The Princess Diaries
Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) is a shy San Francisco teenager who has fun with her single mom and struggles with the many problems high school girls go through. Her life becomes a fairytale when her formidable grandmother, Queen Clarisse Renaldi (Julie Andrews), visits her for the first time, informing her that she is the heir apparent to the crown of the small European principality of Genovia. Mia is given a makeover, personal security (Hector Elizondo) and time to adjust so that she can prepare herself for an important ball which will determine if she wants to leave her normal life to become the ruler of a far-off country or remain with her family and explore a budding romance with her best friend’s (Heather Matarazzo) brother Michael (Robert Schwartzman).
Director Garry Marshall, who brought us “Pretty Woman” and “Runaway Bride,” revisits the realm of every girl’s fantasy (becoming a princess and living happily ever after) and puts a different spin on an age old story. The different “spin” is that Mia doesn’t want to be a princess because she feels awkward and unsure of her ability. In fact, she actually fights the idea. That’s probably the hardest thing to accept about this story. After being inundated for years with stories about royalty and seeing them get married or hawk diet products on TV, it’s hard to believe that a teenage girl of today wouldn’t jump at the chance to become a princess and rule a country.
There are lots of “cute teenage scenes” of rock climbing with mom, riding razors with a friend, getting a first kiss, going to a beach party, having a fight with a best girlfriend, giving a speech in front of students, etc. that will ring true with most kids under 17. There’s a song sung by Mandy Moore (the spurned girlfriend of the guy who likes Mia), a message about not believing in labels people assign to you and of course, the one about following after your own heart. Unfortunately that message may be lost in the material world of a princess-to-be (Mia gets her own limo, personal escort, money to buy her car, etc.). But the idea that anyone could become a princess these days isn’t lost.
It is wonderful to see Julie Andrews on the big screen again and rather nostalgic – an emotion I’m sure Disney is counting on. This is an entertaining, warm-hearted story that will make an enjoyable outing for any mother/daughter, girl or woman, who has dreamed of becoming a princess. But what’s really the best part about this modern day fairy tale is, she does it without having to marry a prince!
The only complaint I have with this movie is that it could have been a Disney TV movie-of-the-week. I’m a proponent of family friendly films and don’t take issue with the fact that this is a G rated story, but these days there’s no excuse for making a movie look and feel as if it were made for TV instead of a feature film. I sat through the entire movie thinking of ways this story could have (and should have, in my opinion) been done on a grander scale. Andrews is almost like royalty to boomers who grew up watching her in “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins.” I found myself yearning for more of her character and more screen time to develop who she really was. Garry Marshall failed to give this fairytale a “magical” feel, and as any girl knows, that’s the most important part of a story like this.
Family movies with talent like this, should look like (and be) a cut above anything you could find on television. Dealing with an important issue like losing your estranged father (who happened to be a King) to death, and discovering he wanted his daughter to follow in his footsteps, needs to be focused on and developed. Issues about Mia’s mom dating her teacher, or handling a mean-spirited betrayal from the girls at school, or getting to know a grandmother who had never even existed, needed more time, development and a chance to tap into our emotions and connect the audience with the characters.
Adding a little more drama in addition to all the comedy would have allowed the audience to savor the importance of Mia’s decision, get emotionally involved in it, and make some profound statements about the importance of family, heritage and how we are affected by the choices we make in life. Instead, the story is so predictable and cliché, all it needed were commercials. The movie still entertains in a big way; I just feel it could have been better.