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“The Little Mermaid” ain’t so great.

“The Little Mermaid” ain’t so great. (photo)

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“The Princess and the Frog” opens nationwide December 11, but hits New York’s Ziegfeld Theatre on Wednesday. It’s a slow, buzz-building rollout for Disney’s much-publicized attempt to resurrect the traditional animation that transformed the company from mere corporation to cultural touchstone.

But is it really a return to tradition? Sure, if by “tradition” you mean Disney movies from “Beauty and the Beast” onwards. The truth is, Walt Disney might not recognize the house he built if he were still alive.

The classic animated features that are mandatory viewing for children (and valuable home-video cash cows), like “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves,” “Dumbo,” and “Cinderella,” had little-to-nothing to do with the standard “be yourself” platitudes that have made so many ’90s Disney flicks turgid and annoying. In the 30-odd-year gap between Walt’s death and “The Little Mermaid”‘s kick-starting of the so-called Disney Renaissance, the studio tried out a lot of things, most of which didn’t work.

There were the legendarily slapdash cheapie kiddie matinee live-action movies of the ’70s (like “The Cat from Outer Space”) and the unsettled ’80s, when the brand was up for grabs and there were expensive animated bombs like “The Black Cauldron” and increasingly adult-themed live-action movies like “Never Cry Wolf.” It was the founding of Touchstone Pictures — an alternate outlet for grown up Disney fare — that really saved the company with hits like “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Down and Out in Beverly Hills.” That was the true Disney renaissance.

11232009_littlemermaid.jpgWhat the new wave of animation did was turn cel-based movies — the kind that once made Salvador Dali call Disney one of the “great American surrealists” — into a babysitting tool for the overparented kids of the ’90s. (I’m speaking from experience here.) “The Little Mermaid” is nowhere as good as its rep — it’s alternately cutesy and tedious — but it set the template for a bunch of movies where, no matter the plot, we’d learn valuable lessons about being ourselves, valuing family, etc.

Only “Aladdin” and “Hercules” really made it out of that box (well, that and the oddity that was “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and even that film turned into a lesson about accepting your friendly neighborhood hunchback at the end). “Tarzan” had a song called “Two Worlds, One Family.” And so on.

These days, everyone likes to complain about the latest CGI family movie larded with stupid pop culture references and fart jokes, but there’s a reason “Shrek” was a huge hit when it came out — people were sick and tired of visually stunning touchy-feely lectures. How “The Princess and the Frog” turns out remains to be seen, but it’s got nothing to do with the idea of the “original Disney.”

And don’t even get me started on “High School Musical.”

]Photo: “The Princess and the Frog,” Disney, 2009; “The Little Mermaid,” Disney, 1989]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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