There has been quite a bit of criticism written on the Disney Princess franchise, mostly how it is encouraging little girls to become princesses, not have great role models and have their parents spend hundreds of dollars on Disney Princess items. Some of the princesses could actually be great role models. Merida in Brave enjoys using a bow and arrow and doesn’t really conform to the typical princess role. Rapunzel in Tangled ended up being very resourceful and even showed all the rufians in the land how great frying pans are for defense. Disney has been making movies with princesses for ages and girls have been watching them, wanting to be like the girls and women in those movies prior to the Disney Princess line was rolled out. The only difference is that Disney finally figured out a way to make a lot of money off of that desire to be like Belle or Aurora or Cinderella.
Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess feels like the first attempt to really seize the audience young and get them into all of the negative things associated with being a princess. The made-for-TV movie that aired Sunday night on Disney Channel is a prelude to a series that will air in 2013 on Disney Junior, which is both a programming block on Disney Channel and its own separate channel, like Nick Jr. While the movie had a good lesson for viewers, there are few other redeeming qualities for this movie.
Sofia the First focuses on Sofia (Ariel Winter), who becomes a princess by her mother, Miranda (Sara Ramirez), marrying King Roland II of Enchancia (Travis Willingham) after they fall in love over the trying on of a new slipper. Sofia tries hard to fit in, but feels overwhelmed by the duties of being a princess. It doesn’t help that she’s being bullied by her stepsister, Amber (Darcy Rose Byrnes), and other princesses at Royal Prep. But thanks to a magic amulet and some talking animals, Sofia can hopefully find her place and maybe foil the plan of Cedric the magician (Jess Harnell).
First of all, I’d like to address the animation in this movie. I expected it from the trailer and other CGI-animated shows I’ve caught on Disney Junior and it’s not absolutely appalling. Disney did air Toy Story 3 before this, which means that in comparison to that, the animation is very bad, but it’s not as bad as the Disney film Chicken Little. However, I kept getting confused over the size of Flora (Barbara Dirickson), Fauna (Russi Taylor) and Merryweather (Tress MacNellie), the fairies from Sleeping Beauty. Throughout the film, there are parts where they’re very small and floating through the air, but then they’re the size of Sofia. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Sleeping Beauty, so that might have been the case in that film and therefore the size changes make sense in this movie as well.
The cast does do a decent job of acting, particularly Winter who isn’t doing anything like her character on Modern Family. Tim Gunn does a better job here than he did in The Smurfs, but Harnell does an absolutely atrocious British accent that maybe seems more atrocious to me because I watched four episodes of Doctor Who over the weekend. With the all-star cast that is brought to this movie, Disney couldn’t bother to get someone who is actually British to voice Cedric? Or was Cedric being British a decision made by Harnell?
On the subject of Cedric, a running joke in this movie is that Sofia keeps pronouncing Cedric’s name “SEEdrik” rather than how we usually pronounce Cedric. As someone with a hard-to-pronounce last name, I find jokes about name pronunciations funny when they work. Since Cedric isn’t a name that I would really classify as a hard-to-pronounce name, the joke falls flat and its intention is lost. Unfortunately, my mind immediately went to the thought that it was to poke fun at how common Sofia is, which I hope wasn’t the intention.
The songs in the film are rather unmemorable and an end music video is a bit disorienting because it has Winter singing as a human rather than Sophia singing. It would be like if an episode of Phineas and Ferb ended with footage of Dan Povenmire singing with Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s voice and I’m not sure how the young audience this movie is targeted towards will easily warm up to that.
If the film’s purpose is to mildly entertain viewers while their parents make dinner or something, then it will probably succeed. But as a substantial viewing program, it has nothing on a PBS show or earlier Disney Channel shows for preschoolers, like Rollie Pollie Olie. And if it’s to give children an princess just like them to emulate, the problem is that Disney has released three films recently–including The Princess and the Frog, which I have massive problems with–that have princesses who are better for role models if a child is dead set on wanting to be a princess.