Her Time: Magic Kingdom Welcomes Princesa Elena
A little over 4 years ago, I became a Mom. Yes, it's capitalized. It's a formal title that I struggle and strive to earn every single day. My sweet (sometimes/allthetime crazy) little girl can claim heritage mostly from the European continent (with a bit of Native American from her father's side). Her skin is pale (when she's not rocking the Disney tan), her eyes are blue, and her hair is a pale brown with splashes of gold. Daphne loves to dress up like her favorite Disney characters, and even without a wig, she can look like most of them. Although her favorite princesses to meet are Tiana and Mulan, the dress she seems to always want to wear around the house is Aurora. I'd always assumed it was her pink obsession, but since interviewing Jenna Ortega, I'm starting to wonder if maybe it's something more. [Jenna is 13 and provides the voice of Elena's sister, Isabel, on the show.]
You can hear my reaction at the exact moment she breaks my heart: when Jenna says as a 4 year old she wanted to bleach her hair blonde to look like Cinderella. I dropped my media/interviewer persona and immediately felt the empathy of a mother whose daughter thinks that the way she looks isn't right. But it's more than the looks, isn't it? There are other princesses with dark hair. And Jenna, with straight, dark locks and big, round eyes resembles Princess Jasmine a bit. Little girls like Jenna, who may have grown up in bilingual households trying to hold on to their cultural traditions, may have struggled to reconcile how to keep their heritage while also trying to assimilate into mainstream youth culture. With Elena of Avalor, Disney is taking a giant leap toward allowing those little girls to hopefully merge the two. Craig Gerber, Emmy-winning creator of Sofia the First (and songwriter!) and writer Silvia Cardenas Olivas came together (with others, of course) to bring Elena to life.
So now, without the fanfare of a feature film to draw attention to the newest Disney Princess, Disney is looking to get the word out to families. Enter Tara Anderson: the Show Director behind so many of my favorite parks parades and shows (as well as Merida's previous coronation ceremony).
Elena's Royal Welcome was created (along with a truncated version after the grand debut for repeated park performances). A big media day was organized to promote (ENTER MEEEE!!) the debut. I arrived at the parks and took refuge in the shade of the Tomorrowland Terrace before venturing out to our roped off media viewing area in the hub. Elena's Royal Welcome was to include a brief processional to be followed by a presentation on the castle stage. I hid under my parasol and struck up a conversation with a sweet PAC cast member who was minding the rope. This young lady from Venezuela was SO EXCITED for Elena. I looked around. So many girls of all ages, many in costumes or disneybounding, most of Latina decent, all packed into the hub with stars in their eyes. Wow. I haven't seen this much emotion and excitement in the hub since the final show of Dream Along. A few people started standing near me waiting for the show. A nice woman showed me her Celebrating button, told me she was there celebrating her 44th anniversary with her husband. "That's wonderful!" We're both quiet a minute (guys I'm so awkward sometimes), she pipes up again. "You see him? That's my son. He helped make this. And him? He made the show!" I squinted at the media credentials. Elliot Bour. The Director of Elena of Avalor. I'll be. I shook his hand and congratulated him.
Time for a brief confession on my part: when I went to the parks yesterday, I had yet to watch Elena of Avalor. This is unlike me. I am a researcher! But we dropped cable last year, and I just... hadn't gotten around to it. I still knew and understood (mostly) the premise: Elena is a young princess who was trapped in a magical amulet for many years before being released by Sofia the First. She's from a magical kingdom, Avalor, that is supposed to be representative/draw from all Latin American culture (smart there, Disney). She sings and loves her family. Ok, so now if you haven't seen the show either, you're as caught up as I was when the show began.
Trumpets blared. A royal announcer-guy (how is my vocabulary failing me here) stepped out to narrate the proceedings. The area in front of the stage was packed with fans who'd been waiting hours for the main event. Parents scooped up their kids onto their shoulders for better views. I felt myself grumbling a little at my obstructed view, but then I looked down at the picture on my camera and realized my priorities were NOT in the right place. Stopped being bothered that very minute.
A crew of dancers representing Avalor came out, sporting floral arches and accompanied by live singers and musicians.
Actually, I have the best view in the house. One of them, at least.
Jim is one of the bigwigs at Disney. He repeated each of his sentences in English AND Spanish. We got to be the first to hear the announcement that Elena had been renewed for a second season. Nobody was happier than the group of people next to me.
Pinch me, I get to hang out with the coolest people in the hub.
That's Nancy Kanter, head of programming at Disney Junior and beside her is one of the regional heads of Girl Scouts of America. They're there to give the first ever Scepter of Light Award to Ashley Chico for her STEM-centric "Gold Award Take Action" project. It's also a scholarship. Heck, yeah!
The royals hosts with the mosts, Cinderella and Prince Charming, stepped out on stage to announce the welcome of Elena. Cue the giant welcome banner!
More dancers, musicians, and bannermen began the procession.
Elena got a horse-drawn carriage, of course (Tara Anderson and I would later joke that that horse is the biggest diva performer at the parks, because this is apparently my life now and I would trade it for NOTHING).
Half the area in front of the stage had been kept clear for what was, until now, an unknown purpose. Elena was immediately followed by a massive group of young Girl Scouts who got a primo spot in front of the stage for the welcome.
Step onto the castle stage DRESS FIRST...
The royals welcomed Elena.
Elena then took a guitar and, accompanied by her fellow on stage musicians, performed My Time. Live. I could hear murmurings of excitement from the crew around me. Tiny explosions of emotion from these people who worked so hard to bring this young woman to life as well as dozens of Latina women and girls scattered around the hub.
"My Time, to honor my family and friends."
Yup, Disney definitely did it up for Elena's debut (also live-streamed on the parks blog!). Elena's Royal Welcome will continue to be a part of the daily stage operations for at least the coming weeks. Tara confirmed that, although Diva Horse and procession will not be a part of the daily version, most of what happens on the stage itself will be repeated (not the extra live singers/musicians, but Elena will still perform). Yes, I'd say this is a highly visible way to get Disney families familiar with the company's newest royal member.
I'm going to go out on a limb and say they probably won't do these streamers every time, too. I could be wrong, it's just a guess...
Elliot and Craig may have been the most excited pair in the park. I felt so lucky to get to witness their reactions to the ceremony. Elliot turned to me, shaking his head, "I've always dreamed of making a Disney Princess. I can't believe I got to do this." Stop, you're going to make me cry. Dreams coming true all over the hub right now. "Let's get a picture!" I'm happy to oblige, you guys. I always offer, when I see people trying to get decent pictures in full sun on their cell phones. Sure, go ahead and take that picture, but I'll do you one better...
Wait a minute... y'all have Elena magic bands?! "Oh! Get my scepter tattoo in there, too!" (Side note: the Elliot's guest with the red shirt helped design the scepter. Hence the tattoo.)
Disney CM's started swarming with cold water bottles for everybody while we got herded to a backstage bus over to the Contemporary for a luncheon. I'm still upholding my promise to NOT take pictures of my food, but I will tell you I could have eaten my weight in flan. I did take a selfie with the fancy light up/ musical Elena scepter we were all gifted with. It's also motion activated, so that when my charming daughter swings it violently at my husband's unmentionables, he'll have dulcet tunes to soothe him.
Immediately following this picture, I noticed the scepter has TWO sound modes and NO off switch. Disney... a sound making toy that I can't turn off without a mini screw-driver to remove the batteries? WHY. DO. YOU. HATE. ME?! Up next were the interviews (you've already seen snippets of two of them, and I've been quoting them throughout the article). They handed us a little press packet with bios on our interviewers. I took a closer look at Craig Gerber ,"Gerber has also written for the Disney Fairies franchise." What?! I decided to grab my phone and IMDb Elliot Bour as well. HO. Ly. Crappola. Guys... If iced tea had been in my mouth I probably would have spittaked all over myself. I somehow got myself together and talked to Jenna, Craig, Nancy and Silvia. I concluded my time with Craig by thanking him for what is, in my eyes, one of the best things to happen for entertainment geared at young girls possibly ever (he helped write The Pirate Fairy). I approached Tara for my interview. YOU. GUYS. SHE REMEMBERED ME. And my Boo To You/Tiana obsession. She assured me that Boo To You rehearsals were under way, but kept mum about any further details. And then we talked smack about that Diva horse. Cause we're old pals, Tara Anderson and I...
After wrapping interviews we got to go have a PHOTO OP WITH ELENA!! At the moment, Elena does not have meeting ops on the books at the kingdom, BUT the rumor mill says that it WILL happen, possibly as soon as a month from now (again, rumors, not guarantees, do with them what you will, but do NOT send me an angry email if you show up in a month and she's not there).
Tiny gripe: This dress and princess are way more breathtaking than these photos are showing. There was only the overhead lighting from the ballroom available, and I refused to wash her out with an on board directed flash.
[NOT ENOUGH PICTURES OF ELENA AND THE ROYAL WELCOME, YOU SAY? By jove, did you know I have a Flickr? Here's a direct link to the album with many many photos not included on this page.]
I caught up to Elliot again outside the ballroom, where I told him I'd googled him, and he blushed a little about his incredible resumé. I mentioned I worked with Barry Temple at Full Sail now (head animator of Crickey on Mulan, which Elliot also worked on), and we had a fun chat. He mentioned he was off to get pictures with Elena. I asked him if he wanted me to take the pictures for him. "WOULD YOU REALLY?!" Sure, I'll be your personal photopass. "What's that?" Oh god, I caught myself speaking Disney...
And that's how I found myself in a room with a princess, Disney execs and VPs, Animators, Writers, Directors, and Ambassadors. And no other "civilians" in sight. With my camera. *Gulp* Please don't kick me out, please don't kick me out...
I gave Elliot my card so he could get in touch with me for the pictures, and thanked/congratulated him again. What a day. I woke up that morning expecting to meet a princess (don't get me wrong, that was plenty cool), and ended up chatting with and giving my card to a guy responsible for so many of the films that shaped my youth. My poor husband got to hear me rehash everything in minute detail as I streamed the Women's Gymnastics all-around final on my phone (you thought this article was lengthy? HAH!). Even if I never go to another Disney media event, this one will be kept to close to my heart always.
Also Daphne and I streamed the premier episode of Elena of Avalor on Disney's Youtube channel last night. She swung her scepter around and declared herself in need of "that dress."
*Disclaimer: I was invited by WDW to partake in a media celebration of Elena of Avalor. We were given a meal, meeting op with Elena, a toy sceptre, and some cool interview opportunities. I was not obligated to write anything in exchange. All opinions stated here are my own.*