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St. Charles art teacher gives inspiration to new 'The Princess and the Frog' Disney ride

"The Princess and the Frog" is a modern-day fairytale, inspired by the magic of New Orleans.

ST. CHARLES PARISH, La. — A St. Charles Parish Public Schools art teacher is bringing inspiration to an upcoming Walt Disney ride. 

Artist, Sharika Mahdi, says the experience has so far been nothing but humbling. 

The "Princess and the Frog" is a modern-day fairytale, inspired by the magic of New Orleans.

"I love the movie," Mahdi said. "I love the representation, I love the story, I love the feel, the characters, the humor."

For Mahdi, the film is a piece of art. One that now, eleven years after its release, has turned into something very special.

"It's taken a minute for it to process, because I'm still not really making the connection," she said with a chuckle.

Last year, the Walt Disney Company came to her, asking for help. A princess Tiana ride was in the works for their U.S. theme parks and they wanted her to help give it life.

"What they asked me to do was create some mood sketches for the ambiance of the ride itself," she said. "They didn't want to give me too much they wanted to see where I'd take the imagery."

Mahdi was found through her connection with YAYA New Orleans, or Young Aspirations, Young Artists. The nonprofit has summer programs which are an educational resource for inner-city youth who want to grow their talents. Mahdi, now an alumna of the program, was chosen after Disney called the organization looking for a New Orleans artist.

She now is working closely with Disney, creating ideas of what the ride could look like. Her drawings are strictly confidential, except one, which shows the princess in a Mardi Gras-type scene.

"It was a sketch originally and they loved it so much that they asked me to paint it," she said. "It's very humbling."

Having millions of people all across the world possibly seeing her inspiration come to life hasn't quite sunk in for Mahdi, who says this experience has been amazing. She hopes people, when they get a chance to go on the ride, will really appreciate the work that went into it. 

"I want them to feel 'wow! This is real! This is not imitation New Orleans, this is authentic,'" she said.

The opportunity for Mahdi has been a fairy tale come true, and she hopes it will inspire others, letting them know anything is possible if they follow their dreams.

"To represent New Orleans like that, it gives me joy," she said.

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