The Princess Diaries

January 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Stephen Wong

Plot: What’s it about?

If there is one thing that DisneyÆs developed a frighteningly good skill at, itÆs taking clichΘd storylines and somehow using them to churn out enjoyable ômodern day fairy talesö (yes, they also have a pretty large bag of duds too). Disney has one-upped themselves with their latest, The Princess Diaries, which combines two of the most clichΘd storylines in movie history — the ugly-duckling & geek-to-chic — into a nicely packaged G-rated teen-girl flick thatÆs decent enough for adults and should leave its target demographic very happy. Though the film gets muddled in an ultra-hip but very shallow script, Disney once again pulls off a victory, delivering a cute and spunky movie that succeeds in many of the right places. Loosely based on Meg CabotÆs popular novel of the same name, The Princess Diaries is one part My Fair Lady, one part Cinderella, one part Clueless, shaken, not stirred. The story follows 15-year old Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway), a frizzy-haired, clumsy, public-speaking phobic teenager who perceives herself, like many kids in their insecure teenage years, as ôinvisibleö to the rest of the world. Her biggest goal in life is making it through high school with as little embarrassment as possible, until her world is turned upside down by the sudden arrival of her mysterious grandmother (Julie Andrews). Mother of the father she never knew, Mia discovers that she is the princess of the country of Genovia, of which her grandmother is Queen, and is the legitimate heir to the thrown. In order to prepare herself for the Royal Ball — the event which will officially declare her as the rightful heir to Genovia — Mia gets the royal makeover treatment to convert her appearance from typical teenage girl to royal princess.

There is great potential in the setup, which opens the door to the film tackling some real teen issues. However, director Garry Marshall has chosen a different path, one that superficially sugar-coats the world of teens everywhere. As would be expected with a G-rated Disney offering, The Princess Diaries eventually travels down the path of shallow fun, turning a very promising film into simply enjoyable childrenÆs fare. MiaÆs struggle as a teenage social outcast burdened with the weight of adult-like responsibilities is put aside and replaced with predictable good and bad guy characters. The good guys, like her best friend Lilly (Welcome to the DollhouseÆs Heather Matarazzo) and LillyÆs brother Michael, cherish Mia for her personality and wit, while the bad guys, like cheerleader Lana (Mandy Moore) and hunky Clark, are only there to take advantage of MiaÆs new found status as princess. But even this lesson gets lost in MiaÆs quest to look and play the part of a princess, and the filmÆs biggest impact scene winds up being the unveiling of Mia, post-makeover, as a stunningly beautiful princess (actually, itÆs not even that big of an impact, as Hathaway, frizzy hair and all, is adorably cute even before the makeover). Just once, IÆd like to see a film try to take an unattractive actress and make her beautiful, instead of taking a beautiful actress and trying to make her ugly. But I digressà

Lessons aside, The Princess Diaries is a charming Cinderella story with all the cuteness and glitter youÆd expect from a Disney production. Though Gena WendkosÆ script adaptation lacks substance, itÆs full of ultra-hip dialogue that cruelly demonstrates just how out of touch I am with the teen pulse nowadays. Newcomer Anne Hathaway pulls off the physical comedy required for the part of Mia very well, and remarkably holds her own on-screen alongside the daunting presence and grace of the great Julie Andrews as Queen Renaldi. HathawayÆs portrayal of Mia is delicate, funny and strong-willed, and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future. Hector Elizondo, a fixture of Garry MarshallÆs films, has easily the best performance in the film as the QueenÆs security chief, who also happens to have a Mrs. Brown-esque relationship with the Queen. His comic timing is incredible, and delivers some of the funniest laughs in the film. Also of note is a hilarious unbilled appearance by a questionably feminine Larry Miller as the QueenÆs beautician, sent in to ôwork a miracleö, as well as a confusingly strange cameo appearance by San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, who delivers one of the oddest lines in the movie.

Video: How does it look?

The Princess Diaries is available in two differnt formats, each offered individually by Disney (when so many other studios are offering both full-frame and widescreen on the same disc, Disney tries to make twice the money by offering seperate versions). Aside from that, the 1.85:1 anamorphic image is very solid, what we would expect from a day and date release from Disney. The colors are very solid and there is no articacting or edge enhancement to speak of. The palette, as with a lot of Garry Marshal’s movies, is a bit muted, but this is no fault of the transfer. Quite simply, it rocks. While not perfect, there is nothing to distract you in the least and darn if I can find much else to say about the way this disc looks.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very good, yet not something that will blow you out of the water. Again, like most of Marshall’s movies, the soundtrack serves it’s purpose, but it’s not outstanding. I did find it a bit quiet, though, as I had to turn the volume up a few notches. Odd, as the disc is also THX certified and the last thing you would expect for a THX certified disc is to crank up the volume. Still, the dialogue is crystal clear (has Julie Andrew’s accent ever sounded better?) and the surround effects, when used, sound very dynamic. Not much else can be said here, it’s a run of the mill soundtrack and not much more.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The Princess Diaries has it’s share of supplements, something which Disney has been getting better at recently. Though there is no “bare bones” edition and a “super deluxe edition” available of this movie like so many of their others. Garry Marshall records a commentary track and it’s as good as his others. Marshall truly does record some great tracks as they are informative and very fun to listen to. Quite the opposite is the track by Anne Hathaway and Julie Andrews. Called The Ultimate Tea Party on the box. There are several spots where they just sit in silence and not a lot of information is gained. Leave it to the pro, Marshall, to get more information out of the movie. Eight deleted scenes are included with an introduction by Marshall and two music videos are included as well, the first is Miracles Happen by Myra and the second is Supergirl by Krystal. Lastly, a featurette entitled A New Princess is a standard behind the scenes featurette with interviews with the stars and Director Garry Marshall. A theatrical trailer is also included.

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