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Film review: King and I, The

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Let's face it, today's kids would never be able to sit through a straightforward version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical "The King and I."

Which explains why the new animated adaptation by filmmaker Richard Rich ("The Swan Princess") takes so many liberties with the story, throwing in more villains and cute animal sidekicks — all to hold their attention. However, the real draw for this so-so cartoon musical is still those catchy Rodgers & Hammerstein songs.

And frankly, the songs (and the material) were done much better in the 1956 film version with Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner.

That's not to say that the cartoon is unwatchable. The story is much livelier than other recent Warner Bros. animated features (especially "Quest for Camelot").

Like the original musical, the story is very loosely based on the memoirs of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens, a widowed mother of one who went to Siam to provide a Western education to the king's children.

But the fiercely independent governess (voiced by Miranda Richardson) immediately butts heads with the tradition-minded King (voiced and sung by stage actor Martin Vidnovic). They disagree on both matters of education and of the heart.

Particularly troubling to the king is the burgeoning romance between the crown prince and a servant girl — a relationship that is forbidden by law.

Reluctantly, he turns to the teacher for help. In other subplots, they also attempt to convince a British diplomat that the king isn't a savage, as well as foil the assassination plans of the evil Kralahome (Ian Richardson) and his bumbling toadie, Master Little (Darrell Hammond, from TV's "Saturday Night Live").

As you can tell, there's a lot of plot to cover in 80-plus minutes, and the storytelling feels a bit rushed. Also, the melding of computer animation and more traditional cel animation isn't always seamless.

There are also some troubling racist overtones, thanks to sketchy characterizations, dialogue and certain voice inflections.

But the musical numbers are done very well, and both the voice and musical casts give spirited performances, especially Miranda Richardson and Vidnovic.

And parents can always use this version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical as an introduction to the real thing.

"The King and I" is rated G but does contain some animated violence (martial-arts action) as well as brief excrement humor.