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The Princess Diaries

Cinderella’s Got a Brand New Bag

By Amy Meadows

staff writer

Directed by Garry Marshall.

Written by Gina Wendkos.

Based on the novel by Meg Cabot.

Starring Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Hector Elizondo, Mandy Moore, and Heather Matarazzo

Rated G

Meet Mia Thermopolis. She is fifteen years old, and her greatest goal in life is to become “invisible” so that no one can make fun of her hair, klutzy moves, or speaking ability. Unfortunately for her, she wakes up one day to discover that she was born to royalty. Although most teenagers dream of becoming a princess, it is Mia’s worst nightmare. When her grandmother, the queen of a small country called Genovia, begins to give her “princess lessons,” Mia’s nightmare keeps growing worse.

Faced with a decision about whether or not to accept her royal duty as princess, Mia turns to her friend and political activist Lilly (Heather Matarazzo). Lilly immediately spouts off reasons why her friend should not become a princess, but Mia’s grandmother has other plans, and Mia has to make her decision in three weeks, in time for Genovia’s independence ball.

If you have seen the trailers for The Princess Diaries, you probably have a fairly good grasp of the plot. In fact, if you have ever seen Cinderella or My Fair Lady, or any fairy tale, this movie does not hold many surprises. Luckily, however, The Princess Diaries does not get stuck in the well-worn rut of fairy-tale clichÉs. Rather, the film picks up on the details of Mia’s humorous transformation into a princess, and it avoids the tricky spots in the road.

Newcomer Anne Hathaway remarkably accomplishes a dual role in the movie as both shy, geeky, pre-princess Mia and confident, graceful, post-princess Mia. While the role has been done many times before, Hathaway has the advantage of a fresh and modern perspective on her character. How often has a princess worked at an indoor rock-climbing gym?

Julie Andrews, as Mia’s overbearing grandmother, really makes the movie sparkle. While Anne Hathaway provides comic relief, Julie Andrews adds a grain of believability to the picture. From the “royal wave” to the knighting of a police officer to avoid a traffic ticket, we recognize all the trappings of a royal figure, and we can laugh at them.

Pulling all the diffuse elements of the story together, director Garry Marshall leaves us with a light, charming story. Characteristically, Marshall’s films are either hit (Pretty Woman) or miss (The Other Sister and The Runaway Bride). Luckily, this one is a hit.

Ultimately, the movie does get bogged down in some of the side plots, especially the predictable ones (she’s invited to the beach party with the “attractive and popular” crowd only to be humiliated, etc.). But the characters and individual moments are strong enough to pull the movie out of the potential mire.

The Princess Diaries is not a triumph of originality nor a thoughtful satire of our obsession with royalty, but what it does, it does well. Julie Andrews sparkles, Anne Hathaway surprises, and Garry Marshall pulls off a sweet, enchanting fairy tale. Together, the sum is more than the components.