She's not just an overnight princess, she's an overnight success! The new Disney Channel fairytale series Sofia the First, about a simple village girl whose mom marries the king, will premiere Friday morning (9:30am/8:30c) to great expectations. This is not only one of the most ambitious and sophisticated animated series ever attempted for the preschool crowd — the Broadway-esque song score alone is a marvel of pop, swing, bossa nova, jazz and hip hop — but it's already a ratings monster. The pilot movie, Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, drew 5.2 million viewers in its November premiere and was the highest-rated program for children ages 2-5 in the last five years.
"There's a lot of pressure to get this series right because we set the bar so high with the movie," says coexecutive producer-story editor Craig Gerber. "But, then, there's always been pressure because our goal is to create a quality show parents love as much as kids do."
The stars clearly adore it. The impressive voice cast, headed by Modern Family's Ariel Winter as Sofia, includes series regulars Sara Ramirez as Queen Miranda, Tim Gunn as the persnickety palace butler Baileywick, and Wayne Brady as Sofia's live-wire rabbit pal Clover.
Guest stars include Megan Mullally as the evil fairy Miss Nettle, who shows up at Sofia's school, Royal Prep, with a sinister agenda, and Oscar nominee Viola Davis as Sofia's Buttercup troop leader, Mrs. Hanshaw. Also on board: Jeffrey Tambor as Baileywick's roustabout brother Nigel, Kiernan Shipka as the mermaid Oona, Ellie Kemper as a blue mini-dragon called Crackle and Bonnie Hunt as Sofia's new aunt, Duchess Matilda, who's not quite as clueless and doddering as she seems.
The premiere episode finds Sofia muscling her way into an all-boy steeplechase race with the help of Minimus, a neurotic, lavender-tinted flying horse played by Winter's Modern Family costar Eric Stonestreet.
"Minimus has small wings and stubby legs — a takeoff on the superstallion Maximus in the Disney film Tangled," notes Gerber, who's been enjoying carte blanche access to the Mouse House archives. "Other episodes have such classic Disney princesses as Aurora, Jasmine, Belle and Ariel helping Sofia when she gets in a jam. Hey, we don't mess around. We bring in the big guns!"