The idea of what it means to be a princess has completely changed over the past 15 years. Princesses are no longer waiting to be awakened or saved. They’re determining their own paths, writing their own stories and definitely not looking for a rescuer. The new Netflix series Princess Power celebrates the newest vision of what it means to be a princess as it follows the lives of four princesses and their adventures together as they work to solve problems and overcome obstacles.
The preschool show is based on the book series Princesses Wear Pants, which is co-authored by Today show co-anchor Savannah Guthrie and clinical psychologist Allison Oppenheim. The book, released in 2017, became a New York Times bestseller and then was followed up with Princesses Save the World in 2018. The show was developed by veteran animation writer/producer Elise Allen. Executive producers on the show include Guthrie, as well as Matthew Berkowitz, Kristin Cummings and Jennifer Twiner McCarron from Atomic Cartoons and Drew Barrymore, Ember Truesdell and Nancy Juvonen at Flower Films.
Allen, who has a daughter of her own, loved the idea of a group of girls, who were each very different, learning how to become a team and work together to solve any challenge that life presented them. Each princess comes from one of four major fruit kingdoms: Kiwi, Blueberry, Pineapple and Raspberry. Allen also loved that the series would focus on the idea that being a princess means helping others and the world around them.
“All the princesses have such strong personalities,” says Allen, executive producer and show-runner on the series. “Penny (Pineapple) comes from a very whimsical place, but also she’s scientific-minded, but she’ll come up with these kinds of wacky scientific ideas. And her mind is always bouncing from one thing to another. She’s utterly positive. Whereas you take somebody like Rita (Raspberry), and she is wildly dramatic and everything is if it’s bad, it’s a disaster of epic proportions.”
She adds, “Then, you have Kira (Kiwi), who’s very involved with animals. She has studied them. It’s important to her. She has a very solid and grounded personality. She just has this breadth of knowledge that the other girls don’t have. I would say with Bea (Blueberry), it’s act first think later. She’s all about kinetic action and she’s the sportiest of the girls. You might try to tell her to do something, but she’s already done it.”
The voice cast includes well-established actors and rising stars. Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, who also appears in Avatar: The Way of Water, is the voice of Princess Rita Raspberry. Dana Heath stars as Kira Kiwi, Madison Calderon is Princess Bea Blueberry, Luna Bella Zamora voices Princess Penny Pineapple and Ciera Payton is Queen Katia. Rita Moreno will perform as Great Aunt Busyboots.
Allen came onto the project in early 2020 when so much of the development process took place over Zoom. Atomic Cartoons’ animation crew was working across two locations (Vancouver and Los Angeles), while most of the writers were in Los Angeles and New York. Despite not being able to have the kind of in-person meetings that creatives usually love, they were able to focus on bringing out the personalities of the main characters and give them each a distinct look, which would hopefully resonate with their young audience.
The animation team also did a lot of testing at the beginning of the design process to help troubleshoot and ensure that they wouldn’t run into challenges later. This made it easier to progress without challenges as they moved through production.
“We did a lot of putting characters through different poses and trying to decide how each character would run or walk,” says supervising producer Monica Davila. “We looked at the kind of life each princess lives and what kinds of clothes they like to wear. Rita (Raspberry) was a perfect example. She has these really cute outfits with these really puffy sleeves and her gestures are also so big that you would have sleeves crashing into her face with every shot. So we would flag things like that and then work them out.”
Art director Sarah Marino was behind defining the visual language of the show, creating an environment for each princess that matched her personality and fruit kingdom. For example, the Blueberry fruit kingdom borrows inspiration from Norway, while the Kiwi kingdom draws from Brazil. The Pineapple kingdom is influenced by Puerto Rico, and Raspberry is inspired by South Korea.
“It was all chosen so very carefully by Sarah,” says Allen. “We would all sit and spend hours going over the options. She had this incredible art team who would work with her and create mood boards for all the characters and their kingdoms. We wanted everyone who watches these shows to see themselves in the characters. That’s why we had different kingdoms, body types, things that they liked. It was about making these characters very different but showing with empathy they would still be able to work together and have fun together.”
Allen and Marino were both thrilled to work on a show that doesn’t peg characters as one thing or another, but presents them as fully realized individuals with their own strengths. They hope the kids (and adults) who watch will all find something that resonates with them.
“In this show, there’s definitely this sense of there’s no one way to be a little girl,” says Davila. “There’s no one way to be a princess. You can’t just have one character represent everybody. So that was this core idea — that we have these very different girls that are still all friends. They’re still very multifaceted. They still like to dress up and have their tea parties and do all this kind of very traditional princess stuff that we grew up watching in the 1990s. There’s a lot of that still in there. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting to have a tea party or pretending to live in a castle or anything like that. But there is this, always inherent, idea in the books, that there are things that are more important than that. It’s a lot less about what you wear and more about what you do, and your personality and who you are. Your personality has so many different factors involved in it. You’re not just one thing and you’re not just one thing that you wear.”
Davila points out that each of the show’s heroines were given a very different way of looking at the world and a very specific personality. “Once the personalities of the girls were set, I started to recognize a lot of my friends or their kids in multiple princesses,” she recalls. “I have a friend who loves clothes and fashion but she’s also a brilliant scientist and I thought she was just like Penny because she really enjoys dressing up. I know she loves makeup, but she’s also in a lab all day. So, I love that there’s more dimensionality in these girls. They’re not all one thing. It makes for more fun storytelling because you can do so much more with the characters and they’re so much more relatable.”
Princess Power premieres on Netflix on January 30.