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Disney's ‘Elena of Avalor’ adds diversity to princess ranks

Princess Elena, voiced by Aimee Carrero, makes her

Princess Elena, voiced by Aimee Carrero, makes her debut in "Elena of Avalor," Friday at 7 p.m. on Disney. Credit: Disney Channel

Don’t get me started on the princess thing. It’s not my cup of tea. Girls in my ideal world would idolize women world leaders, entrepreneurs and Olympic gold medalists, not big-eyed, tiny-waisted cutie-pies. But if princesses there must be — and Disney does run the world; we just live in it — then Friday night’s premiere of “Elena of Avalor” (7 p.m., Disney Channel/Disney Junior) might as well be one to watch. The conglomerate’s publicity machine touts this new animated heroine as a “brave and adventurous teenager . . . inspired by diverse Latin cultures and folklore.”

That’s no small deal in a world where viewers in Disney TV’s impressionable target demographic — ages 2-11 — seek characters in whom they can see themselves. After decades of princesses descended from Europeans (too many to note), Asians (“Mulan”), Arabs (Jasmine of “Aladdin”), Native Americans (“Pocahontas”) and African-Americans (“The Princess and the Frog”), it’s past time Latin-heritage kids also got their own princess.

Friday’s first of two “Elena” episodes promises a spirit guide sourced from a Mayan tribe in southern Mexico and shape-shifting creatures based on a Chilean myth. Future episodes celebrate Dia de los Muertos and Navidad. Elena’s friends are named Naomi, Mateo and Gabe, with older cousin Esteban as her chancellor. Just 16, Elena serves as crown princess until she’s old enough to be queen.

And serve, she does. “Her adventures, decision-making abilities and fearlessness in standing up for herself and what she believes convey a standard of behavior for leaders,” touts Disney press statements. “Elena sometimes struggles with balancing the needs of her loved ones while also considering what is best for the kingdom.”

What’s best for Disney, of course, is extending its media reach and marketing power — but we mere subjects can appreciate Elena’s cultural significance nonetheless. “Elena” actors poised to get the Disney push include Dominican-born, Miami-raised Aimee Carrero (“Young & Hungry”), who voices Elena, and Californian Jenna Ortega (“Jane the Virgin”), as younger sister Princess Isabel. If Disney princesses simply must be, they might as well be diverse.

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