Editor's Note: According to the Nielsen ratings, Disney Channel's Sofia The First is the most-watched cable series among children 2 to 5. It has already inspired a popular live show at Disney's California Adventure and at Disney World, a hit soundtrack CD, dolls, books and a plethora of merchandising. It was the subject of a front page Wall Street Journal story yesterday and there is no doubt the pre-school show a big deal for the Disney Company. I've asked Greg Ehrbar, Animation Scoop's steadfast DVD reviewer, to take a look at the recently released Sofia The First DVD and let us know what all the fuss is about. - Jerry Beck
If you’re not crazy about the idea of Disney Princesses -- or fairy tales for that matter -- because of a perceived notion of how they might make young girls expect happy endings too often, or if you're not too thrilled about the idea of classic Disney characters appearing in a regular animated TV show, Sofia the First may not be your cup of tea.
But you know what? Judging how the format was established in the pilot film laid out, Sofia is not only a charming little series for young children, it's one of those "why didn’t they do this before?" kind of concepts.
Sofia the First is to little ones what Hannah Montana and Sonny with a Chance were to tweens: wish fulfillment. The other two series put everyday girls into their dreams of being a pop star or a TV star. Sofia goes from being a village girl to a princess when her Mom, a shoemaker, fits a shoe onto the King and guess what?
Sofia attends the Royal Preparatory Academy, run by Flora, Fauna and Merryweather from Sleeping Beauty. Each episode features a "guest princess." In the pilot, it's Cinderella, who helps Sofia solve a problem then vanishes (but we see her pumpkin coach later).
The animation is done in a style of CG with a flatter, cel-like look that isn't quite as "rubbery" as most CG -- but is sort of a compromise between new and classic styles that has a nice radiance to it with “camera moves” that suggest the multiplane effect. The result is allows fluidity to the animation not feasible for 2-D animation on a TV budget, though it's still different from the traditional Disney look, as even my kids noticed Cinderella looked a little different than she has in the past.
It's a very watchable show for adults as well as kids. Unlike Mickey Mouse Clubhouse or Dora the Explorer (which are nice in their way), the characters in this series don't ask the viewers a question and pause every few minutes. Even better, the musical score is lavishly orchestrated, much like a Disney animated feature.
The tuneful original songs – which include a very "Be Our Guest"-like production number – were written by scriptwriter Craig Gerber, John Kavanaugh, Faye Greenberg and David Lawrence (High School Musical songwriter and son of Steve and Eydie). The end titles feature a live-action Ariel Winter (of Modern Family) singing “Rise and Shine” (not to be confused with the original theme of The Flintstones).
I also like how Sofia's flying coach reminds me of a certain beloved flying car. There's even an in-joke for fans of Phineas and Ferb. I won't give it away.
The DVD doesn’t have much in the way of bonus features beyond a sing-along, but the package does contain a clever "Royal Preparatory Academy Handbook," a folio containing a punch out crown, Academy I.D., tea party invitation, "throne" placeholder and jewel stickers.
With the Voices of: Ariel Winter, Sara Ramirez, Travis Willingham, Tim Gunn, Wayne Brady, Jennifer Hale, Jess Harnell, Russi Taylor, Tress MacNeille, Jim Cummings
Music by Kevin Kliesch
Directed by Jamie Mitchell
Disney DVD (released March 5. 2013)