The magical spell that once bound Disney into have their happy endings dependent on finding “true love,” often with a prince charming that has captivated them at first sight, has long been broken.
The Disney awakening slowly started with “Enchanted” in 2007 (or perhaps even as far back in 1998’s “Mulan”), where traditional fairytale elements have been tackled with skepticism and had introduced the cracks on the mold of its classic and medieval counterparts that future princesses would eventually break away from.
The generation of princesses today is created to be independent, and even evidently flawed, with stories that explore the essence of inner strength, courage, and the capacity to dream—and dream even bigger than the kingdoms they are bound to rule.
With Disney’s first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor, leadership takes on the main theme of her story—shattering what Hilary Clinton called as modern society’s “highest and hardest ceiling,” at least in a fairytale setting.
“I love that Elena is so brave,” said Aimee Carrero, a Dominican-American Broadway actress who gives voice to Princess Elena.
“I think that what makes her such a wonderful princess is that she is a flawed character and she isn’t afraid to fail. I think the true test of someone’s character is how they recover from failure and Princess Elena is always willing to try again and learn from her mistakes,” she added.
While the 16-year-old crown princess is focused, compassionate and driven, each of the series’ 22-minute episodes revolves around her maturity as a leader, requiring her to learn compassion, conviction and resilience in decision-making.
“She thinks she’s ready to rule,” Carrero shared. “She is constantly having to learn that leadership is actually about listening to other people and their advice. She has to learn to kind of take a step back and have to listen to what other people would have to say.”
But what makes “Elena of Avalor” interesting is not only the fact that there’s another contemporary Disney character to love, but because it opens a whole new culture to the rest of the world.
Each episode’s original compositions are heavily influenced by different Latin musical styles including mariachi, Latin pop, salsa, banda and Chilean hip hop, as well as local mythology and even the details in architecture of civilizations from that part of the globe. The series not only introduces Latin culture, but makes people find its similarities to their own.
“The music is where the Latin culture is probably the most identifiable. Anyone watching our show, at any given time, as soon as they hear the music they would know that they’re about to enter into this fairytale world that’s heavily stemmed from Latin culture,” Carrero said.
The animated TV show draws heavily from traditional Latin structure and dynamic, which is the importance of family. Carrero shared that in Latin households, family always came first, where members looked out for each other.
It may have taken Disney a long time before they introduced a princess of Latin descent, and understandably because of the research it has to be able to tell stories that are not only culturally authentic, but stories that are worthwhile for the audience and its storytellers.
“It took as long as it took,” Carrero said. “But it’s such a wonderful opportunity to show little girls and boys—everyone in the world—a different kind of princess, and a different kind of story. They can look up to her and say ‘oh, I look like her,’ ‘my hair’s just like hers,’ ‘her skin color’s like mine,’ and that’s really wonderful.”
Carrero stressed that while the story’s main character may be a Latina princess, she’s just like everybody else—no matter the culture or age. Elena is the princess who struggles like the rest of us who are trying to figure out their place in the world and hustling to meet people’s expectations and even reach personal goals.