Genevieve Vieira
2 minute read
9 Jun 2014
9:00 am

Unathi lends purr-fect voice for Doc McStuffins

Genevieve Vieira

Conversing with Unathi Msengana is like chatting to an old friend. She's a bundle of energy, the kind of person you'd pay to have around.

EDUTAINMENT. Doc and her dad build a mobile clinic so she can fix toys when she's away from home.

Despite the current state of the world, she believes that things can change for the better, and this is a large part of the reason she accepted the role of Rita in Disney’s hit edutainment series, Doc McStuffins. Moreover, her children love the show.

“I have a three-year-old daughter and together we basically run Disney,” she jokes.

The singer and radio and television presenter is the first African to lend her voice to a Disney Junior character. So what does Disney have to do with changing the world?

In an episode called No Sweetah Cheetah, Rita is a wide-eyed feline (a stuffed animal brought to life) who grows concerned when the other toys declare her ill because she is covered in spots. A careful diagnosis by Doc (a nurturing six-year-old girl) reveals that Rita’s spots are part of what makes her special. They are, in fact, a gift.

For someone who experienced apartheid first-hand, Msengana knows all about being different and needing to learn to love oneself despite society’s dictates. Though her character is animated, the show is predominantly American and Msengana’s South African accent is likely to stick out like a sore thumb. But this is exactly the point. We all look different and speak differently, but we can all relate to each other.

“I’m so glad they chose a real African woman to voice the part, instead of some imposter trying to imitate our accent,” Msengana says.

“It’s a story of hope and really adds African pride to the show. You never know who’s going to be watching. We have been through a lot but we have also learned a lot. People must be comfortable in their own skin. We are all beautiful and blessed with different gifts. We are no different from Rita and can all – young and old – learn a lesson from her story.”

A fan of the show, along with her children, Msengana has been watching Doc McStuffins since its inception. When she first received the call asking her to voice the role, she was stunned, thinking it was prank. As things slowly began to fall into place, the reality began to dawn on her.

“I can’t wait to sit down on the couch with my children and watch their faces as they hear my voice on the show. What a wonderful legacy to leave for them. At least they can grow up knowing they have a cool mom,” she smiles.

This is also the first time Msengana has voiced an animated character. She describes it as “a very isolated experience”.

“You are locked up in this studio, all on your own. I love communicating with my hands, which in this scenario had no effect. I learned to express my emotions differently using only my voice. It was a great adventure,” she says.