frogs. The rest of the movie details the journey the two frogs take to regain their human form.
The film looks fantastic. The backdrops are either painted or digitally animated, with awe-inspiring, sweeping shots of mansions and forests. The foreground is animated using the traditional cell animation style abandoned by Disney following 2004's Home on the Range. As we would expect, the characters look superb. Extra care has been taken with the design of the human characters, who are realistically proportioned (as opposed to the leads in Hercules and The Emperor's New Groove).
Rose's voice as Tiana anchors the film. She conveys intelligence, maturity, compassion, and determination; everything her fellow frog Naveen lacks. Cody's Charlotte is extreme but enjoyable. Disney could easily have leveraged the economic disparity between the two friends as a source of friction and envy, but instead allows them to genuinely care for each other, each in their own way. There are supporting roles for Charlotte's father (John Goodman), a trumpet-playing alligator (Michael-Leon Wooley), the swamp's resident mystic (Jenifer Lewis), and a good-natured firefly (Jim Cummings), but my hat goes off to Keith David's Dr. Facilier. David has such a mesmerizing voice, so low and commanding, it's easy to understand how Naveen falls under his sway. Dr. Facilier is motivated by greed, fear, and shear love of chaos, all at once, making him a delight to watch.
Most of the film is humorous, with such memorable lines as Naveen reassuring Tiana that she is not covered in slime, but rather is "secreting mucous". When the film switches away from humor, the sentimental, romantic, and thrilling moments all play well. The songs are fun, though not terribly catchy. There are a few tense moments that might be frightening to young children, but otherwise it seems appropriate for all ages.
Perhaps most importantly, Tiana's character is a good role-model for young ones. Though she ultimately subscribes to the over-used "incomplete without a man" theory, which annoys a great many people to no end, the rest of her is character is hard-working, considerate, courageous, honest, and independent. People like that deserve a prince.