The Princess Diaries

⭐⭐⭐½ averaged across 2 films.

tl;dr: The world's introduction to Anne Hathaway that gave us a surprisingly solid set of films, albeit ones focused on crafting an idealised female fantasy rather than a rigorous plot. Family fun that has stood the test of time.

The Princess Diaries

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

Another surprising first and, yes, part of a weekend double feature with Mean Girls 😁Actually, this was a doubly-surprising first, because I'd thought I had seen The Princess Diaries before. Turns out, I think I've seen the sequel but not the original 🤷‍♂️

At any rate, I enjoyed seeing it this time around. It has dated a little, but as with Mean Girls the core plot isn't nuanced or deep enough to ever truly go out of fashion. Acting and cast are both great, and I can't quite believe a) how young Anne Hathaway was when they made this film and b) how little she appears to have changed in the ensuing 20 years! Agelessness aside, she plays the role very well, coming across as a teenager yet likeable, which is no mean feat 😂

I found her friends and fellow students slightly less intriguing, though what a weird mix of niche cast members. The attractive-douchebag was played by one of the brothers from Dinotopia (niche, I know, but you don't forget those eyebrows!) and then the actual love interest turns out to be (yet another) Schwartzman/Coppola family member. Still, none of the performances were bad, even if the characters were never fleshed out that much. On the other hand, the teachers were all brilliant and clearly had a huge amount of fun, making far more of often bit roles than was necessary. Plus, the driver (Joe) was a great character. Less sure about the weird collection of royal dignitaries, all wearing clearly telegraphed "regional garb", but I do like that this universe has a Scottish Royal Family and (assumedly) an independent Scotland (or possibly a Scottish-run UK? Perhaps this is the timeline where Mary held onto her claim!).

Overall, then, TPD is a fun, enjoyable, and fairly toothless film which is probably just as easy-watching today as it was when released. The story has just enough heart and the actors give solid performances to make you care, though ultimately it is a teenage-girl fantasy and so doesn't stand up to much scrutiny. I mean, the whole "Dad leaves to be King, chooses to stay distant to protect daughter from the limelight, but secretly loves her intensely and ultimately dies before the planned reunion" is just a very neat little package that magically enables the plot and means that every aspect of her life is still pretty perfectly wrapped up in a bow. Her Mum is amazing – strict yet loving and quirky – her friends are all genuinely nice people, even the love interest is a kind of vanilla-person that you can project on to, and of course, it's all moulded around a central fantasy of waking up as a Princess (surprise! 👸). But given that it's a pure fantasy, it has more character and charm than it needed to.

The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement

Spoilers Ahead: My reviews are not spoiler-free. You have been warned.

This may be a controversial opinion, but I genuinely think the sequel is better than the original. Sure, the first film had a slightly more unique plot, whereas TPD2 is very much a cookie-cutter romcom, but it still manages to be funnier, more interesting, and more entertaining. Plus, there's actually some diaries in this one, so the name makes genuine sense! To me, that all adds up to simply mean better.

Almost all of the main characters from the first film return, except young Schwartzman who is written out in a single line. I didn't mind his character, but I also feel no particular loss here. In many ways, seeing a female lead not to settle for the first on-screen romance is a refreshing departure. Plus, when the alternative is Chris Pine...😏

Speaking of which, part of the sequel's success was the casting of Pine and John Rhys-Davies, both of whom are great pantomime villains and foils for a great pantomime plot. I also really enjoy the fact that Gimli's son, who is a decorated Starfleet captain, has married Catwoman and now rules a small European country at her side 😂 To which point, another thing the sequel brings back is the surprising alt-history of Scotland, which is now not just an independent nation but also clearly a fairly prominent one on the world stage, adding further fuel to my theory that in this world Mary Queen of Scots was victorious, resulting in a version of the UK ran from Edinburgh instead of London. Oh, and it also brings back the slightly wonky CGI (though somehow uses less of it, despite the much more over-the-top locations).

The film is also a lot funnier. Whilst the original may have played its humour and characters a little closer to realism, the sequel just has fun with everything, giving us quotes like "But a very cute moose, make all the boy moose go 'WHAAAA!" 😂, plus scenes of the Queen mattress surfing, the excellent choir having to sing faster/slower as Mia comes down the aisle, and so many more. As I say, it's a pantomime and when viewed in that context possibly the best ever put to film, yet it also manages to have plenty of heart. Not only is the central message one entirely of empowerment, with a sequence of female characters that feel both believable and aspirational, but it also has some genuinely excellent moments. Joe, in particular, continues to be a standout character and his rebuttal to the Viscount is one of the best "hard man" lines I've ever heard:

Viscount: Sir, you will find that the word "fear" is not in my vocabulary!
Joe: Perhaps... but it is in your eyes.


Yes, there's still a little too much of the "ideal female fantasy" going on. Everything works out perfectly, Mia ends up becoming Queen and marrying a perfect man, there's even an all-princesses slumber party etc. etc. I mean, even her arranged husband-to-be would have been an over-the-top romantic ideal in many romcoms, but ultimately that's what The Princess Diaries are all about. In that context, the sequel smashes it out of the park.

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