Disney // 2009 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 30th, 2009
Royalty meets reality.
Disney is one of the last surviving remnants of the Golden Era Hollywood studio system, when young talented performers would be brought into the fold, and then trained and nurtured before being presented to the world on celluloid. The M.O. today is surprisingly unchanged, and megastars like Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers show that it still works (even if Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera show the dangers of leaving the fold). Disney takes young stars, packages them in quirky television shows, and tries to maximize exposure with tie-in albums and films. The latest stars they seem to be pushing for international stardom are Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato, who share the screen in the Disney Channel original movie, Princess Protection Program. Although the film, released here as the ridiculously named Princess Protection Program: Royal B.F.F. Extended Edition, doesn't belong in the same room as some of Disney's classic films, it's a fine diversion for fans of the girls or of Disney's recent slate of films.
Rosalinda (Demi Lovato, Camp Rock) is the heir to the throne of Costa Luna, but an evil dictator wants to control the small island nation so she must escape his grasp. Enter the Princess Protection Program, and international organization that helps royalty in trouble. The group places Rosalinda in the capable hands of Major Mason (Tom Verica, Zodiac), the single dad of a young girl, Carter (Selena Gomez, Wizards of Waverly Place). To avoid the evil dictator, Rosalinda must live secretly with Mason and Carter, blending in with the normal teenagers of a small Louisiana town. However, with Homecoming approaching, there will lots of opportunities for everyone to be a princess.
Of the recent Disney products I've had to review (including Hannah Montana and the Cheetah Girls), Princess Protection Program is by far the least obnoxious Disney Channel movie I've seen yet. Riffing on the old Prince and the Pauper idea, PPP mixes a decent amount of comedy in with just enough "anyone can be a princess" rhetoric to make a combo sure to appeal to fans of the girls without totally boring their parents.
The best thing about Princess Protection Program is its willingness to pick a winning formula and stick with it. The basic Prince/Pauper story provides the plot, and the whole Disney princess idea gives the window dressing. In this case Carter is the tomboyish country cousin who works in her dad's bait shop and has no maternal influence (a common Disney theme). Rosalinda is the pampered princess, not used to the rough ways of bait shops and high school. As you might expect, Carter learns a bit about being a princess, and Rosie learns about more normal teenage pursuits. They both learn the value of friendship, and surprisingly enough, this is all done fairly subtly. Sure there's lots of cute dialogue, but I never felt like I was being bludgeoned with the message...
Although it's probably pointless to talk about it, the acting in the movie was pretty good. Both the leads are credible (although the whole tomboy/outsider thing is a little hard to buy from Selena Gomez early on and Demi Lovato seems to think acting formal means acting robotic). Their mostly anonymous classmates are all handled with aplomb, but the real secret weapon of the flick is Tom Verica as Carter's father. He brings a sincerity to his role that is impressive, and it gives the rest of the film a legitimacy it would otherwise lack.
The show looks and sounds pretty good on this DVD, although I wasn't as impressed with the visuals as I have been with other Disney films. Part of that is locations, but the DVD is also a little softer than I'd like in places. The audio is about the same, offering audible dialogue and a good balance with the music, but nothing too impressive. The extras are obviously designed to appeal to the legions of fans behind Gomez and Lovato. The big extra for them is a featurette "Royal and Loyal B.F.F.s," where the two discuss their real-life friendship. Fans of all things princess will enjoy "A Royal Reality," which features a real-life princess discussing what it's really like to be royalty. Finally, there's a music video featuring the two leads.
Yes, it's predictable. Except for a well-telegraphed third act ploy, I could have described this entire film before I hit play. That third act ploy doesn't raise the film to new artistic heights, but it does tie things up nicely. Anyone looking to nitpick could certainly find all kinds of things wrong with this little film, but from the title alone you'll know whether to avoid this release.
Princess Protection Program is yet another Disney Channel movie aimed at the early teen crowd, but it's also one that won't have parents running from the room screaming (at least not the first time). The acting is pretty well done and the message is hard to argue with, so fans of Selena and Demi are urged to give this one a spin. Anyone who hasn't been sucked into the orbit of Disney tween-dom should stay far, far away.
Despite its recycling of an old idea, Princess Protection Program is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Music Video