Plot: What’s it about?
“The Princess Diaries” was a surprise hit a few years back and, of course, they’re making a sequel. Director Garry Marshall, who has had some great films in the past, seems to come up a bit short here. While it’s nice to see the always effervescent Julie Andrews on screen, it’s simply not enough. The plot seems recycled from other “ugly duckling” movies like “My Fair Lady”, “Cinderella” and even Marshall’s own “Pretty Woman”. The thing is that those movies had something that this one was lacking…interest in the plot. Now that’s not to say that this is horrible – just horribly predictable. And when a movie is predictable, it’s no fun. Still, the movie was a modest success and I suppose that the audience of pre-teen girls really loved it. After all, they don’t analyze the movie like I (and other adults) do, they take it for what it is and laugh when they’re supposed to, etc. So Marshall is essentially making a movie for kids and one that parents can sit their kids down to to keep them out of their hair for a couple hours? Ok, I’ll play along…
The movie starts as we meet Mia (Anne Hathaway actually 21 but playing a 15 year old). She looks like a geek, wears geeky glasses and her hair looks like her first kiss was with an electrical outlet. They, of course, make her as unattractive as they can so that her eventual transformation will make her look like she does on the cover (and she is quite attractive). She’s unpopular in school and is, of course, totally unaware that she’s the heir to the throne of Genovia which is “between France and Spain”. Her Mother, Helen (Caroline Goodall) has chosen not to tell Mia about her bloodline so that she might live a more normal life. Now that the prince has died, though, Mia must take her place as the new royalty. Now here’s where it gets clichéd. Lana (Mandy Moore), is the popular cheerleader in school. She makes fun of Mia, has the good-looking boyfriend and so on. But now that Mia is royalty, all attention shifts to her. Do you think she’ll snatch him or go for the more “Mr. Nice Guy” Michael (Robert Schwartzman)? Hmmmmm…Not to give too much away here, but use common logic on this one and you’ll feel like you’ve predicted the future.
Perhaps I was a bit too hard on “The Princess Diaries”. The movie was obviously popular enough to earn more than $100 million at the box office and it has inspired a sequel, but it just wasn’t for me. Garry Marshall’s career is still intact and will undoubtedly go on to more projects (perhaps a Part III if need be). As good as it is to see Julie Andrews on screen, it’s no substitute for her earlier years in films like “Mary Poppins” or “The Sound of Music”. Hathaway has a potential future as a movie star ahead of her (did I mention she’s, uh, really attractive?) as well. For all of its shortcomings, families will most likely race out to buy this disc, if they haven’t already. The wealth of extras make it a good purchase if you don’t already own the original disc and even though the film is formulaic and predictable, it obviously has an audience somewhere out there. It’s just not me.
Video: How does it look?
You can go out and buy a DVD with the widescreen and full frame movie on the same disc, as evidenced by this new Special Edition of “The Princess Diaries”. They were previously available on seperate discs. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer appears to be the exact same one used on the initial release and it looks pretty good to boot. Colors seem to be warm and natural and though a few scenes did have a bit of dirt on the print, overall it looks pretty good. There is a noticeable difference in quality between the two versions, provind once again that when you go widescreen, you clearly get a better picture (all puns intended).
Audio: How does it sound?
The audio, like the video, is the same Dolby Digital 5.1 track used on the initial DVD release. Garry Marshall’s movies are usually light-hearted in taste and it’s reflected in the soundtrack. Dialogue (even British at that) is very crisp and clean, and why did I expect to hear a “Mary Poppins” song at some point during the movie? Surround effects are used very sparingly as most of the action takes place on the front stage. The LFE are almost non-existent, then again we don’t expect to watch a movie like this and have it shake the room. Quite simply, it’s a great track that delivers what its supposed to.
Supplements: What are the extras?
It’s no accident that there is a new Special Edition of “The Princess Diaries”…no, those Marketing people planned this release to coincide with the sequel, “The Princess Diaries 2” which happens to open next week. In addition, there’s even a free ticket included in this new set, so you might save yourself the cost of admission (literally) by picking up this new two disc set. As mentioned above, this set includes both the widescreen and full-frame versions of the film, but a plethora of extras can be found. The first disc has a “family friendly” verison of the movie (read: full-frame). There is also a behind the scenes featurette entitled “A New Princess”, showing us some footage from the making of the movie and such. It appears they had a good time making the movie and it’s aptly conveyed here. Eight deleted scenes are also included, with commentary by Marshall. He does give some explanation as to why they were cut (a feature I wish more directors would do).
This brings us to the second disc, that contains the widescreen version of the movie along with the rest of the supplements. Two audio commentaries can be found on this disc as it’s labeled “Collector Friendly”. The first track is with Director Garry Marshall who, in my opinion, gives some of the best audio commentaries around. He’s very talkative with many informative bits about the shoot and even gives us some very technical information (how many feet of film was used for the movie), etc. This gives way to the second track with Julie Andrews and Anne Hathaway dubbed “The Ultimate Tea Party”. They comment on the film as if they were at a tea party. It’s a unique approach to a commentary, but wears out its welcome pretty fast. I’d listen to the first track. “Royal Engagement” is a sneak peek at “The Princess Diaries 2” (see, told you) which will hopefully whet your appetite to head out and see the movie. What was a bit more interesting was “Livin’ Like a Princess” which tells the actual history of real princesses. There’s some outtakes and a theatrical trailer as well. All in all, fans of the movie might want to upgrade to v. 2 and the abundance of supplements as well as the free movie ticket can’t hurt matters any.