Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess is Disney's first princess movie marketed toward kids as young as two years old, and serves as an introduction to an ongoing series. Taking center stage is Sofia, a fair-skinned, blue-eyed girl whose possible Latina heritage (first proclaimed, then later denied by Disney) sparked controversy even before the movie's premiere. Regardless of how the discrepancies between her physical appearance and her mixed-race background are received by grown-up audiences, what kids will see is that Sofia's journey from an average girl to a princess touches thoughtfully on life lessons like trying to fit in, meeting new challenges, blending stepfamilies, and conquering insecurities. Aside from officially cornering the age market on fairy tales with this little princess, this movie doesn't break any new ground in content and in actually perpetuates some stereotypes about what a princess (and, by association, a well-bred girl) is and does. Kids who are familiar with the classic fairytales like Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty will especially enjoy how this movie incorporates characters and plot points from those as well.
What's the story?
In SOFIA THE FIRST: ONCE UPON A PRINCESS, young Sofia (voiced by Ariel Winter) is a commoner whose life changes dramatically when her mother, Miranda (Sara Ramirez), marries King Roland II (Travis Willingham), and the two leave their village life to join Roland and his children, James (Zach Callison) and Amber (Darcy Rose Byrnes), in the royal castle. Suddenly Sofia's simple life becomes a whirlwind of curtsey lessons and table etiquette training at Royal Prep Academy under the guidance of the Three Fairies...and under the critical eyes of her new stepsister, who's less than thrilled about Sofia's arrival. When Roland announces that he's hosting a gala in Sofia's honor, the little princess worries that she won't be ready for the eyes of all of Enchancia to be on her, but a magical gift and the advice of an experienced princess who knows what she's going through might be just what Sofia needs to find the strength to embrace her new position.
Is it any good?
Disney' lofty goals for Sofia the First are evident from the get-go, toeing the line between outright racial diversity and political correctness; turning the tables on the stereotypical "evil stepmother" role; and casting a heroine who packs all of the princess-y traits viewers have come to expect into a smaller -- but no less adorable -- package. Clearly they nailed the basics in this darling tot with the voice of an angel who finds the courage to face her new challenges without losing herself in the process. As she manages to win over everyone around her right down to her jealous stepsister, Sofia reminds kids that strength of character and perseverance are the hallmarks to success in endeavors of every size and shape.
But this makes it all the more disappointing that the overall movie package doesn't live up to the gleaming example set by its star. Where Disney could have dropped at least some of the stereotypes and made Sofia even more of a relatable girl-next-door (especially considering her youth), it instead clad her in floor-length ball gowns for school; devoted time to watching her learn to dance, pour tea, and even wave like a princess; and closeted the integral character of her mother for much of the story, save for some trite advice and precious few encounters with her daughter and her new step-kids. And then there's that touchy issue of ethnicity, which casts some shadows on Disney's celebrated recent move toward diversity in princess characters like Mulan, Pocahantas, and Tiana.
Explore, discuss, enjoy
Families can talk about how the characters adapt to their new lifestyles. How successfully does Sofia make new friends and embrace her new school? Who helps her along the way? What does she gain by meeting these new challenges?
Kids: How is Sofia different from other Disney princesses whose stories you've seen? How are they similar? What aspects fo Sofia's life are similar to yours? Do you have a favorite princess story?
Parents can talk to their kids about the difference between real life and fairy tales. Where do real princes and princesses exist? Are their lives all about royal balls and carriage rides? What real-world responsibilities do they have?