Review: Princess Elena of Avalor

I first heard about the Disney Channel show Princess Elena of Avalor last summer when speaking with a Chicana high school student about how she notices the lack of Latin@ and Chican@ representation in animation and live action programming.

Elena of Avalor begins to break that barrier, featuring Disney’s first Latina Princess.

Last week, I finally had the chance to watch the first episode. I tend to surround myself in grimdark stories and well deserved character angst. My favorite cartoon Young Justice, with its dark and complicated story arc, is arguably meant for an older audience. I didn’t expect much of Elena of Avalor because I tend to find children’s programming cutesy, as if children are incapable of handling anything except fluff. But Elena of Avalor was fun!

The series is definitely meant for elementary school and early middle school audiences, but I still found myself grinning throughout, as if the show were meant for me. With catchy songs (it is a Disney show, after all), talking animals and a healthy dose of magic, the show knows how to create engaging fantasy.

A few additional highlights:

Elena is Disney’s first Latina Princess and is voiced by a Latina actor! Aimee Carrero (Young and Hungry, Blindspot, The Americans) lends her voice to Elena. From her Dominican and Puerto Rican background, she couldn’t be more thrilled to be bringing Latina children a role model. As she said in an interview with ABC: “It means the world to me because people have been waiting a very long time for this, myself included…I really hope that my future daughters or granddaughters will look back and say, ‘Hey, she was sort of trailblazing that at that time.'”

The plot subverts standard fantasy fare. In the opening episode, we learn that for the past 41 years, Elena has been trapped inside a magic amulet. Just before the start of the series, a wizard frees her and she successfully takes back her kingdom from an evil sorceress. Then the show begins. It’s an odd choice to have what would ordinarily be the plot of a series, told as background. But the subversion sparks an interest that this show will be different than other fantasy fare.

Elena and her sister have a strong relationship. I’m a sucker for sister stories, especially stories which treat each sister as a full person, not the accessory or annoying baggage to the protagonist. Elena and  her younger sister Isabel love and trust each other. More than that, from the first episode Isabel already has a distinguishing character trait: she’s an artist. I’m excited to see how her interest in sketching and art plays into the rest of the series.

Whether you’re a cartoon buff, looking for a bit of lighthearted fun, or seeking media with diverse women of color (aren’t we all?), I would definitely recommend giving Elena of Avalor a go. The first episode is available free on youtube.