The Princess Diaries
Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
Better than Average
7 to Adult
1 hr. 51 min.
Year of Release:
August 3, 2001
Once upon a time, there were clean movies that the entire family could enjoy. The parents and grandparents could round up the kids and head off to the local cinema for a fun afternoon of entertainment. That is the almost unbelievable tale that we tell this generation.
This is not the case today. We now must check the water for sharks and other dangerous predators. The movie industry today has divided families in many ways. We now have very few films for children, films (supposedly) made for teens, and the preconceived belief that adults need R-rated entertainment. How did we ever end up there? Where are those happy days?
Director Garry Marshall (“Pretty Woman”, “Runaway Bride”) is trying to remember. He is now a grandfather and wanted to make a film that his grandchildren could enjoy. I suppose that we could hope for more directors (who are grandparents) to follow suit. Mr. Marshall took old scripts of the classic TV series “Happy Days” and rubbed it on his face (that will work). He also filmed much of the movie on the same sound stage that they used for “Mary Poppins”. To try and make this blend of Hollywood magic complete, he cast Julie Andrews in the part of a queen and Hector Elizondo (who has been cast in every Marshall film) as the queen’s right hand man and limo driver, Joe.
“The Princess Diaries” is formulated straight from the standard Disney play-book. They even introduced the film with a sort of Hall of Fame clip recounting their past princesses. Disney, of course, takes credit for giving us the first princess in the character of Snow White. My only caution at this point is that we do not nurture a Cinderella mentality with our children. We should not lead them to believe that a certain person has the key to their happiness. This counselor sees many on that endless search. They believe the key is hidden somewhere, out there. Trust me, God is not that unfair. He longs to guide us into life-long fulfilling relationships. I know I am thankful for my more than 24 years of marriage.
That being said, “The Princess Diaries” is more like “My Fair Lady” meets “Anastasia”. Yes, the plot is your typical story with some of the usual sugarcoating. Garry Marshall does do a wonderful job with the material. It is sort of like joke telling. We enjoy a good joke teller even if we have heard the joke several times before. This time the story is about 15 year old Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway, TV’s “Get Real”). Mia is convinced that she is invisible. Her appearance is unkept; she is lousy at sports, and fearful of public speaking. Mia embodies many of the typical feelings that teen girls struggle with in a glamour-driven culture. Mia lives with her artist mother (Caroline Goodall). Her mother is divorced and her father died in an accident. This part of the story is rather thin, but script is focused on Mia becoming a princess and not on her relationship with her mother. Together they live in an abandoned fire station.
Our ugly duckling is invited to have tea with a visiting grandmother. She is the mother of her late father and the two have never met. Mia discovers at this meeting that her grandmother, Clarisse Renaldi, is the Queen of a small European country known as Genovia. The queen reveals to Mia that she is the last living blood heir to the throne. This information begins to turn our teen’s world upside down. She must now choose between the clutsy and geeky life she now lives or accept royalty. Her decision also will affect the political outcome of that tiny country.
We get to view her life in high school. We get to meet her friends Lilly Moscovitz (Heather Matarazzo) and her brother (who has a crush on Mia). We encounter Josh Bryan (Disney’s current popular teen hunk, Erik von Detten). He is the one that Mia dreams of sharing her first romantic kiss with. No plot would be complete without the school teasers, which are led by cheerleader Lana (singer Mandy Moore). Her adversaries are the usual shallow and stereotypical characters.
I liked most of the film. The comedy was cute, fresh, and overall funny. Anne Hathaway does a great job playing off of the strengths of the seasoned actors around her. She even got to use her own pet cat in the film. “The Princess Diaries” is a fairly safe G-rated ride, with a few curves in the film. Garry is, after all, trying to be “all things to all people”. It wouldn’t hurt if teens would buy into his charm. I like stories that show the struggle to “just be yourself”.
Younger children may find a film about high school life boring. My age suggestion is 7 and up. The soundtrack includes most of the ZOOG-Disney favorite music stars.
I really hope “…Diaries…” is successful. That would send a positive message to Gina Wendkos (“Coyote Ugly”), who adapted Meg Cabot’s novel and other grandfather/directors that we want more of this type. I almost feel like a bird watcher who has found a rare breed. In spite of some of the films weaknesses, it needs our support. The last G-rated release, “The Trumpet of the Swan,” barely made it to a few screens. wouldn’t it be great if this film beat “Jurassic Park III,” “Planet of the Apes,” and “Rush Hour 2” at the box office? Go ahead and “be a stone in David’s sling”.