“Sofia the First” is getting a second — sort of.
Disney Junior is preparing to launch “Elena of Avalor,” featuring a teenaged Latina princess who has been trapped for decades in the signature jeweled amulet that is one of the best-known elements of the current kiddie series. The character of Elena will debut in a special episode of “Sofia the First” that is beginning production now and set to air in 2016. She will then be the center of the new series, produced by Disney Television Animation and slated to debut in the same year.
“What excites us most is the chance to use distinctive animation and visual design to tell wonderful stories influenced by culture and traditions that are familiar to the worldwide population of Hispanic and Latino families and reflect the interests and aspirations of all children as told through a classic fairy tale,” said Nancy Kanter, executive vice president and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide, in a prepared statement.
“Sofia” has emerged as one of the pillars of the Disney Junior schedule, and serves to burnish the company’s many “Princess” characters and the storytelling behind them. Cinderella, Mulan, Ariel from”The Little Mermaid” and Rapunzel from “Tangled” have all made appearances in “Sofia,” which tells the story of a young girl whose mother marries the king, leaving her to navigate a new milieu and family. The series debuted in 2012.
According to the network, “Sofia the First” has delivered the two highest-rated telecasts in cable TV history among kids between 2 and 5 years of age as well as girls between 2 and 5, in addition to the second-highest rated cable-TV telecast ever in total viewers, adults 18-49 and women 18-49.
“Elena” will do battle, of sorts, as parent Walt Disney seeks to push forward Disney Junior in an increasingly competitive market for TV’s littlest viewers. The company launched Disney Junior in 2011 on the back of a block of kiddie viewing that ran under the same name on its flagship Disney Channel. Disney Junior, born out of the now-defunct SoapNet, competes with outlets like Nick Jr., part of the massive Viacom-owned Nickelodeon franchise; Sprout, the network aimed at preschoolers recently taken over by NBCUniversal; and PBS Kids, the daytime block of educational programming for kids that airs on PBS. Nontraditional entrants are also shaking up the space. Streaming-video outlets like Amazon and Netflix are producing series for kids.
The role of 16 year-old Princess Elena will be voiced by Aimee Carrero, who has appeared in the ABC Family series “Young & Hungry.” Carrero is represented by Innovative Artists, 3 Arts Entertainment and the law firm Skrzyniarz & Mallean.
In the series, Sofia discovers how Princess Elena was trapped inside the amulet and sets about to help Elena regain her human form and return to the kingdom of Avalor. Elena was trapped in the jewel after trying to protect her little sister and grandparents from Shuriki, an evil sorceress. The 16-year-old character will rule Avalor with help from characters like Grandfather Tito, Grandmother Cici and Duke Esteban, a royal adviser. She will also have friends: Mateo, a wizard-in-training, and Skylar, a magical flying creature.
“Elena of Avalor” is exec produced by Craig Gerber, creator of “Sofia the First.” Silvia Cardenas Olivas, an alumna of the National Hispanic Media Coalition’s Television Writers Program, is the story editor, and Elliot M. Bour is the supervising director. The series’ cultural advisers are Doris Sommer, Harvard University professor and director of graduate studies in Spanish, and Marcela Davison Aviles, managing director and executive producer, El Camino Project, an international Latino arts initiative.