Lou Diamond Phillips
On August 23, Elena of Avalor ended its royal run as one of the Disney's most beloved and top-rated programs.
The groundbreaking series made history when it debuted in 2016. Elena represented Disney's first Latina princess. Although Avalor is a fictional land, the series strives for authentic representation. Over the course of the show's three-season run, the series has been influenced and inspired by Latin and Hispanic culture, language, traditions and music.
When viewers first met Elena, she was a young crown princess not quite ready to rule her kingdom. In the one-hour series finale, aptly titled "Coronation Day," Elena will finally become Queen of Avalor.
Throughout its more than 95 episodes, the series has featured some of the industry's most iconic Latinx actors including Edward James Olmos, Rita Moreno, Cheech Marin, Tony Plana, Héctor Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Constance Marie, Jaime Camil, Justina Machado, Gina Rodriguez, Mario Lopez and Lou Diamond Phillips.
The series won the Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Casting for an Animated Series or Special in 2018 and 2019 and was nominated again this year.
Even though the show's young viewers may not recognize that they are hearing, for example, the legendary Rita Moreno as the voice of Queen Camila, it was important to Emmy-winning casting director Jennifer Trujillo to have some of the most well-known Latinx actors as part of the series.
Director Jennifer Trujillo: It means a lot to have the community represented on the show and get more folks involved who are excited about what we are doing.
"It means a lot to have the community represented on the show and get more folks involved who are excited about what we are doing," Trujillo says. "For parents, it gives them something to be excited about along with their kids."
"Rita Moreno is an icon in my house," says Aimee Carrero who voices Elena. "We worship at the altar of Rita Moreno."
For Carrero's parents, hearing their daughter's voice alongside these trailblazers has been truly special. "It is so meaningful that there is footage of our voices together and that my name is in anywhere near in a sentence with their name. It's a point of pride for the many generations of Latinos in my family"
Carrero, who also voices She-Ra in the Netflix series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, got the call to audition for Elena of Avalor while she was on vacation and almost passed on the opportunity. Throughout the process, Carrero wasn't quite sure what she was auditioning for.
"I can't imagine the pressure I would have felt if I had known," she says. "I heard I got the job but I still didn't even really know what job I had. The next day there was a press release about the first Latina Disney princess and I was like, 'Wait is that the job I booked?' It's one of those magical experiences. Once the cat was out of the bag, it was sort of an exercise in denial. Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to do the job."
Phillips, who currently stars in the Fox series Prodigal Son, voices the nefarious Victor Delgado, who through the course of the series becomes Elena's unlikely ally.
Phillips first heard about the series when he was working on the movie Night Stalker. The movie's cinematographer Quyen Tran asked him if he ever did any voice over work because her husband Sam Riegel was the Voice Director on an upcoming Disney series. "I thought, 'Hey it will be a lot of fun.' But then it turned into something so amazing and magical," Phillips says. "It just became this unexpected journey that I did not know I was going to take."
Lou Diamond Phillips: I have four daughters so for them to see something like this show is a major major thing. Finally, television is finally looking like America. The demographics are catching up. There's representation on the screens.
For Phillips who has played many iconic Latino roles including Ritchie Valens in La Bamba, the series represents one more step in the "journey of representation." "I have four daughters so for them to see something like this show is a major major thing," he says. "Finally, television is finally looking like America. The demographics are catching up. There's representation on the screens."
Phillips longs for the day when actors, directors, cinematographers, everyone won't need to be described as "of color." "I pray for a time when a generation can just get rid of the hyphens and not have a qualifier."
The series represents one more step forward toward that goal. The series' young fans don't necessarily know that Elena is the first Disney Latina princess and all that means. "For Elena to be given to a generation who will not question her presence at all is a great thing," Phillips says.
When he began voicing Victor, Phillips had just finished filming The 33 with Antonio Banderas. "I spent three months in a real mine in Colombia with Antonio Banderas, who I adore, so we got pretty close. I had already developed an Antonio Banderas impression," he says laughing. "And as soon as I read how suave and smooth Victor was, I thought, 'I'm just going to do my Antonio Banderas impression.'"
For Carrero, who was born in the Dominican Republic to a Dominican mother and a Puerto Rican father, the series represents something she was missing as a child.
Aimee Carrero: Can you imagine if we had had something like this growing up? Can you imagine what that would have been like to turn on the TV and see parts of your culture represented? The language you hear in your own home represented or even the colors?
"Can you imagine if we had had something like this growing up? Can you imagine what that would have been like to turn on the TV and see parts of your culture represented? The language you hear in your own home represented or even the colors? When I was growing up the closest I had was Jasmine [from Aladdin] because she was brown like me," she says.
The feedback she has received from both young and old fans has been particularly rewarding. "It's been super special to see woman my age with their own children say, 'I'm so grateful that my kids will grow up with this sort of representation.' And that's the ultimate compliment – to be a part of something that people feel will make a difference in their children's lives and their own lives."
Elena also represents a new generation of princesses who are strong female characters in charge of their own destiny and who are not waiting for a prince to rescue them.
Elena's journey is a valuable one for the show's impressionable young viewers.
"I think it's important for kids to see leaders are not just born, they're made and that's one of my favorite parts about this story," Carrero says. " She's a flawed human being who faces challenges every episode and some of those challenges aren't even external some of them are internal.
"Some of them have to do with 'Oh I've already learned this I think I've got this figured out and having to go back and learn some of the same lessons.' Sometimes you are going to have to learn this lesson over and over again and it doesn't mean you've failed and it doesn't mean you're a bad person, this is just what it feels like to grow up."
The series finale is a delightful cavalcade of familiar voice. Jenny Slate, Mark Hamill, Fred Armisen and Andy Garcia lend their voices to the "Four Shades of Awesome," a quartet of dangerous spirits who place Elena and Avalor in great danger. Because the finale goes back to many of the places and plotlines the show visited over the course of the series, many familiar voices return.
In addition to Phillips, viewers will hear Jaime Camil, Justina Machado, Gina Rodriguez, Mario Lopez, John Leguizamo, Cheech Marin, Whoopi Goldberg, Melissa Fumero, Stephanie Beatriz, Kether Donohue, Nestor Carbonell ,Ana Ortiz, and Gina Torres in addition to series regulars Yvette Nicole Brown, Jillian Rose Reed, Carlos Alazraqui, Chris Parnell, Jenny Ortega, Jorge Diaz, Joseph Haro and Christian Lanz.
"Look at the cast on this show," Phillips says. "It's a who's who of the Latino community and people who were on board with the message and wanted to have some fun. And I think the amazing thing is the level of quality. This was done with such love and such care and such respect to the indigenous source material.
"It's just a real privilege to be a part of something that first and foremost inspires to be entertaining and bring pleasure and joy to a younger generation but something that also has a heart and a conscience to it. We need more of that sort of artistry out in the world today."
Elena of Avalor is available to view on Disney Junior and Disney NOW