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A new/old 'Princess': Disney's 1st African-American in the role, & it's a fun flick

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are - so goes the old Disney theme song, one that explains the universal resonance of its classic animation.

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are - so goes the old Disney theme song, one that explains the universal resonance of its classic animation.

In recent years, though, "who you are" has come to matter, hence the ethno-political scrutiny that's greeted recent heroines like Mulan and Pocahontas, and now Tiana, the first African-American character in what the company calls its "princess line."

Early drafts and images reportedly prompted objections that led to changes in Tiana's name and appearance, and the trajectory of her story.

Now she's here, and in her final form, Tiana has the hallmarks of the classic Disney heroine. She is young and beautiful. She dreams, she sings, battles ill fortune and a curse, she falls in love.

But what does she think of Jim Crow?

This is the question floated by detractors who note that "The Princess and the Frog" is set in antebellum New Orleans, and yet ignores the racism and segregation of the time.

Some also want to know why the movie does not make some reference to the Big Easy, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, as an emblem of tragic government indifference.

If that's a requirement for you, then take your children to "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," although I would not recommend it for kids under 30.

If, on the other hand, you have the sort of child who tolerates reality and stubbornly insists on surrendering to fantasy, then by all means indulge them with "The Princess and the Frog."

You run the risk that the child will emerge in some sort of Disney-induced post-racial trance, convinced of the idea that racism never existed, but I think the risk is small.

The risk that they might enjoy themselves is significantly larger. "The Princess and the Frog" is a perky, pretty piece of the traditional hand-drawn Disney animation, helped by dandy Randy Newman songs.

And Tiana (Anika Noni Rose) is a doll. A dreamer, yes, but a doer, a hardworking waitress who initially (and pointedly) passes up a chance to wish on a star, and instead concentrates on saving her tips. Her dream: to own her own restaurant, a destination eatery with live entertainment and her father's (Terrence Howard) famous gumbo.

She's independent, and doesn't think that magic or romance or least of all men will help her get there. Those attributes have been displaced to her friend Charlotte, who goes nuts when the visiting Prince Naveen (Bruno Campos), famously in need of a wife, arrives in New Orleans to review candidates.

Tiana may not love magic, but Disney certainly does, and the animators have a field day when a voodoo trickster (Keith David) turns the prince into a frog. Naveen's humanity can be restored only by love - a mere kiss, like the one he lays on Tiana, only results in more frogs.

In frog form, they flee to the swamp where they evade hunters (Bambi's revenge?) and other dangers with the help of a friendly alligator, a friendly Cajun firefly and a swamp priestess who helps set things right.

The frog section of the movie is a little long, and though some critics believe that the "human" Tiana deserves more screen time, I'm guessing that this action-adventure-mucus secretion part of the movie is aimed at boys who might balk at a story that is all princess, all the time.

Produced by Peter Del Vecho, directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, written by John Musker, Ron Clements and Rob Edwards, music by Randy Newman, distributed by Walt Disney Co.