Hello my Elena-loving friends! First of all, I want to say a big “I’m sorry” for the late post on this one. The past couple of weeks have involved every project I do on this blog releasing content so fast I can barely keep up! That being said, I am so happy to finally have time to talk to you all about this week’s new episode of Elena of Avalor. I’m now convinced that Isabel is my favorite character on the show. There’s something about this young woman, in a beautiful dress, running around with science equipment in her bag that just makes me so happy. Isabel is a role model to all the young girls out there who like a good puzzle. So often, a character like her is portrayed as a nerd with braces who can barely speak, and thus becomes the comic relief. Not that there’s anything wrong with braces! But I love the fact that Isabel so wonderfully normalizes and celebrates “Nerdiness.” All of that being said, this week Isabel faced a puzzle that almost got the best of her. Worse than any monster, evil witch or cataclysmic event, this Isabel faced (Dun Dun DUUUUUN) Public School!
As Isabel visits school for the first time, she finds that her classmates are less than excited about her willingness to learn and be the best. Quique and Amara play out as foils to Isabel as they mock her in class every time she gets an answer right. I’ll be honest, while Amara seems redeemable, who cares what Quique thinks? That kid is trouble through and through. However, I happen to love that eventually Isabel’s passion for knowledge not only saves him, but also inspires him to learn more about science. As Isabel tries to fit in and solve the puzzle of public school, she changes her image and her attitude to fit her new friends. In many ways, this is as close as Elena of Avalor will get to making a character go “goth” for the sake of fitting in. It’s pretty funny, but also represents something I think a lot of kids go through. We all have to learn, at some point, that real friends like you for you, and not for who you pretend to be to be friends with them. Isabel’s story is a great reminder that while she’s a brilliant young woman, she’s still a child that has a lot of growing up left to do.
I really love the song in this episode. “Fix Anything” celebrates how intelligent Isabel is and also puts the ball in her court as the person who has to fix her own problems. Much like Elena, no prince is going to ride in and save the day. Problem solving in Elena of Avalor requires thought and introspection and it’s one of the biggest reasons I continue to watch the show to this day. However, my favorite part of the song is when Isabel sings her own version and twists it to mean she must fix herself to fit in. Elena, being a children’s show, doesn’t often surprise me with a twist and that’s okay! But this one is so clever! I love that Isabel makes this mistake because it leads to so much more learning later on. And beyond that, it’s something that totally happens with young people! Because of this, Crystal in the Rough feels like some of the most sophisticated story telling this show has yet to produce.
Something I notice in children’s television, and something I commented on in my review of Tangled: Before Ever After, is that the climax often seems too easily earned and there’s rarely time for the high amount of tension I’m hoping for. Crystal in the Rough defied this rule with an epic conclusion, one that felt tense as Elena desperately tried to save herself and Quique from tumbling over a waterfall. And while we knew that they would survive, the moments of Isabel and Amara trying to knock down the crystal were nailbiters for sure. I love that Isabel was the brains of the operation and Amara did the sharp shooting. It’s a great thing to know that Isabel is great at science BUT she’s not a jack of all trades. She needs friends and their special talents just as much as anyone else. It’s an easy trap to fall into to make a single character good at everything. I’m looking at you Rey from Force Awakens. But Elena’s writers skillfully avoid it by making Isabel the science minded one, while leaving the sharpest shooting in Avalor to Amara. It’s a small detail but an appreciated one!
Crystal in the Rough is the rare case of an episode where the more I thought about it, the more I digested it, the more I loved it. Isabel is such a fantastic character and such a great role model, not only because she’s so smart, but also because she’s flawed in very natural ways and has to find ways to overcome those flaws. And just like in real life, sometimes the first solution isn’t the best, but as we keep trying ad learning, eventually we’ll get there. More than all of that, I love that the show is really showcasing every character and showing that they are all as deep and interesting as Elena herself. From the animation, to the song, to the writing, Crystal in the Rough may not have furthered the overall story of Elena of Avalor, but it was a terrific stand alone episode that I would gladly show to anyone I wanted to get into the show!