Doing what you know you were meant to do in life can often be a very difficult thing to achieve, and there are a rare few people with the courage it takes to follow that call. That’s the message lying at the heart of Ice Princess, though the movie takes the long route getting to it.
The film gets off to a rocky start, tracing absurd lines around the kind of plot one would expect from a silly made-for-Disney-Channel movie. Casey Carlyle (Michelle Trachtenberg) is a junior in high school and something of a science genius. Thrown in for good measure is the simple joy she takes in ice skating on the pond in her rural backyard. Her mother Joan (Joas Cusack), a bitterly feminist woman, dreams of the day when her brilliant daughter will rise above her humble roots to study physics at Harvard. Since the prestigious school doesn’t come cheap, Casey jumps at the chance for a scholarship by completing a special physics project. She must find a research subject that has scientific merit but, of course, is also something she is passionate about.
Casey decides to focus on her weekend hobby of ice skating. Using her ridiculously advanced understanding of physics and computer modeling to develop a ridiculously advanced software package on a deadline that would make Microsoft blush, she creates a program that analyzes the physics of figure skaters’ movements to determine what actions they can take to improve their performance. To help make the project more personal and thereby demonstrate her passion for her topic, Casey begins applying the overly simplistic principles to her own skating, only to learn she’s a pretty darn good figure skater.
As Casey’s dormant passion for figure skating begins to awaken, so does the movie. Slowly but surely she begins to learn what’s important to her life and how vital it is to pursue what she believes she is meant to be. The story leaves behind childish plot points and annoying plot holes in favor of much more real, engaging conflicts. In the face of her mother’s deep disappointment (really, what parent wants to see their kid abandon Harvard for the ice-capades) and betrayals from those closest to her, Casey struggles to remain true to her family and friends without abandoning her love of performing on the ice.
The film struggles initially as all the unbelievable situations and campy dialogue are as hard to watch as a figure skater who just can’t stick a landing. The figure skaters seem like shallow folks frittering their lives away while the good kids stick to math and physics. The stereotyping gets so silly that one could go back through the script, substitute the words “smoking pot” for “ice skating” and have a stock episode of “DeGrassi High”.
Despite that shaky beginning, the cinema zamboni pays Ice Princess a little visit less than half way through, glossing over the gaping plot holes and giving the actors smooth ice to sink their skates into. The result is a story that makes as much of a comeback as its title character, revealing a movie with a lot of genuine heart and depth. I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments towards the end where I wanted to cheer out loud.
With some adjustment to the beginning parts of the film, Ice Princess could easily have become the kind of G-rated gold that Disney struck with The Rookie. Sadly, its initial weaknesses leave it standing squarely on the silver medalist platform.