Elena Is Back and Better Than Ever!

After another indefinite hiatus as Disney is prone to do, Elena of Avalor finally came back this weekend with a new episode called "The Race for the Realm." When we saw her last, Elena had recently learned that her nemesis Shuriki was still alive. She embarked on a quest to find the pieces of the Scepter of Night, the antithesis of her Scepter of Light, before it fell into the wrong hands. They recovered the first piece of the staff just before the hiatus began. This weekend's episode accelerated that storyline, improved Elena's character development, and explained some unanswered questions about her past. Suffice to say, I think that the series has really found its footing and shown great improvement since the first season.

"The Race for the Realm" has Elena donning her adventure clothes and teaming up with her friends to return to Vallestrella and solve the remaining two riddles to complete the Scepter of Night. Unfortunately for them, Shuriki, Victor, and Carlos are hot on their trail the entire time. As a result, this episode did a great job of packing in the suspense. It moved at a much faster pace than many of the previous ones, especially from the first season. In a span of twenty minutes, the Scepter of Night was not only completed but lost to the hands of evil, raising the stakes and promising many more exciting adventures to come with the return of Quita Moz. I was surprised by how quickly the story moved forward to show the characters solving the final two riddles to complete the scepter, something that they could have easily drawn out over three or four more episodes. The new action-packed adventure direction it has taken almost directly mirrors that of the new season of the Tangled series, furthering the evolution of more active princess heroines.

I enjoyed how much more real Elena felt in "The Race for the Realm" than many of the previous episodes. One of the reasons I never felt as involved with her show as I did with other Disney Princess stories is that Elena seemed to have a permanent grin plastered on her face at all times. I acknowledge that it is necessary for princesses to put on a positive mask for the public during difficult times, but hers never seemed to come off, even when she was alone with her family discussing things like the loss of her parents or being trapped in an amulet for forty years. It's true that she was under more pressure to maintain a public image because Elena was already training to be queen, but at the same time, the flashy smile sometimes made her feel like a talking stock image of a Disney Princess. In this episode, she opened up a lot more when she became distracted from her quest by memories of her parents' death. For the first time, Elena felt like a real person that I could relate to, especially when the singing flamingos in Vallestrella told her that if she kept looking into the darkness of her past, she would never see the hope of the future.

Though this episode was not the first time we saw flashbacks of Elena's parents, I personally think that they should have come much earlier in the show than they did. The first season was so full of filler episodes that it lost sight of its own identity, something it only recovered at the beginning of the second season with the episode "The Jewel of Maru."  The flashbacks also answered a question I had about why Elena's parents weren't included in the magic painting with her little sister and grandparents before they died, and that is because the painting was created in response to the tragic event, as Isa was still very much not a painting when the incident occurred. This episode also reinforced the unspoken rule that Disney Channel shows never use the words "kill" or "murder," which was established in the espionage sitcom K.C. Undercover, where characters would regularly talk about killing other spies but only use the word "eliminate." When Elena confronted Shuriki about her parents' murder, Shuriki claimed that she "struck them down."

I thought that the first season of Elena of Avalor was a mess because it was trying too hard to incorporate every piece of Aztec mythology and Mexican culture that it could while losing sight of the story in the process. In the second season, everything is finally coming together. Elena is getting better at using her Scepter of Light, which was featured in all of the show's early promos, and her friends are growing comfortably into the roles they were chosen to play. With the return of Quita Moz at the end of the episode, we can finally get back to Elena's main quest of mastering her abilities and defeating Shuriki. "The Race for the Realm" was by far my favorite episode of the series so far, and I hope that it continues to move forward with the same standards of suspense and emotion set by it for the rest of the show.


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