Click to read Part 1 (Snow White), Part 2 (Cinderella), Part 3 (Aurora), Part 4 (Ariel), Part 5 (Belle), Part 6 (Jasmine), Part 7 (Pocahontas), Part 8 (Mulan), Part 9 (Tiana), Part 10 (Rapunzel), and Part 11 (Merida).
Elena is a first in many ways. She is the first Disney official Disney princess who comes not from a movie but from a TV show, Elena of Avalor, which began in 2016. (Note: I've only watched all the episodes up to December's "Navidad.") As I understand it, the idea for Elena came from the team behind Sofia the First. My head would, on its own, think that Elena was assigned to TV instead of to a movie, but as they describe it, they just wanted to create this show with this character and it wasn't that it was a decision to throw Elena just to TV or something. So I have to keep that in mind because, in many ways, it seems unfair that Elena is a TV show character instead of a movie character.
Elena is the first Hispanic Disney princess; though her land is inspired by Central America in general, to me she's from Mexico. I remember a few years back thinking that it was about time that Disney had a Hispanic princess. They were going for plenty of racial diversity with the princesses and yet they still hadn't covered this one angle--despite the fact that Disney has put plenty of effort into the Hispanic market (I remember that one year that MiceAge's April Fool's Day post said that California Adventure was turning into "Pixarlandia" both to target this market and because of the greater success at the time of Pixar films in comparison to Disney films). So I think Elena was a long time coming. And do you know what? Even though I'd been anticipating her, I didn't realize how much she would mean to me personally.
I'm three quarters Mexican but the thing is, I'm the type of person who creates my own culture and I think my parents are, too, in many ways; so I don't necessarily associate with all of the culture that other Mexican Americans do (as you can even tell by the type of "labels" I feel more natural using). Some of it, but not all of it. So I never felt like I needed Elena. I never thought that I needed the cultural representation. And I always thought that Belle was my look-alike princess because we both have brown hair, brown eyes, and light skin.
And then along came Elena. Her skin tone is a little warmer than mine (though I almost think they chickened out and could have gone a little darker), but did you see her eyes? They're not brown like Belle's; they're brown like mine, deep brown. And her brown hair is full, with lots of body to it even though she keeps it in a ponytail. I didn't realize that such small things made such a difference. But for the first time, I found myself happy, personally happy, at this next step in racial diversity. I guess now I know what people mean when they clamor for representation. It doesn't mean that you can't associate with a character whose race is different from your own; it just means that you want some of the characters you see to be like you.
Because Elena is in a TV show, there is more time to describe her land her culture. With Mulan, we saw some Chinese writing and we certainly got different clothing and also some beliefs. With Jasmine, we got architecture. With Pocahontas, we got a little bit of her language, or at least the idea of it, and some of her beliefs. Elena's "diversity," though, is carried out more fully. Spanish phrases sprinkled in here and there give the idea of language, we see architecture and clothing and also something about the artistic design of the show in general, and we see many of her cultural traditions (here's what I meant about "I create my own culture:" I don't share many of Elena's traditions). So this was all valuable to see.
Elena's positives as a character? She's an optimistic person who is always willing to take the time to do a task right, to work at it with patience and perseverance until she's achieved what's needed. She values her people and her friends and her family. She sees the good in every person and helps them to see it in themselves and others to see it, as well. The true traits of a good leader. And Elena was designed not to have a love interest, so the show is all about other types of relationships and mainly shows Elena figuring out how to rule her kingdom. Which means we don't even have to spend any time analyzing whether or not she keeps her independency in her romantic relationship since that's just not part of her story--which I suppose is a good thing. I don't mind the Disney princesses having love stories but not every character needs a love story.
The negatives? I know I said that there were some positives to Elena being in a TV show versus a movie. But there are also some downsides. Namely, the way I described her as such a perfect person. Since this isn't just a TV show but a Disney TV show designed for a young audience (what is the age group? eight and under? or lower?), the characters can be intentionally flat in some ways. Elena goes through her struggles, yes, so she isn't perfect. But she's still a little overdone in her perfection, even in terms of her imperfections--on purpose. She is intentionally designed as a role model for children, more so than any of the other princesses except perhaps Merida. So in order to believe in her positive traits, you just have to ignore that flatness. This is kind of annoying. I would have liked such a character, the ruler of the magical kingdom of Avalor inspired by Central America, to be more real, to be less a Disney Channel character and more simply Disney.
Still, Elena is designed with a lot of thought, and therefore for what she is, she is a good character and a good (final--for now, at least) addition to the Disney princess mix.
This also means that we've made it through twelve posts on this subject. I may have started wandering somewhat away from my original style simply because there were so many posts on the same subject. But it's been an interesting journey, hasn't it? And because these have proved to be popular posts, I'm probably going to do another series (not right away, though) focusing on the main male characters in Disney animation. Not necessarily the princes, just the ones that I decide are the main characters of their stories. So you can look for that series in the coming weeks.