The Wall Street Journal reports today on Disney's development of a new type of princess for young girls. Sofia the First is one of the new additions to Disney's family of characters. She's "confident, resourceful and focused on being a good person. She should not be valued most of all for her beauty. Her royal family should include exactly zero evil stepmothers." Nancy Kanter, a senior executive at Disney, explains: "We knew we didn't want it to be a young woman looking for a man." The Sophia the First series debuted on Disney Junior on January 11th. It has become the year's top-rated show among pre-school children. Disney aimed to create a princess that would appeal to young girls, but that would provide an image and identity more acceptable to parents than some of the company's traditional princesses. It appears that they have succeeded.
To me, this case provides another interesting development at Disney, besides the unique way that they are trying to reposition a key type of character. Here we have a case of a key new animated character debuting on Disney's cable networks, rather than in an animated feature film. The firm has begun to leverage the character in the theme parks and through its consumer products and retail divisions. Historically, Disney launched key characters through animated feature films, and then leveraged them to other areas. With Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean movies, we saw Disney take a theme park ride and build a popular series of feature films. Now we have a character debuting on cable and then moving to the theme parks. Could an animated feature film be next for Sophia the First? Disney's ability to find different ways to originate content may be a key driver of growth for the future. Relying only on feature films to launch a new franchise can be expensive and risky. Having other ways of originating and leveraging characters could be key to the company's future... as important as some of the recent acquisitions have been in terms of adding to the stable of characters in the Disney family.