Editor’s Note: It took us nearly three years to introduce our son to watching television in our home partly because we listened to the American Academy of Pediatrics who recommend waiting until age 2 and partly because we were too busy reading books, building elaborate train tracks or block towers, or escaping out of our home for some awesome adventures. Now, we are a little older, and excited about covering educational shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as well as Sophia the First discussed here in this guest blog post by NYC Dads Group member, Rich Gallagher.
Being the father of two girls, I accepted that it was useless to resist the siren song of the Walt Disney company from day one. Red got into the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse early on, and never looked back. Most of the Pixar movies are still a little bit out of reach, but she’s really taken to the Big Pink Machine that is the Disney Princesses.
The “wicked stepmother” aspect has kept us away from most of the movies, but Cinderella was an early fave (passed down from LW), and Red became familiar with the rest of the Princesses through the occasional YouTube clip, Little Golden Books, toys, bedsheets, plastic cutlery, karaoke machines, sippy cups, and… the bimonthly magazine. So, yeah, the Mouse puts out a lot of product around these ladies. Some good, some not-so-great.
I was a little bit skeptical when I first read about the premise for Disney Junior’s new princess-centric TV show, Sofia the First. An ordinary little girl becomes the newest princess, and we follow her journey as she learns the ropes. She even interacts with talking woodland creatures, fairy godmothers, and some of the other, established princesses!* At first, this felt like a little bit of a setback. The network was basking in universal praise for Doc McStuffins and its portrayal of a young black girl with a can-do attitude and passion for science. In fact, Doc outdrew Dora the Explorer in Nielsen ratings the month before Sofia premiered. No small feat.
Unlike Doc McStuffins, most of Disney’s princesses are very much the product of a bygone era where women need saving, and marrying royalty is a way (perhaps the only way) out of poverty or an abusive family. They’re wonderful family movies, but the princesses might not exactly be the greatest role models for modern, capable little girls.
I’m happy to report that Sofia the First is actually a great character to introduce girls to the Disney universe, and the show itself is really well done. Only three episodes in, we’ve seen the plucky commoner-turned-royalty break the gender barrier for her school’s pegasus racing team, stay true to her “village girl” roots and friends, and just yesterday she helped emancipate some trolls. Seriously.
Sofia’s endearing because she is written very much like a real girl. Most lead characters in kids’ shows are cut from a very Ferris Bueller-esque cloth. They always have an answer and a gadget for everything. When was the last time you saw Diego flustered? That kid never even loses his balance on his snowboard! But Sofia is presented very much as a work in progress. She’s learning. She makes mistakes. She needs and asks for help. These are the kinds of things I want my daughters to see.
Watching Sofia the First finally persevere in the flying horse race was a thrill. Red and I were both so into it, we were on the edge of our seats. It’s probably the closest thing I’ll have to a die-hard sports fan moment with the girls for at least a few years. Sofia the First is right up there with Team Umizoomi and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood as one of my favorite shows in the kids’ media diet.
It’s still a little weird that Project Runway’s Tim Gunn voices the butler, though.
*I don’t think Disney has made a big enough deal out of the concept that Sofia can interact with the fairy godmothers from Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella in the same episode. Do they all exist in the same narrative universe? If so, that’s kind of mind blowing. Look what a shared universe did for the Marvel movies, leading up to Avengers. Is there a master timeline somewhere in the bowels of Disney Animation that keeps this all straight? I’m a huge nerd, but there must be other people that are into the idea of a shared Disney universe, right?
Bio: Rich Gallagher writes for We’re Gonna Need More Bathrooms, a blog site exploring the intersection of fatherhood and nerdery in 2012. Rich Gallagher, an NYC-based PR guy with experience in sports, video games, tech and beverage alcohol brands. You may remember Rich from The Liquid Architecture blog, where he wrote about video games from 2007-2010