Monday, November 19, 2012

TV Shows We Love: Disney’s “Sofia the First”


After months of anticipation, Sofia the First premiered on the Disney Channel last night. To paraphrase a line from another Disney princess movie—Tangled—this princess was worth the wait. Sofia is a sweet, game, lively princess with a great sense of humor and loyalty; and she’s a good sport to boot.


Darcy Rose Byrnes as
the voice of Amber
The story begins in the classic Disney style with the opening of a storybook. And it borrows the characters of Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from 1959’s Sleeping Beauty to tell the tale. Sofia’s story takes place in the land of Enchancia. Her backstory is quickly compressed as we rush through the narrative of her shoemaker mom Miranda being summoned by the widower King for a new pair of slippers. It’s love at first sight in a moment that references 1950’s Cinderella, but it’s Miranda who slips the shoe on King Roland. They marry, making Sofia a princess. She’s now part of royal family that includes two older siblings, Princess Amber (who puts Sofia through her paces) and Prince James (who pranks her, but immediately regrets it).

Travis Willingham voices
King Roland II
King Roland gives Sofia a magic amulet that will surely create a lot of narrative plot lines in future episodes. In this episode, it gave Sofia the ability to talk to animals and summoned Cinderella at a moment of crisis. The king announces a ball in Sofia’s honor and she’s nervous about the first waltz she is to dance with him. Amber savors the idea of Sofia’s social failure. Sofia goes to court sorcerer Cedric for help who pretends to give her a magic spell that will enable her to dance; but instead gives her a sleeping spell. Sofia and Amber work together to get things back on track.

Sofia gets to attend Royal Prep which is a cross between Hogwarts and a European finishing school. She’s whisked off to school in a chariot pulled by a team of Pegasus (What’s the plural of Pegasus? Pegasi?), so there’s an aura of magic everywhere. And sorcerer Cedric is introduced as the official court sorcerer, from a long line of sorcerers, which is the only reason they keep him. Cedric’s portrayed as more buffoon than menace, though he does covet Sofia’s magic amulet, but Sofia easily foils Cedric by sticking to her guns: she promised the king she’d never take off the amulet; so she doesn’t.

He's Wayne Brady! And
Clover the rabbit.
There’s a curious collection of voice talent. Ariel Winter (of Modern Family) voices Sofia. Sara Ramirez (Dr. Callie Torres on Grey’s Anatomy) voices Sofia’s mother Miranda. There was a bit of controversy for a week or two surrounding Sofia’s ethnicity; Disney has since retracted the character backstory that described Sofia as half Latina when the Latin community balked. Tim Gunn (from Project Runway) gives voice to Chief Steward Baileywick; and Wayne Brady voices talking rabbit, Clover.

The animation is created by computer and is not as lavish as a feature film; and you can see that the program allows animators to give more graphic attention and detail to the main characters, with less important characters more simply rendered. Some of the background art is impactful, but other frames are very simple and symmetrical. You can tell they’ve created a style that will allow them to keep the series going without too much muss or fuss.

They toss a few bones to the parents, such as the moment when Baileywick tells the household staff to “Get it done,” when referring to preparations for Princess Sofia’s ball. And they certainly fold in a lot of references to other Disney features. I noticed a sun insignia in Cedric’s lair that was the same insignia used in Tangled. And Baileywick tells Sofia that when she figures out what she needs, she’ll know what to do; which is a reference to Mama Odie’s advice to Tiana in The Princess and the Frog.

Jess Harnell is Cedric
But it’s the classic Disney features like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty that live again in Sofia the First. The good fairies from Sleeping Beauty run the school Royal Prep where Sofia, Amber, James, and a gaggle (a royalty? a scepter?) of other princes and princesses study. And Cinderella magically appears to help Sofia through a sibling crisis. The series creators promise future visits from Snow White, Aurora, and Ariel. Even the classic Disney woodland creatures have their moment, explaining to Sofia why they’ve befriended and helped a long line of princesses before her. Creating a bit of an odd moment for me, they tell her they simply want to get fed. So much for my theory that they were naturally attracted to the princess’s gentle ways. Fans of the classic films will notice that the classic characters have been tweaked to blend into Sofia’s animated world.

We hosted a premiere party through the group HouseParty who sent us supplies like cute Sofia the First cups and popcorn holders and wonderful Sofia the First carry bags and goodies for all the little girls who attended. It really made our premiere party special. Needless to say, the girls (all four-year-olds) just loved the show.

All art ©Disney. Not for reuse.



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