A new animated series debuts on Disney Channel on July 22nd, Elena of Avalor. Disney Junior's Sofia the First has been a hit for four years now, which means some of its earliest viewers have now graduated from the pre-school network to Disney Channel. Set in the world of Sofia the First, this new series instantly sets itself apart from the other programming on Disney Channel.
I didn't realize that Disney had migrated all of its animated programming to its other networks, with the only bits of animation on Disney Channel relegated to shorts (Mickey Mouse and Descendants: Wicked World). For this reason, Elena of Avalor fills a void that was created when Disney XD took all animated programs away from Disney's flagship cable network. Elena will also help shift the network in a different direction as it prepares for the 2017 premiere of Rapunzel's animated series, Tangled: Before Ever After.
Elena was a princess in Avalor when an evil sorceress took over, locking her family in a portrait. In an attempt to defeat her, Elena's magical amulet sucked her inside, keeping her 16-years old for 42 years until she was freed and able to return to save her family. Unfortunately, this exciting story is just the prologue (a TV movie will explain this story in greater detail this fall).
The debut episode, "First Day of Rule," finds Elena desperate to become queen. However, since she is technically only 16 she is not yet able to take the throne. Unable to be discouraged, she ventures off into Avalor to see how she can help her freed kingdom. When she discovers that some of Avalor's ships were stolen by noblins (shape-shifting elfs), she sets off on an adventure to find them only to learn that the noblins need her help, too.
The big buzz around Elena of Avalor was that she would be Disney's first Latina princess and the cultural representation is refreshing. Avalor is full of bright, vivid colors and the magical creatures that assist Elena are distinctly Hispanic. The noblins, for example, are based on a Chilean peuchen myth. And instead of talking forest creatures, Elena's animal friends are Jaquins, a cross between a jaguar and a macaw (like a South American Hippogriff). And then there's Zuzo, Elena's spirit animal who also appears and disappears when she is in need.
If you've seen a handful of episodes of Sofia the First, you know it's a very musical series and Elena of Avalor is no different. However, the musical influence here is more based on Latin cultures. The score contains mariachi elements and the songs themselves are in a wide array of styles, from Latin Pop and Salsa to Banda and Chilean Hip Hop. Overall, I found the music in this series to be much better and more memorable than anything I've ever heard in Sofia.
I really enjoyed Elena of Avalor and like the direction that Disney Channel is moving towards with this type of programming. Not only does it help to diversify the cultures represented on the network, but it also moves away from the typical sitcom featuring bossy teens with dimwitted parents. And while being progressive and unique, it feels like a return to form in many ways. I highly recommend checking it out.