Twenty-two-year-old Julia Riew had an epiphany one day; she realized there was no Disney Princess from her family’s country.
So rather than taking to social media to bash the House of Mouse about their underrepresentation of her heritage, she set out to define that representation by creating a new Disney Princess and a corresponding musical as well.
Riew, a Harvard student who grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and is a third-generation Korean American, is no stranger to writing or composing. She’s been doing both for years now, and at only 22 years old, she has just finished her seventh full musical. And while each of her musicals is inspired and creative, lucky number seven is special for a different reason. It began as a senior thesis project, but Riew says she never imagined it would become so popular online.
“For the first time, I have felt such a strong sense of community and belonging, which I’ve always really longed for,” said Riew in an interview.
The young creator says she never imagined she could feel such a sense of belonging from an online platform like TikTok. but that’s exactly what has befallen her, as she has shared clips from her new musical, Shimcheong: A Folktale, on TikTok via videos she has posted. Both the story and the music have been met with accolades, praise, and now, a viral following with people all across the globe.
Riew is of Korean descent, and she realized that though there is a virtual menagerie of Disney Princesses in the world of Disney animation and live-action films, none of them represented a Korean heritage. Though Disney doesn’t expressly denote a country of origin for most of its beloved princesses, except for princesses like Mulan (China), there are still widely-accepted views in the kingdom of fandom about the heritage of many of the young women whose stories are told in the form of a Disney animated film, such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, etc.
Riew wanted to see a Korean princess among Disney’s royalty, so using an online filter, she transformed herself into a Disney-esque animated character and recorded herself singing songs she wrote as part of the musical. The first of Riew’s songs that garnered the attention of fans and nearly one million views is called “Dive.” It’s an encouraging song with lyrics that challenge listeners to be brave, be fearless, and be held back by nothing.
She can compose music. She can write scripts. And now you know, Riew can also sing! In the clip, she uses her beautiful voice to sing lyrics like “Now all of the fish in the sea can’t stop me/All of the waves in the world can’t rock me/I’m on a mission and gee, just watch me go!”
Riew’s one-act musical, an adaptation of a Korean folktale called “The Blind Man’s Daughter,” tells the story of a young woman named Shimcheong, a brave young non-princess who sacrifices everything for her father. In her attempt to save him, she falls into the depths of the ocean, and for 10 years, she lives in the magical Dragon Kingdom and can find no way to leave. She then decides to plan an escape that will have her risking everything just to get back home.
This clip is from her song, “I’m Coming Home,” the first song Riew wrote for the Shimcheong musical.
Shimcheong is resilient with a will of iron. It isn’t until the finale of the musical that she is honored with the title of Princess. As with many of Disney’s Princess stories, Riew’s musical boasts a prince, a villain, and an exciting adventure. Recently, Riew released short clips of the songs she wrote for the prince and the villain queen, but fans who want to hear the songs in their entirety will have to be patient.
Riew says she writes and composes because it’s her dream to inspire others with stories that put some “good into the world.”
“I think stories are so important for kids,” Riew said. “Especially as someone who, as a young person, never saw herself represented in media, or in film, TV or on stage; that was something I always longed for.”
I'm an enthusiastic writer who finds joy in random things like cold weather, snow, "I Love Lucy," "The Andy Griffith Show," journals full of blank paper, countdowns to Christmas, the month of December, "Toy Story," "Sleeping Beauty," my 4 kids, my 4 shih tsus, Disney Parks history, Imagineering and visiting the parks. I think Walt Disney is the standard against which genius should be measured.
I love to write about Disney Parks, Disney history, all things Imagineering and PIXAR. I adore the colors, story and art direction of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" (Team Make it Blue!), and "Toy Story" is life (minus "Toy Story 4"). I believe Walt Disney was so much more than an entertainment and theme park tycoon; I believe he was a savant with a vision for life and how it could be if happiness and kindness are strived for.
I love Biergarten at EPCOT and 1900 Park Fare at Disney's Grand Floridian. You can find me croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room, chillin' on the PeopleMover or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. I'm always looking for Imagineers in the parks, and I'd rather meet Joe Rohde and Tony Baxter than anyone in Hollywood!
Hey, if you dream it, you really can do it!