Same ugly duck, different swan

The Princess Diaries

Directed by Garry Marshall

(Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Hector Elizondo, Heather Matarazzo)

Rated: G

 

The story of the ugly duckling has been around for eons; we all heard it growing up, and Hollywood won’t dare let us forget it. With its positive messages and optimistic hope that practically defines the Hollywood dream of the silver screen, the story has been revamped, rehashed and remade to the point of exhaustion. Walt Disney’s The Princess Diaries is yet another rendition of this fabled tale, but this time, the effort is made to hide the duckling behind more than just a pair of glasses.

The Princess Diaries scores one in the makeover category, where, in recent attempts, Hollywood has failed. (Save the stunning nerd-to-babe Sandra Bullock in Love Potion #9.) In 1999’s She’s All That, Rachel Leigh Cook looks all the same with or without glasses, the only element to define her dork-to-hottie transition. The Diaries sincerely makes-over the young Anne Hathaway, giving her two unique appearances that rely on more than a pair of specs.

Amelia “Mia” Thermopolis (Hathaway) is a shy 15-year-old high school student, completely invisible to everyone around her (“Lilly, I got sat on again.”) save her mother and best friend Lilly (Heather Matarazzo). Mia soon learns that her grandmother (Julie Andrews) is Queen of Genovia, and Mia is, by blood, Princess of Genovia. Thus begins a rapid, life-changing course of events, including a makeover and popularity, that take their toll on Mia’s mental health faster than puberty.

With its G rating, The Princess Diaries is suitable for everyone, but with its bubble-gum teenybopper attitude, the film appeals to the target audience who arguably covets its message most: Prepubescent and adolescent teen girls. In a time of life transition, the draw for this group are the issues of beauty, maturity and peer pressure. The Diaries also taps the drawing power of the teen dream, most notably casted in the form of teen icon Mandy Moore, whose character made me yearn to scratch out my own eyeballs.

Veterans Julie Andrews and Hector Elizondo provide both character and on-screen support to newcomer Hathaway. As the head of the queen’s security, Joseph (Elizondo) is appointed as Mia’s driver and caretaker. Elizondo provides a good portion of the more adult-minded humor (within the G rating). This makes the film bearable, if not enjoyable, for older audiences, i.e., fathers taking their daughters and writers reviewing the movie.

– Michael Goller

 

The Princess Diaries opens today in theatres nationwide.

 

Michael Goller invites comments and criticism at [email protected]