'Modern Family' star gives voice to first-of-her-kind Disney princess

Ariel Winter voices Sofia the First, a new Disney princess who gets help from a group of woodland creatures including Clover, a wise-talking rabbit (Wayne Brady); the fairy trio from Sleeping Beauty; and Baileywick, the royal steward (Tim Gunn).

"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 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.

As if the Blue Fairy has granted Ariel's wish, 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," airs Sunday night to introduce the character. Her royal TV series will be unveiled early next year.

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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, Sophia finds herself living in a castle alongside her step-siblings, Amber and James. If there's one thing a Disney princess needs to know is 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," Winter says.

It's a royal secret as to which Princesses will show up, but Winter'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 from Sofia.

Winter'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," Winter 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 Winter 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. Winter 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," Winter says. "It takes just as much time to do the recordings for 'Sophia' as it does to shoot 'Modern Family'."

Although Winter's been embroiled in recent months in a guardianship battle with her mother, Chrisoula Workman, she's very happy with how her professional life's going and considers herself lucky she has two TV shows on the air.

"Sophia and Alex are role models," Winter says. "Sofia is very sweet and willing to help others. I really love how much Alex values education. I never got bad grades. One time, I got a B-plus and cried."

Except for some additional music, Winter's work on the first season of "Sophia the First" is done. She's excited that young girls - one trio in particular - will now get to see this latest member of the Disney Princess court.

"I have three nieces under the age of 5 and it's great that their auntie will be able to give them such a positive role model," Winter says.

Sofia the First: Once Upon

a Princess

Premieres 7 p.m. Sunday on Disney Channel and 9 a.m. Thursday on Disney Junior

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