EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Aimee Carrero on playing Disney’s first Latina princess in new series Elena of Avalor
Disney keeps getting more diverse and representative of the real world – and we’re absolutely loving it.
The newest Disney princess arrives on Disney Channel tomorrow morning (Saturday, October 8) and she’s all kinds of awesome. Elena of Avalor is the ruler of her magical kingdom (yes, she actually works) and a fierce, independent spirit who is devoted to her family and community. Did we mention she’s also the first Latina Disney princess ever?
We spoke to Elena voice actor Aimee Carrero about what it means to her to be part of such a huge step in improving representation, what adventures await Elena, and how the series incorporates Latin culture into its very core.
What does it mean to you to portray the first Latina Disney princess?
It’s been a long time in the making and people have been really really wanting something like this, especially in the United States. For me, it’s an incredible honour. And also to my family – my grandmother has waited many many more years than I have to see something like this happen. Every now and then I have to pinch myself to make sure that it’s actually happening.
How do you think Elena is different to other Disney princesses?
I think what makes her different is she’s the first Disney Princess who’s been on the job. She’s actively ruling her kingdom as the narrative takes place, which I think is really cool – she’s got a job.
Something I also really love about the story is the fact that there’s no handsome prince or Prince Charming. She’s really her own hero. She’s the one who drives the narrative. She is a strong, independent force and she’s also in the shape of a young girl, which I think is really exciting.
In the first couple of episodes we see Elena struggling with the balance between her personal life and ruling a country, is that a theme that continues throughout the series?
Yes, absolutely. I think the core of the series is about leadership. We get to see how a leader is made. I think that’s the undercurrent that runs through the entire series. There’s a lot of Elena really thinking that she’s got it figured out, but realising that she doesn’t and she has more growing to do. I think that’s what we’re all trying to do, even as adults.
I think what makes Elena so inspirational is that she will always try again, she is courageous in the face of adversity, and she’s not afraid to fail. I think that’s a really inspiring message.
Do you think the show has done a good job of incorporating Latin culture?
Yes, I do, as a Latin person. There are so many variations between the Latin community – of the traditions, the dialects we speak. What I like is that they haven’t chosen one specific country, they pull references from different cultures.
For example we have an episode called ‘Dia de los Muertos’ – that translates into ‘Day of the Dead’ – which is a holiday that’s primarily in Central America and South America, especially in Mexico, that is so important to culture.
In the Navidad episode, which is the Christmas episode, they put on this parranda, which is like carolling. That’s something that Puerto Ricans do every year, and my family do it every year.
Avalor is a centre of trade, so presumably there’s a lot of opportunity to meet people from other cultures throughout the show. Is that something we’ll see?
We will. I was just watching an episode that’s coming up that features an Asian king. We also have Naomi – who plays Elena’s best friend. It’s not really specified, but she’s definitely from a caucasian kingdom not so far away.
Are there any issues that Elena has not dealt with yet ruling a country that you would her to explore in future episodes?
I would like to see Elena get some negative feedback and see how she handles that. I think that’s so far it’s just been challenges with the villains of the episode, and challenges within her own council and household. It might be interesting to see how she handles some resistance from the people that she rules.
Who is your favourite character on the show besides Elena?
I love Esteban. I know he’s technically sort of the antagonist in a lot of these episodes. He’s her cousin who’s older than her. Elena was trapped in an amulet for 41 years, and her cousin who was not in the amulet has aged while she’s remained 16, so it’s kind of an interesting dynamic. He tries to say ‘I’m so much older than you and I have all the wisdom and all the knowledge’ and she’s like ‘but we grew up together, what are you talking about?’.
Do you think he’s a good guy overall?
I do, I think Esteban is stuck in his ways. He’s used to doing things his own way. They always bump heads, but in the end they’re family. You can bump heads with your family, you can fight them, things can get very very awkward, but in the end there’s this tie that’s impossible to break.
So you think she’s a great role model?
I think she’s a great role model because she’s imperfect and she’s flawed and she makes mistakes. The show is about that. It’s about her learning from her mistakes. It’s important to show children life isn’t perfect. There’s definitely wisdom in learning from people around you and your elders and also from your experiences.
What would you like children to take away from watching the show?
I think that the most important message of Elena for me is that we all have things that make us special, like our cultures, or our personalities, or our hair colour or whatever, but in the end we all deal with very universal challenges.
I’ve really enjoyed the songs I’ve heard so far, do you have a favourite song on the series?
I think my favourite song so far has been a lullaby that hasn’t come out in the UK yet. There’s an episode where Esteban finds the fountain of youth, and he proceeds to drink a ton from the fountain of youth, so instead of just being a few years younger he reverts to being a baby and he gets into all of these terrible situations. Elena has to run after him and be a big sister. She sings him this very beautiful lullaby that was written by our creator Craig Gerber and John Kavanaugh who writes the music. It was just a classic lullaby, it was soft and it was beautiful. People have really responded here. My mom called me in tears. She was like [sobbing voice] ‘it was so beautiful’.
Are there lots of magical elements would you say in the stories?
Definitely. I think with Latin culture in general, there’s a lot of mysticism and magic in the folklore. In that way, our creator has included that in the story. And also it goes with this Disney tradition – there is magic in fairy tales.
Elena has this magic sceptre, which is like a staff, it has certain powers. What I love about it is that even though it’s a powerful tool, it doesn’t come without consequence. When she uses it, it weakens her a little bit. She has to be very wise when she’s going to use her power and I think that’s an awesome metaphor too for young kids.
It sounds like responsibility is a key theme in the series.
Absolutely. Like a lot of Latin families, I grew up with my grandparents next door. The structure can be very unconventional, like Elena’s structure – her parents are no longer with her, so she’s with her grandparents and her sister. She has to be a big sister to Isabel but also sort of like a mother figure to her too. I think that’s something that a lot of people, especially in the Latin culture, deal with. It’s not only responsibility for herself, it’s also responsibility for her family. That’s definitely a huge huge theme in Elena.
Elena of Avalor is a spin-off of Sophia the First, how do you think those two shows are different?
They’re a little different in that Elena’s skewed a little older because she’s 16 and Sophia’s quite a bit younger than that, so the problems are a little different, and of course there’s this added element of Latin culture which is very pronounced in Elena of Avalor.