Let’s face the facts. Because I write a LOT about Disney, I like to take a bite out of every new release Disney has to offer. For better or worse, anytime a new show, movie or game comes out with the Disney trademark, I’m going to at least try it out. So, it was with this rule and a whole lot of apprehension that I sat down to watch the very first episode of Elena of Avalor. I didn’t even make it a priority. After all, this article is coming out several days past the initial release. No big deal. Just some show about a girl and some flying leopard things and I guess some magic? But I want to stress something important here. The best part of forcing yourself to try new things is that often times you are totally surprised and end up uncovering something amazing. Thus was my experience with Elena of Avalor.
Now, I don’t know much about the Disney Junior show Sofia the First, of which I understand this show takes place in the same universe. So please pardon any ignorance on my part about the world itself. Within the first minute of Elena we are given this sweeping backstory of a young princess who fights off an evil sorceress in order to save her kingdom but ends up trapped for 40 years. When she is finally freed, she must learn to lead the people of a land where much has changed. This is where our story begins. Luckily, there are plans for a TV movie later in the year to explore this awesome sounding backstory, which easily could have made up the first episode.
The thing about this kingdom that she’s trying to rule is that there seems to be all sorts of magic. Jaquins, a race of winged jaguars, roam the skies. Small creatures called Nobblins steal boats. There are wizards and sorcery and I felt myself getting tied up in all of it. I wanted to know more. In a sense, this show has a similar feel of adventure to something like Harry Potter, where you get excited to learn about the next creature to be uncovered.
What this show really deserves praise for is the diversity and excellence of the cast. Elena and her family are Latino and never feel stereotypes to push this fact. In fact, the use of their Latino heritage manages to set this story apart from other Disney princesses. Her friends Naomi and Mateo are good counter personalities to her and I love seeing the sense of family within the royal blood.
Even more impressive is the animation which puts many other fully CG’d shows to shame in how complex the expressions and movements are. The world is alive with color and none of the characters ever felt stiff. The cast feels alive and, though not quite up to the high standards of Pixar, I really did feel like I was watching a next level of computer animation for television.
The themes in this show seem to be fairly sweeping. From being a good leader to listening before making assumptions, everything brought to light in the first episode was a lesson I thought would be great for kids to hear. More than anything though, was the fact that these lessons felt organic in the story and unlike the last show like this that I reviewed, The Lion Guard, I never felt talked down to. Because of this, Elena becomes a show that could easily be enjoyed by a whole family and not just its target audience.
There’s even more to talk about. From a genuinely fun song about being ready to lead to hints that there is more to this Kingdom than meets the eye, everything about the initial episode of Elena of Avalor caught my attention. And while I haven’t had the time yet, I immediately wanted to watch the next episode. That’s a pretty good sign. I am so excited to watch more and I am hoping that the high quality remains within the show, but for now, I most certainly recommend giving Elena of Avalor. I think, like me, you might just be pleasantly surprised.
Disney Channel has been kind enough to put the first episode on their youtube channel, so feel free to check it out below!