|Princess Diaries, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 18 December 2001|
“The Princess Diaries” is a very well executed, reasonably charming comedy aimed squarely at females in their teen years and younger. Based on a book by Meg Cabot, the film tells of nerdy, unpopular but sweet San Francisco high school student Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway), being raised by her single mom (Caroline Goodall) in bohemian warmth, who one day is summoned to meet the paternal grandmother she’s never met (Mom and Dad were divorced early and Dad died in a car accident before Mia could really know him). Grandma turns out to be Queen Clarisse of Genovia (Julie Andrews), whose only son was Mia’s father – which makes Mia heir to the throne of a whole country. The thing is, Mia just isn’t the princess type.
As this is a Disney film in G-rated mode, Mia’s lack of suitability to princesshood is a relative thing. Her agreeable klutziness aside, we don’t have a moment’s fear that she’s going to, say, run off with a biker, get tattooed or engage in illegal substances (we’re in a universe where these kinds of things don’t happen). The suspense, such as it is, comes from how Mia will cope with her new situation, whether she’ll accept her new responsibilities and how it will affect her relationships with her old friends.
The script by Gina Wendkos is fairly intelligent and breezy, and director Garry Marshall sets a friendly, playful tone. The movie is blessed to have Hathaway as its leading lady – she is instantly likable and, once dolled up in her princess makeover, quite lovely. A perhaps even bigger casting plus is having Andrews as the queenly grandmother – elegant, authoritative, perfectly poised and unexpectedly moving, bringing decades of film history with her, she feels like a real ruler of a fairytale realm. The supporting cast is terrific, especially Heather Matarazzo as Mia’s forthright best friend and Hector Elizondo as the queen’s personally loyal chief of security.
Sound and picture on the discs – there are two, one full-screen and one widescreen – are fine, though this is probably not system-testing material. Chapter 14 has brilliant, beautifully defined colors in a sequence where Mia and her mother are creating art by throwing darts at vivid balloons filled with paint, which give off nicely realistic popping sounds as they explode, and Chapter 16 has good breaking glass and clinking silverware during a well-staged slapstick sequence at a royal dinner party. The soundtrack contains a lot of agreeable pop tunes.
There are two commentary tracks, both on the widescreen disc. Director Marshall aims his comments at youthful viewers, dividing his observations between explaining the scenes we’re watching and discussing how the film was made. More fun is an actual (offscreen) tea party between Andrews and Hathaway, who indulges in some rather endearing gushing about her iconic costar, who accepts the accolades with wonderful grace. The duo sound like they’re having a great time enjoying their tea and telling us about funny and fond moments during the shoot, as well as pointing out some cool trivia. For instance, “Princess Diaries” was filmed largely on the same soundstage that also housed Andrew’s earlier Disney hit “Mary Poppins.”
Other extras include a making-of featurette, narrated by Hathaway, which includes on-camera comments from Whitney Houston, who is one of the film’s producers. The featurette shows us everybody’s fannish reaction to Andrews (as opposed to just Hathaway’s on the commentary track). The “Living Like a Princess” featurette uses Terry Gilliam-style animation and Monty Python-esque voices to liven up an educational blurb about real-life princesses. The outtakes and bloopers are actually pretty funny, especially those dealing with sound problems created by LAX airport, something complained about extensively in the commentary tracks. Marshall’s intros and outros to eight deleted scenes provide good insight into the editing process. There are also a couple of pop music videos from Myra and Krystal Harris.
“The Princess Diaries” is family fare that is good-humored, gently clever and truly suitable for all ages.