Sofia the First

Sofia the First

Tonight, I’m breaking the protocol in reviewing cartoon’s from back in the day. I’m going to tackle a more recent cartoon that is currently on the air. I’ve mentioned before that I love superhero cartoons, action-based cartoons, and comedies. Aside from those, I love a cartoon or any form of medium that involves a princess fairy tale premise. In 2012, writer Craig Gerber pitched to Disney Channel executives for a new fairy tale series. This series would be called Sofia the First.

vlcsnap-00212Sofia the First premiered with a 45-minute pilot special titled Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess on Disney Channel on November 18, 2012. The show premiered as a series on January 11, 2013 on the Disney Junior block on Disney Channel, formerly known as “Playhouse Disney” from 1997 until 2011.

Princess Sofia
Princess Sofia

This series is almost like a slice of life series that follows Princess Sofia. She was once a girl who lived in

Queen Miranda (left) and King Roland II (right)
Queen Miranda (left) and King Roland II (right)

a village in the kingdom of Enchancia with her mother, Miranda, at the village shoe shop. She became a princess after, married King Roland II. Sofia is not like the type of princess that behaves as royal society dictates. She is adventurous, upbeat, outgoing, cheerful, and optimistic.

Sleeping Beauty's Fairies (L to R) Merryweather, Flora, and Fauna
Sleeping Beauty’s Fairies
(L to R) Merryweather, Flora, and Fauna

The pilot shows how Sofia has to adjust to royal life. She learns how to be a princess at the Royal Prep Academy, which is headed by three fairies who are no stranger to Disney fairy tales, Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty. Young princes and princesses from far and wide attend Royal Prep. As a royal gift to Sofia, King Roland bestowed her with a magical amulet called the Amulet of Avalor. This amulet is pursued heavily throughout the series by the Royal Sorcerer Cedric. In the pilot, when he asks Sofia to let him take a look at it, but she refused because she promised her new father, King Roland, that she would never take it off. What Sofia doesn’t know is that Cedric wants to steal the amulet to use its power to take over the kingdom.

That necklace is the Amulet of Avalor
That necklace is the Amulet of Avalor

This amulet can reward or curse its bearer based on the deed that has been done. When Sofia saw a baby chick had fallen out of its nest, the amulet rewarded Sofia with the ability to talk to animals and understand them, too. As Sofia walks away from the nest, she hears the words “Thank you” from the birds.  One of Sofia’s best friends, as a result of this blessing, is a rabbit named Clover.

L to R: Whatnaught, Clover, Robin, and Mia
L to R: Whatnaught, Clover, Robin, and Mia

Along with his animal friends (Mia and Robin the birds, and Whatnaught the squirrel), Clover helps dress Sofia, keep her room clean, and they cheer her up whenever she feels sad. One minor note about Clover, he may look cute and cuddly, but he says that he hates to be cuddled. The amulet grants Sofia other cool powers and abilities throughout the series, but more of that later.

Princess Amber (left) and Prince James (right)
Princess Amber (left) and Prince James (right)

At birth, Sofia was an only child, but two step-siblings came into her life when her mother married the King. I know that step-siblings, not to mention step-anyone, in princess stories don’t have a great track record. But for this show, we have an exception. King Roland has twin descendants, Princess Amber and Prince James. Amber, early on, is rude, spoiled, and jealous, especially when Princess Sofia comes into the royal family and learns that Sofia is to be given a royal ball. She is unaware that both she and James were also given a royal ball after they were born, but they obviously wouldn’t remember. In the pilot, Amber becomes jealous of Sofia because everyone likes Sofia more than they do Amber. She gives Sofia enchanted “trick shoes” when Sofia was practicing her dancing for her ball to make her look bad.

James did not approve of Amber's actions toward Sofia
James did not approve of Amber’s actions toward Sofia

When James denounces Amber’s actions, Amber’s gown gets caught under the foot of her stool and rips. No castle servants come to help her, and she realizes the error of her ways. She eventually helps Sofia to retrieve a counter spell to a sleeping spell cast during the ball by mistake. Sofia helps Amber in return by repairing the tear in Amber’s dress and Amber gives Sofia a dancing lesson on-the-fly. Prince James is kind, silly, and sometimes mischievous. Right off the bat, he is kind and helpful to Sofia, unlike his sister Amber. His relationship with Amber is a very classic, yet friendly, case sibling rivalry. He’ll point out any mistake made by Amber or tease her when she’s outdone by Sofia and he’ll rub it in her face. He loves to get under Ambers skin in ways that she doesn’t find funny (Message to Amber: I know what it feels like, I’ve been there before).

vlcsnap-00225vlcsnap-00227What I love about this series is that a variety of Disney Princesses make cameo appearances in various episodes. Whenever Sofia is trouble and in need, her vlcsnap-00226vlcsnap-00142amulet magically summons a princess from the Disney Princess franchise. I love seeing a Disney Princess make an appearance in anything. Their stories encourage people vlcsnap-00228vlcsnap-00229to use their imaginations. In chronological order, the Disney Princesses that have guest starred in the series are Cinderella from Cinderella, Princess Jasmine of Agrabah vlcsnap-00230vlcsnap-00231from Aladdin, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Princess Ariel of Atlantica from The Little Mermaid, Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, Princess Snow White from Snow White and the vlcsnap-00232vlcsnap-00237Seven Dwarfs, Fa Mulan from Mulan, Princess Rapunzel of Corona from Tangled, Princess Tiana of Maldonia from The Princess and the Frog, and Princess Merida of DunBroch from Brave. To date, there have been 10 of the Disney Princesses that have made appearances. The only one yet to make an appearance is Pocahontas from Pocahontas, and I’ll be anticipating that cameo when I learn of it. Each Disney Princess is summoned to help Sofia learn important life lessons based their own experiences. Cinderella said the amulet is linked to all the princesses that ever existed.

Sofia as a mermaid
Sofia as a mermaid

I mentioned that the Amulet of Avalor has granted Sofia with the power of animal communication, and it can summon princesses. But this amulet is sort of a plot device that dictates the result of a story. Sofia’s communication with animals is the most used ability in the show. Other powers that surface throughout the show include mermaid transformation, growing and shrinking ability, invisibility, telepathy, super strength, bouncing, and cryokinesis which is the power to fire ice blasts from the hands and freeze anything (hmmm…sounds familiar…ELSA!!).

With each deed performed, for better or worse, a power is granted, a blessing or curse.” – Cedric

Cedric's stick fingers
Cedric’s sticky fingers

But the curses that the amulet can unleash include the Croaking Curse, the Mini Curse which leaves the victim at the size of a sprite, the Sticky Fingers Curse, the Bird Beak Curse (don’t ask), the Metal Hands Curse, and the Curse of Princess Ivy. The Curse of Princess Ivy victimized Princess Amber when she betrayed Sofia by stealing the amulet.

Princess Ivy
Princess Ivy

The amulet summoned Princess Ivy, an evil princess who tries to take over Enchancia, to punish Amber. Princess Ivy was the result of another case of Amber’s jealousy toward Sofia, this time involving her amulet. The curse is lifted when Amber protects Sofia from an attack from Princess Ivy. For Cedric, in a Season 3 episode, he succeeded in taking the amulet. However, it cursed him multiple times. He returns it to Sofia and he gives up trying to take over Enchancia with it.

The opening theme was written by John Kavanaugh and Craig Gerber, and was performed by Ariel Winter and Laura Dickinson. This theme is very upbeat, and it’s one that you can’t resist to sing along to. The lyrics basically do what most opening theme for cartoons do, they summarize the premise for the show. The theme references how Sofia was once a village girl doing alright, and then became “a princess overnight.” It also references a wide world of enchantment that’s ahead for her, Sofia learning what “being royal’s all about,” and that it’s an adventure every day. All this is gets consolidated into a sequence in under a minute. Also, the songs in the show, written by John Kavanaugh, Erica Rothschild, and Kevin Kliesch, are very catchy, too.

Ariel Winter, the voice of Sofia

The cast of Sofia the First is quite an all-star cast. Princess Sofia is voiced by Ariel Winter, who is best known for her role as Alex Dunphy on ABC’s Modern Family (Disney, by the way, is the parent company of ABC). Winter has also done voice work for Disney’s Phineas and Ferb, Jake and the Neverland Pirates, Winx Club, and as Penny Peterson in the 2014 film Mr. Peabody & Sherman. She also performs the show’s opening theme.

Wayne Brady, the voice of Clover

Princess Amber is voiced by Darcy Rose Byrnes. She is best known for playing Abby Carlton Newman on CBS’s The Young and the Restless and Penny Scavo on ABC’s Desperate Housewives. Byrnes also appeared in 5 episodes in 2008 on CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. Prince James is voiced by Zach Callison in Seasons 1 & 2 and by Tyler Merna from Season 2 onward. Clover is voiced by Wayne Brady, who was the host of his own morning talk show from 2001 through 2004. Brady is best known for his performance on the improv comedy show Whose Line is it Anyway? Cedric is voiced by Jess Harnell, Queen Miranda is voiced Sara Ramirez, and King Roland is voiced by Travis Willingham.

Many of the original actresses of the more recent Disney Princess films reprised their role in this program. But the princesses from earlier films as early as 1937 were given new voice actresses. Cinderella was voiced by veteran voice actress Jennifer Hale. Linda Larkin returned to her role as Princess Jasmine with Lea Salonga as the singing voice. Paige O’Hara sadly could not return to voice Princess Belle, so Julie Nathanson performed this role and has done so since 2011. Jodi Benson returned to her role as Ariel the Little Mermaid and has been the voice of Ariel for 26 years to date. Mary Costa originally did the voice of Princess Aurora for Sleeping Beauty in 1959, but did not return to that post for this program. Kate Higgins, who has done various anime voice-over and cartoon roles, voiced Princess Aurora. Snow White, the first Disney Princess, was voiced by Adriana Caselotti in 1937. Caselotti passed away in 1997, and Kathrine Von Till has been the voice of Snow White since 2011. Ming-Na Wen, who has voiced Fa Mulan since 1998, returned to voice Mulan with Lea Salonga as the singer. The most recent Disney Princesses all reprised their same roles; Mandy Moore as Rapunzel, Anika Noni Rose as Tiana, and Ruth Connell as Merida.

Sofia ice dancing with Prince Hugo (Season 3, Episode 12)
Sofia ice dancing with Prince Hugo
(Season 3, Episode 12)

This series is targeted for children around the age of 5, but I believe that anyone can watch it. While it is somewhat educational, which is what most Disney Junior programs are supposed to do, it is very adventurous and comedic at times. Most programs for this target audience involves characters breaking the fourth wall. This factors into how I judge programs on my “too old to watch/anyone can watch” list. Adventure and comedy is what I look for in a show. I give this show a 9.7 for its magical and adventurous vibes. I’m looking forward to seeing what this show has for the future, and hopefully it will remain on the airwaves for many years to come.

 

In the comments section, answer this question:
Have you seen Sofia the First? If so, what do you love about the show?

 

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