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With: Anne Hathaway, Julie Andrews, Heather Matarazzo, Sandra Oh, Hector Elizondo
Written by: Gina Wendkos
Directed by: Garry Marshall
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 115
Date: 07/29/2001

The Princess Diaries (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Her Royal Shyness

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Sometimes we movie reviewers have to take on thejob of actor. Normally, nothing on heaven or earth would have made me gosee Disney's The Princess Diaries, but for the sake of my job I had toput that aside and imagine myself in the part of a young girl. I wonderif Brando ever had to do anything so difficult?

But in the end I have to say that, whether as a young girl or as myself, I found The Princess Diaries surprisingly enjoyable.

The story concerns the standard "makeover" plot line, in which a so-called toad becomes a fairy princess. It all began with George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, and was softened in The Big Sleep (1946) when Humphrey Bogart, waiting out a rainstorm in a bookstore, turned to Dorothy Malone and asked, "do you really need to wear those glasses?" The most recent example was last year's charming Miss Congeniality, where Michael Caine makes over the frumpy FBI agent Sandra Bullock (yeah... right) so that she can go undercover at beauty pageant.

But The Princess Diaries cuts closer to an actual fairy tale. In it Mia Thermopolis (Anne Hathaway) simply wakes up and finds that she's the heir to the (fictional) Genovian throne... a real princess. Mia lives in a gorgeous converted San Francisco firehouse with her mother, and gets to slide down the pole on the way to school in the morning. She has frizzy, uncontrollable hair, glasses, and huge eyebrows, and no one at school ever notices her or even remembers her name. To any outsider, though, she's so gorgeous like this that any red-blooded American boy would chew off his own arm for the chance to speak to her. (Astonishingly, Disney does not provide any pictures of the "before" Mia in the movie's press kit.)

One day, she learns that her grandmother is in town and wishes to have tea. Her grandmother turns out to be Clarisse Renaldi, the Queen of Genovia (Julie Andrews). Unfortunately, the Queen is only the Queen by marriage, and a new royal blood needs to ascend the throne. So begins the makeover sequences, teaching the clumsy teenager how to walk and dance, plus the inevitable, "do you really need to wear those glasses?"

The new "pretty" Mia then goes through the usual. She accepts a date with the most popular boy in school (Erik von Detten), a selfish clod, while blowing off "Mr. Right," (Robert Schwartzman), a sensitive musician and auto mechanic. Her best friend (Heather Matarazzo from Welcome to the Dollhouse) can't quite deal with Mia's newfound popularity either and they suffer a long bout of not speaking to one another.

All that aside, this old-time story works one more time due to newcomer Hathaway. In past live-action Disney movies, the teenagers were all squeaky clean, self-motivated, and confident. Here Hathaway excels at showing her vulnerability, awkwardness (she absently crooks an arm behind her back to play with the ends of her hair), excitement, and sadness, all heightened by teenage hormones. On top of this, she proves to be a gifted comedienne, managing all her slapstick pratfalls with the utmost grace. She knows how to do them with just the right amount of restraint, making them funny and charming instead of punishing.

In addition, Andrews, Matarazzo, Hector Elizondo as a sympathetic chauffeur, and the great Sandra Oh as Mia's high school principal, all turn in fine performances. The dialogue they're given to read is a few levels above the standard summer claptrap, and they all seem to be having a wonderful time. Garry Marshall may be one of the worst directors in the English language, but his generic, formula moviemaking skills seem to fit the Disney mold just fine. And the movie uses San Francisco to amazingly good advantage, even getting phrases like "South of Market" correct. The honorable Willie Brown even has a funny cameo. When asked if he thinks it's going to rain, the Mayor replies, "It never comes down on Willie Brown."

DVD Details: Just in time for the theatrical release of Princess Diaries 2, Disney has released this double-disc special edition with tons of extra stuff. Like their excellent Who Framed Roger Rabbit disc, this one reserves disc one for the kid friendly stuff and disc two for the hardcore cinephiles. Disc one comes with the pan-and-scan version of the film, some deleted scenes, a featurette and two music videos. Disc two comes with the widescreen version of the film, outtakes and bloopers, several more featurettes, a sneak peak at the sequel, and two audio commentary tracks, one by director Marshall and one with stars Hathaway and Andrews. There's also a host of special DVD-Rom features -- and kudos to Disney for making them Mac-compatible. The film plays remarkably well on home video and holds up even better than I remember it. Hathaway is without a doubt one of our best and brightest young stars.

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