The Princess Diaries

The first thing you should know about The Princess Diaries is that it is standard Disney fare. In fact, watching this movie reminded me of when I was younger watching classic Disney live action films. Years later, there is still something appealing about that Disney feeling. The story may be simple and the emotional strings may be easy to see, but that doesn’t make it a bad movie. So while The Princess Diaries may not be a great film, it’s certainly a “cute” one. In The Princess Diaries new Hollywood cutie Anne Hathaway plays Mia Thermopolis, a high school girl whose greatest ambition is to be invisible. Those plans are thrown into disarray when her grandmother (Julie Andrews) comes to visit for the first time in years and reveals to Mia that she is the queen of a country called Genovia, which makes Mia the crown princess. Hilarity and cuteness ensues as the queen attempts to transform Mia from an awkward high school teenager into a regal princess.

To say the story of The Princess Diaries is predictable is an understatement. The movie borrows from every movie that’s ever tried to transform a character from something she is into something she should be. Bits are inspired by classics such as My Fair Lady and several of the “training” sequences reminded me a bit of Pretty Woman (also directed by Garry Marshall), minus the prostitute angle. Despite a familiar story, the movie remains cute and is still fun to watch, mostly due to its cast.

As one would expect, Julie Andrews is spectacular as the regal queen Clarisse Renaldi. Even in her early years there was something about Andrews that made you respect and admire her and her characters. As we’ve all grown up with characters like Mary Poppins we can’t help but continue to be awed by her. She still carries that respect and admiration, even in a cute Disney teenager movie.

The standout star of the film however, is newcomer Anne Hathaway, who apparently won the part of Mia by being clumsy. Hathaway is an absolute beauty. When you see her face revealed after beauticians transform her into something more royal then her clumsy self, your breath will become lost with no hope of ever being found. More important then just being a pretty face though, Hathaway gives her character a touch of respect as well, something she probably picked up from Andrews that could help separate her career from the rest of the teenage trollops in teenage flicks these days.

If I have one major complaint about the film other then its saccharine sweetness, it’s the music for the movie. A lot of the movie utilizes pop music for its soundtrack. I guess that’s to be expected from a film that has Mandy Moore in its cast, but it’s my biggest gripe with the movie. There were several moments where I wanted to hear some dramatic score and instead was hit with a looped beat and Mandy Moore’s pipes. I know scores don’t sell as well as soundtracks to this film’s target audience, but a score helps set the tone in movies better then pop music, especially pop music that all sounds the same.

Directed by Garry Marshall, the film delivers what we’ve come to expect from the director of Pretty Woman and Beaches, and I don’t mean the casting of Hector Elizondo (although he’s in there too). You get heartwarming comedy with just the right touch of drama added in. Given Marshall’s past, The Princess Diaries should probably be classified as a “chick-flick” for a younger chick, but again that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. I’d place this film up there with any of the classic Disney teenage audience movies, and I expect it probably will have some lasting power, making it enjoyable for future generations. As much as I hate Disney for making this a double-dip, I have to give them credit for releasing a DVD the way DVDs should be done. The first release of The Princess Diaries was painful – no extras, separate widescreen and fullscreen versions. Just about everything that could be done wrong for a DVD release was done. However following up with this “Special Edition” was a good move, even if the only real reason behind it was to time it with the theatrical release of the sequel.

First of all, both widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film are contained in the same package. There’s no digging around in stores looking for the version you want, or accidentally picking up the wrong edition. Two editions, one packaging – good start for Disney. I had to laugh though when I opened the package though. The fullscreen version of the film has Anne Hathaway on the disk, where the widescreen disk has a picture of Julie Andrews. It almost subconsciously sets up an old-school/new-school mentality.

Secondly, we get outtakes AND deleted scenes. The outtakes are done in a music video style, edited together to some music similar to the pop stuff that’s used throughout the movie. It’s funny because Anne Hathaway is a complete klutz and falls down a lot, giving some great outtakes (which adds to her cuteness). Apparently there was some issue with planes going overhead as well, which almost causes Julie Andrews to curse in frustration at one point. Just when you think the planes are done, something that appears to be an earthquake also manages to work its way into the outtakes. On the other disk are the deleted scenes, which are introduced by Marshall. Marshall also gives an ending to each deleted scene as he explains why the scene was cut. Some of the scenes are good, and one was downright touching, but as is typical with deleted scenes, almost all made sense being cut.

Three featurettes are included which sort of baffled me. This isn’t an action picture with lots of special effects – what could the featurettes possibly focus on? Well, one is a sneak peek at the second movie, which gives the comfort of knowing both cast and crew are returning (along with John Rhys-Davis and Disney alum Raven) but without giving away any secrets about the movie other then Mia’s looking to get hitched (I’m right here Anne… er, Mia). The second featurette, entitled “Livin’ Like a Princess”, has the voice of Julie Andrews explaining the difficulties of being a real princess to some Monty Python-esque animation. It’s a cute little number… until Andrews “recaps” what she’s said in a rap-lite number. This is Mary Poppins for Gods sake! She does not say “For shizzle”. It doesn’t work. Don’t attempt to rob the actress of her dignity if you ever expect her to appear in another Disney flick again!

The final featurette is “A New Princess” and this is one of the best parts of the DVD. As there are no intense special effects to delve into, instead the featurette looks at the casting process of the film and the atmosphere behind the scenes. We find out why actors or actresses were selected in their roles, and learn a lot about Garry Marshall, who has a philosophy that says you never know when a movie is going to be a hit, so you might as well have fun making it. Marshall treated the filming time as almost a camp for the teenagers in his movie, allowing them to have fun while working and studying. That really comes through in the featurette and you can see the respect and care each of the cast members seem to hold for Marshall. Maybe it does pay to be a nice guy sometimes.

Two commentaries are offered on the film. One is an “English Tea Party” with Hathaway and Andrews, who give their insights on the film as they have a proper English Tea. It’s so interesting listening to these two very different people. If Hathaway picks up even a little of what Andrews knows, she’ll become quite a success in Hollywood. The second commentary is a solo commentary by Garry Marshall, and is quite possibly the funniest commentary I’ve ever heard. Imagine the stereotypical New York grandparents showing you their vacation pictures and the commentary that accompanies it. That’s this commentary track. Marshall never shuts up, and jumps from topic to topic, but he remains entertaining the whole time and does manage to get quite a bit of information in the track if you’re able to separate it from his jibber jabber. I honestly would love to hear Marshall talk about other movies. They don’t even have to be his! I can just imagine a Garry Marshall commentary on Star Wars – “Ooh, and this is where the evil guy shows up and his name is Darth Vader… but really his name is David and he lived down the street from me. We used to get doughnuts together, but they gave me indigestion…”

Completing the feel of the movie are two music videos (presumably from up and coming Disney starlets, as I’ve never heard of Krystal and only barely have heard of Myra) and a cute DVD-ROM feature that lets you make your own tiara or print out your own princess certificate. Yeah, those aren’t features that are much fun for adults (although the tiara is fetching…) but the target audience of the DVD will probably enjoy it. For a “limited time” the DVD will also include a ticket for the sequel.

All in all the best way to describe the DVD is “cute”, which is the best way to describe the movie as well. It’s not a work of art, but it is a cute film that’s fun to watch. If Disney won’t give a decent treatment to some of their more classic films, it’s at least good to see them give one to what could be a future classic.