'Modern Family' actress gives voice to a Disney princess

By Rick Bentley

The Fresno Bee (MCT)

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 2012 9:43 p.m. MST

"Sofia the First: Once Upon A Princess" will become a TV series early next year.

Disney Junior, Disney Junior

"Modern Family" star Ariel Winter wanted to grow up to be "a doctor, Wonder Woman or a lot of other different things."

She would be lying like Pinocchio if she didn't finally admit that she was born to be a Disney princess.

"I was named after the Little Mermaid, and she's always been my favorite. That's why I also wanted to be a princess when I was younger," says the 14-year-old actress.

It's as if the Blue Fairy granted Ariel's wish because she's now providing the voice for the new Disney Junior's animated princess Sofia the First.

A movie, "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess," aired Sunday night to introduce the character. Then her royal TV series will be unveiled early next year. "Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess" is also being shown several times each day throughout the coming week.

This is a change in the world of Disney Princesses. All of the other members of the royal court — Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, etc. — have come from feature films. Sofia is the first introduced in an original TV movie and series.

Sofia is also a game changer because she is the first pre-teen to wear the crown. The film explains how Sofia is suddenly thrown into the royal world when her mother marries King Roland II. That means instead of being worried whether her Prince will come, Sofia's got school work and peer pressure to keep her busy.

Before you can say bibbidi-bobbidi-boo, Sofia finds herself living in a castle alongside her step-siblings, Amber and James. If there's one thing a Disney Princess needs to know, it's how to handle step-family. She gets help from the usual cast of Disney characters: the stuffy steward Baileywick (voiced by Tim Gunn); a gaggle of cute woodland creatures; and three familiar looking headmistresses at the Royal Prep Academy — Fauna, Flora and Merryweather, the trio who were a royal help for Princess Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty."

"There will also be a lot of the classic Disney Princess because Sofia has an amulet, given to her by her step-father, that gives her special powers like being able to talk to the animals or get help from other Princesses when she's in trouble," Ariel says.

It's a royal secret as to which Princesses will show up, but Ariel's rooting for an appearance by her namesake.

It wouldn't be the proper vehicle for a Disney Princess without a few musical numbers. No matter which Princess shows up, you can count on a tune or two with Sofia.

Ariel's been acting since she was 6, appearing in commercials, movies such as "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," and the TV shows "ER" and "Crossing Jordan." Currently, the San Diego native gets to show off her comedy skills playing Alex Dunphy on the ABC comedy "Modern Family." But there haven't been a lot of opportunities to sing until now.

"I started writing lyrics and screenplays when I was young and I've been taking a few vocal lessons," Ariel says. "I always wanted to be a singer and then my voice changed when I was 11. Now I get to sing as Sofia."

Providing the voice for the main character in an animated series, while starring in a TV comedy, has kept Ariel very busy. She's done voice work in the direct-to-video release "Bambi II" and as the first female Robin in the two-part animated movie adaptation of "The Dark Knight Returns." But nothing has compared to the time demands of the new Disney Junior show, which is complicated even more by the musical numbers.

Ariel records the music and dialogue at different times.

"Normally, it's just me in the recording studio but I can play off the directors. I talk to them a lot about the character," Ariel says. "It takes just as much time to do the recordings for 'Sofia' as it does to shoot 'Modern Family'."

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