Friday, January 11, 2013

Disney testing Sofia the First's Storybook World

"When you're developing a new animated series, you typically do a pilot," explained Nancy Kanter, the senior vice president of Original programming and General Manager at Disney Junior Worldwide. "But in this case, given that we were doing a show which was set in the storybook world, we decided to do something different. Find a unique and fun way to introduce the character of Sofia to the world."

So Nancy had 200 Sofia the First picture storybooks printed and bound. She then had these hardcovers distributed to mothers all over Southern California with some very specific instructions.

"We told them 'Read this book to your child as you would any other picture storybook,' " Kanter continued. "We then asked those Moms to get back to us about what their kids had said about Sofia the First. Whether they actually liked this new storybook world which we'd created and all of the characters who lived there."

And what it is exactly that makes Sofia the First so relatable to kids in the real world? Kanter is quick to credit Craig Gerber, the co-executive producer of this new Disney Junior animated series, with coming up with the key creative concept that drives this show.

"Think about it: There are thousands of blended families out there nowadays. So you've got all of these kids who are trying to figure out how they should interact with their new siblings, how they should deal with their new mom or dad. Not to mention the stress of going to a new school or moving to a new town," Nancy stated. "So what Craig did was take Sofia, this average little girl, and then drop her into the storybook world equivalent of this modern-day situation."

To give you a bit of the backstory on this new Disney Junior series: Sofia the First is supposedly set in the kingdom of Enchancia, where Sofia and her mother Miranda have been happily living as commoners. But then one day King Roland II drops by Miranda's cobblers shop to buy a pair of slippers. Roland and Miranda fall in love. And the next thing Sofia knows, her mother has married the king and she is now being whisked off to go live in the castle. Where Sofia is then introduced to her new step-siblings, Amber and James. What's more, to help this once-a-commoner-now-a-royal learn the ins and outs of being a princess, Queen Miranda and King Roland II immediately sign Sofia up for classes at Royal Prep Academy. Where she then studies under Flora, Fauna and Merryweather (i.e. the three fairies from Walt Disney Animation Studio's 1959 classic, Sleeping Beauty).

And in the weeks and months ahead, you should look for some real old-school Disney stars to make appearances on this new animated series. For -- just as Cinderella magically turned up to help Sofia in "Once Upon a Princess," the November 2012 TV movie that officially launched this series -- there are plans to have other Disney princesses periodically pop up to help this former commoner deal with her royal mistakes.

"But that's not going to be an every-week kind of thing," Kanter cautioned. "You're only going to see the classic Disney Princesses appear in an episode of Sofia the First if it's logical emotionally to have Aurora, Belle or Jasmine show up. We also want to make sure -- from a story point of view -- that this is the perfect moment for that particular Disney Princess to appear. More importantly, that her appearance doesn't then overshadow the rest of the show."

And given that The Walt Disney Company has so heavily merchandised the other Disney Princesses, would it really surprise you to learn -- earlier this week -- the Disney Store debuted its Sofia the First product line? Or that -- among the costumes, dolls, plush and tiaras that are now available for sale -- there is now an official Sofia the First picture storybook?

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