Becky May finds a series that has plenty of discussion points if parents are willing to engage
The film/Series: Sophia the First
Other connected films/TV series Elena of Avalor, Elena and the Secret of Avalor
Running time, or each episode length 22mins
Genre Animation, fantasy, musical
Overview. The four series animation focuses on the experiences of Princess Sophia who was ‘just a girl from the village,’ until her widowed mother married the widowed King of Enchancia. Through a variety of experiences, Sophia learns to navigate changed expectations whilst challenging the status quo.
What you liked From episode one, Sophia challenges the stereotypes which others try to uphold, but her character is not one-dimensional and in later episodes, it is her preconceptions that are challenged.
What you didn’t like Personally, I am uncomfortable with affirmational messages which teach children ‘you can be anything you want to be,’ ‘just believe in yourself,’ although these are messages widely taught in popular culture.
Thoughts for parents:
Sophia the First is a preschool animation series which epitomises the move in recent years to turn the notion of the perfect Disney princess on its head. In the theme tune to each episode, we are reminded of Sophia’s brief but significant back story; just an ordinary girl from the village whose life was changed upside down when her mum married the king of Enchancia.
Through the episodes, Sophia discovers, together with those young children watching ‘what life is all about,’ but is not afraid to challenge the status quo, asking the question ‘why?’ not only so that she can understand but at a deeper level of questioning whether things need to be this way anyway! Issues such as friendship, loyalty, gender expectations, family etc. are explored and it is not just Sophia who finds herself at the centre, her two stepsiblings are often the ones whose behaviours and values are questioned.
In reality, these are issues all young children will be exposed to at some point, so having a medium such as this to raise the issues in the home where you can talk about them, is a gift! The danger comes when we leave programmes like this to teach our children, and don’t have the conversations with our children ourselves. This doesn’t mean we have to sit our three year olds down and analyse together every line of dialogue! But we can take the opportunity to occasionally ask the questions as we watch together; ‘I wonder what God thinks about this?’ ‘sometimes I feel like that too,’ ‘that reminds me of … in the Bible.’
A second thing that parents need to be aware of is that, as the name suggests, Enchancia is a magical kingdom, complete with flying horses, magic wands and a resident wizard. For me, this is not a reason not to watch! It is an age-appropriate fairy-tale based fictitious story where the themes mentioned above are of more significance than the ‘magic’ references. That said, there are times when the conversations we have with our children should be more of the ‘that’s not what we believe, this is just a story’ nature, helping our children to navigate the messages they receive.