LOS ANGELES, California - Once upon a time a major US animation studio crowned a character who was billed its first Latina princess. Then out came the big bad critics, and Disney ran away.
Some fans were pleased that "Sofia the First" could have a Latina lead -- after all, the European, African American, Arab, Asian, Native American and Mermaid communities already have Disney princesses to call their own.
But when footage emerged, a row erupted. Sofia's skin is snow white and her eyes blue. Could she really represent Latin America? Disney is now backpedaling furiously, insisting she was never meant to be Hispanic after all.
And the blogosphere is sizzling with comments blasting both sides in this small war over a cartoon, which is aimed at kids aged two to seven, scheduled for release as a TV movie next month and due to become a series in 2013.
The fracas started last week when a Disney executive casually told a journalist at the film's unveiling that the princess is Latina.
When the magazine Entertainment Weekly ran a headline wondering aloud if this would in fact be Disney's first Hispanic princess, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Latino media advocacy group, complained loudly.
Wrong skin tone, said Alex Nogales, the coalition's president.
"If you're going to promote this to the public, and Latinos in particular, do us a favor and make it a real Latina," he told Fox News Latino.
Enter a crowd of irate Latino bloggers who insisted that fair skin and blue eyes are no bar to membership of their community -- after all, Latin America is a genetically diverse place.
"My son is Latino, and I have dark hair and dark eyes, but he is blonde and blue eyed. And he is Latino and will get upset if someone suggests otherwise," webuser Mandy Verdugo wrote on the troubled princess's Facebook wall.
"Just because she doesn't conform to some people's standards of what Latino is doesn't make her not Latina. It's rather insulting."
But others backed the Hispanic media group. A woman named Julie Holdridge wrote: "I hope some day there is a Latino princess that makes my Latino daughter see that Disney made a princess that looks more like her."
Some recalled that the blonde Hollywood actress Cameron Diaz, for instance, has Cuban roots.
Others noted that Disney cartoons have featured royals of many other ethnic groups -- "Mulan" was Chinese and "Pocahontas" a Native American -- but had made no such coronation for Hispanics.
The United States is home to some 52 million Hispanics who, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth, which is part of the University of Georgia, command yearly purchasing power of $1 trillion.
Disney eventually backtracked, denying Sofia was meant to be Latina.
"Some of you may have seen the recent news stories on whether Sofia is or isn't a 'Latina princess'," said Nancy Kanter, head of Disney Junior Worldwide.
"What's important to know is that Sofia is a fairytale girl who lives in a fairytale world," she continued.
"All our characters come from fantasy lands that may reflect elements of various cultures and ethnicities but none are meant to specifically represent those real world cultures."
On Tuesday, Nogales said he had met Kanter and said she had told him "that 'Sofia the First' is in fact not a Latina character and that the producer of the television program misspoke.
"We accept the clarification. ... We appreciate Disney-ABC's commitment to diversity and look forward to seeing more Latino lead characters as the stars of their shows," he added.
Entertainment Weekly gave this explanation: The film's executive producer Jamie Mitchell responded that the princess is Latina when asked by a journalist why her mother Miranda had darker skin.
After Disney's denial, Craig Gerber, the tale's screenwriter, added a new twist by saying the mother was from an enchanted kingdom that draws its inspiration from Spain.
The voice of the princess is that of Ariel Winter of the sitcom "Modern Family" and that of her mother, Sara Ramirez, a Hispanic actress who stars in the popular hospital drama "Grey's Anatomy."
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